13 December 2011

Corners unturned

As journeys go this was a quickie, but any destination outside the comfort zone, however short, is inspirational. It's not even that long ago since I visited Amsterdam last, but true to form almost everything about the experience was different. Big cities are full of surprises and corners unturned, one of the many reasons why I love them.

Recently I have found myself occupied with the public space. How much of it has been earmarked for cars (and advertisers), and how we are slowly beginning to question that. In Amsterdam they are not just a few steps ahead of us, it's a whole different ballgame. First: the car is not king, and second the inhabitants have found a way to make the city and the public space theirs. Nothing illustrates that better than the floating bike seats:

Zit Paaltje ZIP

Introducing the Zit Paaltje "Zip", bike seats mounted on the classic Amsterdammers.

Zit Paaltje ZIP

You can just imagine the happy dance performed when I came across these. And reading up on the story behind them only made it better. From the site: Zip is for the people and not for cars. Zip invites people to consider the importance of the street as a social space instead of a mere traffic domain. By providing comfort and fun, Zip can transform an empty space into an attractive spot.

Zit Paaltje ZIP

Jihyun David, creator of the Zip project, have made it temporary and nomad. If you are in Amsterdam make sure to look up the latest location and strike a pose. Crazy good. Crazy up my alley.

Another way of inhabiting the public space is with improvised urban gardens. Sometimes it is just a way to cover a ground floor apartment window for a little privacy, and at other times it is more of a public garden, but it is not confined to back yards and appointed areas, as is the case in Copenhagen. I want to do something about that now. As in right now. Or at least come spring.

Tub garden

Liebe / Love

Vertical garden

Vertical garden curtain for ground floor privacy.

Built-in plant holder

Built-in potted plants. Poke some holes in the wall and attach plant holders, a super simple solution.

And even fake mixed with real ones. I am predisposed to love them because of my grandmother, who kept plastic plants in every room in the house. Classic "farmor". You can just tell these were planted by a good person.

One thing that never changes in Amsterdam is the overall laid back feeling. Traffic moves at a human pace, and there is no display of fear. The pushing of unnecessary protective gear is not promoted here, and as a result people move about their business with nothing but wind in their hair. As it should be. Can someone tell me why the Danish Cycling Federation* have not only been allowed, but also succeeded in shocking and bullying my people into overpriced plastic hats that they really don't need? If they really consider our infrastructure unsafe (which it is not), then change that, don't make us dress for it. Seriously.

Two birds

And just when you thought you had seen everything on a bike...

Easy rider

(to be so very continued)


*Incidentally The Danish Cycling Federation makes a profit selling helmets and similar "protective gear" in their online shop. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to smell something wrong with that..


  1. My new year's dream... and my new year's resolution.

    Start the process of trying to move :) (here we come!)

    Funny how that works with helmets. One of Portland's Mayoral candidates announced that Nutcase Helmets (a Portland-based bicycle helmet manufacturer) were "good friends". She just immediately lost my vote right there. "Good Friends" in political terms means "gave me lots of money". I don't want those insane fear-mongering bastards influencing my government any more than they already do.

  2. I love it! There is some crazy notion (in my country it's particularly strong, but I guess it's everywhere) that "public space" doesn't really mean public - it belongs to the state institutions and the companies who can pay for it. So what makes it "public"? Well - institutions know better what is good for us, and the money from the companies using so called public space is used for the public good (ha,ha, here again - who is determining what is public good?). But public space should be exactly what it is called - our space, to create, relax, use it. Keep good work, Sandra:)

  3. Hi Dave ,
    you only have to scratch the surface very lightly to see what the helmet issue i$ really about. Ten years ago there were no helmets here, and cycling was not considered dangerous, and look at us now. The damage these people have done is immense, and the fact that they profit from it somehow makes it even worse. It is a disgrace.

  4. Hi Martin,
    I have been thinking about it a lot actually, the idea of public space. We have become estranged, like we don't have a say about it. My theory is that this is also the reason why people don't care for the public space, and why so many get away with littering and vandalizing. Perhaps when we start seeing it at ours again, we will also be better at keeping it nice. :-)

  5. Believe me, I understand the cultural and societal damage that the helmet lobby has done - I have to deal with that almost every time I open my mouth about riding a bicycle, and I get shouted at by complete strangers who think it is their responsibility to tell me I'm an ass-hole for not wearing a helmet. Just about every person I know who finds out I ride a bicycle for transportation pops the "don't you need a helmet?" question. The majority of people who don't ride bicycles honestly think I'm breaking the law, even though there is no mandatory helmet law above 16 years old. It is almost incomprehensible how they have gained so much influence.

  6. At least we are not there yet. Although at the night where I was racing to catch the pink sunset someone yelled the word "helmet" after me. If it had not been for the pink sky fading so crazy fast, I would have made that moron take it back! And you are right, it is incomprehensible. The shit people will believe if you instill fear, there is just no limit.

  7. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you, and all the happy bicycle thoughts I can floating your way. The birth of fear is the beginning of the long, slow death of sanity.

    Sanity in the U.S. is currently comatose, and just waiting removal of the breathing apparatus before it dies completely. At least in Denmark, it's still walking around, even if it's got a bit of a limp :)

  8. Always love your Amsterdam posts!

    I couldn't agree more about the bike helmet issue...If I hear someone yell "Helmet" after me, I will definately turn around and tell the 'wanna-be-cop' that he's not only wrong, but also that it's not the law (yet)! Studies have shown that the helmet can actually make matters worse, if you are in an accident. Your head is heavier than normal when wearing a helmet, so the neck is more likely to snap, potentially paralyzing the person. Studies involving helmets vs. non helmets also showed that cars drive closer to people who wear a helmet! So no chance for me getting a platic cap, not even if it becomes the 'law'.

    Also, the coolest picture I've seen of a heron!
    Did he/she sit there for long? :-)
    (We also have a few in Frederiksberg Garden in Cph).

  9. Hi Drumstick,
    once you look into the scientific research made on helmets, rushing to make them mandatory makes even less sense. If I had a child, I would be afraid to strap it in a helmet, due to the added risk of rotational damage. Crazy stuff.

    And I am happy you like the heron! It just posed so nicely as I zoomed in. I was afraid to push it, and scare it off, so I kept my distance and thanked it properly (in Dutch, just in case, haha) before I moved on. We also have a guest appearance by herons on the lakes sometimes. The are the coolest birds, living life in what seems to be slow motion.

  10. Nice post. There was the same snake eating it's tail done up on a wall in Miami.


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