Maarten Hajer
director Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
and Professor Public Policy at the University of Amsterdam

by Christa van Vlodrop

1. Background

Studied Political Science and Planning at the University of Amsterdam, then went on to earn a PhD with 'The Politics of Environmental Discourse’ in Oxford. I worked with the risk-sociologist Ulrich Beck at the University of Munich and coordinated, for the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), the realization of the report 'Spatial Development Policy’.

2. Why are you fascinated with
architecture / urban development?

In my books constructivism plays a central role: I always assume that situations, characters and preferences are not fixed, but are affected by interaction. That is why I think cities and buildings are very interesting: on the one hand, cities and buildings, would be the downfall of various decisions and wishes of the past and on the other hand, they affect us in the present. My lecture at the University of Amsterdam called 'Politics as design'. If one day I returned to work for a Faculty of Architecture, I would lecture about 'design as (cultural) politics’. When planning, I have always promoted a cultural approach: to behold the making of a road, an extension of a district or a restructuring project as something you would add to our cultural heritage, an act of creation. Unfortunately this is not always obvious in practice. The city brings everything together: the interaction between people, contemplating about beauty, about struggles and power politics, justice, past and present. I do not believe in the 'good man', just as I do not follow John Gray in his dismal description of the veneer of civilization (his book 'Straw Dogs’). But a good urban design evokes the best in man, makes conflict manageable and provides for a pleasant and stimulating routine.

3. Best city

Here it is difficult to escape the clichés. You could write down New York because of the delightful rhythms of urban life in Manhattan, but that is only one of five boroughs: Queens and the Bronx belong there too but are definitely less cheerful. Istanbul does have it, with that great significant friction between various layers of culture between East and West. Moreover, Istanbul also possesses the dramatic presence of the Bosporus that gives the city an extra quality. Oslo because of that indescribably beautiful interaction between town and country: Where on earth can you take a wooden train from the central square into the woods or take the metro to a small ferry, with your picnic basket in hand, and be transported to the islands near the city?

4. Most beautiful building

Grand Central Station, New York. I still can't believe how amazing this building has been constructed. A big beautiful people pump. The building is full of powerful places that on the one function independently, but on the other hand are all related to each other because you catch a glimpse of these atmospheres from the whirlpool of pedestrian tunnels. And I'm not even talking about the design of the central hall and surprising layers in and around the building. Buses on the upper level and a broad avenue lined with cars that curls around the building. If I am in New York I always eat at the Oyster Bar & Restaurant on the concourse where the fish has been prepared and served the same, 100% American, way for decades.

5. Most beautiful park or square

Zuiderstrand in the Hague, that surprises visitors. The Hague, a dull town? Sure, but the real wooden beach pavilions, food on the beach and 400 meters from a residential area, many foreign visitors have been stunned by the beauty, activity, and intimacy. This city is not only among the best but it is also on the beach. The beach went from 50 meters to 100 meters wide to boost coastal defenses. Unfortunately, this didn't do much for the atmosphere.

6. Best public facility / urban infill

Ringstrasse, Vienna. The urban siege of the aristocracy by the new bourgeoisie.

7. Best 20th and 21st century innovations

The solar cell. Now we burn fossils but the idea of limitless solar energy: it is of great pure beauty. In 50 years we will be covering the outside of our buildings with a film of PV.

8. Next groundbreaking innovation

The Smart Meter. Wrongly drawn in to the ‘privacy’ discourse. If we do well the meter will again empower the citizen. Every producer, and neighbor who coordinate their use and thus save costs on CO2 emissions. There is a great future in sharing technology with active citizen participation.

9. About the future of cities

The city and her citizens must once again start taking care of themselves. And take responsibility for the input of raw materials and the output of emissions.

10. Personal contribution to urban development

I can't draw but hopefully I can contribute in words. Best experience was that inSITE San Diego - Tijuana, one of the most interesting art events about the city and public space that I have visited on invitation, was partly based on ideas from the book ‘In search of new public domain' that I co-wrote with Arnold Reijndorp. In the past two years I have published two books: ‘Authoritative Governance - Policy Making in the Age of Mediatization’ and 'Strong Stories - How the Netherlands keeps reinventing planning’.

11. Guerrilla in the city?

The era of big planning is over. Smart guerrilla regains his place. For me it is another word for inventiveness.