Less than an hour’s plane ride separates Amsterdam and London. What can they learn from each other, to be even greater cities of the World?

Five things Amsterdam could learn from London (in no particular order):

To build more inner city parks (and areas for children to play outside). If Amsterdam’s canals and cycle lanes are its arteries, such green squares would be its lungs. London’s got Hyde, St James’s & Green within walking distance of Piccadilly Circus & Victoria Station. Then there’s Regents, Holland Park, Victoria, Primrose Hill, Richmond & Hampstead Heath a bit further out. Where, apart from the Dutch countryside, do Amsterdamers go to get away from the crowds?

To encourage more street entertainers & buskers. Street music, jugglers, magic acts, acrobats, illusionists & human statues all bring culture to the café crowds, whether tourists or locals. How about buskers in canal boats, tempting you to throw coins into their boats, as they slide past?

Restaurant diversity. Amsterdam’s restraint in allowing food chains to dominate its city is admirable. However, what seems to be missing in the inner city are more than occasional Far Eastern, Caribbean, Africa and Middle Eastern restaurants.

Create a Tech Canal City. Away from the computer company & telco buildings further out, where’s the critical mass of inner city design, games and SME software houses to support next generation, highly skilled ICT developers?

Encourage more Metro marts – the Amsterdam equivalents of Tesco and Sainsburys Metros wouldn’t have to be modern on the outside, or vast on the inside. In Amsterdam, Marts could still showcase the best cheeses, beers, breads, fruits etc, just showcase them together, not in multiple speciality shops or weekend market stalls.

 

Five things London could learn from Amsterdam (in no particular order):

Make greater use of the city brownfield land – the premium price of land in Amsterdam demands it be used productively. Cafes even extend into canals, land is reclaimed and 2,500 houseboats extend residential use beyond the residential suburbs. Docklands get converted into new cultural icons and café terraces sprawl outwards from the cafes themselves. What lessons can London learn regarding its planning process, planning regulations and creative use of inner city land to meet resident and employer needs? After all, its land price is soaring also.

Develop a love affair with the humble bike. Amsterdam apparently has more bikes than inhabitants of the city. Main routes tend to be segregated between pedestrian, tram, car and bike. Dutch bikes may not look futuristic, but are a great social leveller and could (by some) be termed ‘chic traditional’. A vast bike storage area guards one side of the Amsterdam central train station. Cycle lanes run all over the inner city and bicycles frame the canals and side walls of houses & shops. It didn’t start off that way, but the city forefathers didn’t block the progressive evolution of bike culture. HGV’s tend not to trouble Amsterdam cyclists, because there is little high rise construction/excavation to attract HGV’s into the areas that cyclists use.

Create clean and beggar-free streets. In Amsterdam, people either take more pride in their city by dropping less litter or Amsterdam’s street sweepers and rubbish bins are more effective in handling the rubbish that does accumulate. In contrast, some Londoners think nothing of discarding chicken takeaway food scraps and cigarette butts on the ground, or leaving beer cans and empty bottles on any available flat surface in the street. Beggars don’t ask for money in the main streets either, yet the average Amsterdamer is probably as wealthy as the average Londoner, in their disposable income.

Improve the ratio of people to floorspace. Even in relatively busy centres like the Amsterdam central train station, airport or shopping arcades, somehow the building planners have designed the spaces to cope. In contrast, London’s busiest hubs still suffer perpetual congestion and simply need to be spread out over a larger (underground) footprint.

London to develop its own flag – Amsterdam has the flag of three crosses. Could London have a design competition and trademark register is own flag too? Having a flag logo would provide ongoing tourism and merchandising opportunities, just as the London 2012 Olympic logo generated income for the city (for a brief period). Having its own flag might encourage the inhabitants to harmonise. At various street parades, the London Marathon, London-Brighton ride, Notting Hill Carnival, music in the parks etc, some people may favour waving the London flag over the Union flag, or the national flag of their parent’s generation.

Finally, if both cities do have something to learn from each other, should they become twin cities with regular exchanges of city planners, architects, urban designers and design students?

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