Blog post from 2017 written for Wandering in Cities
Passing through Amsterdam Zuid station to catch the train to Leiden and I am captured by the interiors of the station – the walls of which are sporadically adorn with images of birds.
Everything has an element of the unique in the Netherlands. Any social housing block, train station, public square has an original, identifying feature. An external, visual offering that marks out a place, and says to me: we are here. That tells of the people and place that exist beyond the concrete.
Perhaps I lack the knowledge and cultural insight that would lead me to call this kind of work out (as a branding exercise or regeneration scheme in the making), but to me – in the Netherlands – it always seems sincere and appropriate*. Never over the top, given the object it wraps.
I then turn to compare this finding to the UK: our stations, not adorn with birds but advertising billboards. And where, in the case of a great deal of the various kits-of-parts within our cities (stations, public squares etc) you could not identify one from the next. Bland, dull and uninhabitable. And where, in some instances, identifying heritage features, precious to a sense of place, are being removed, such was the case for the anchor in Deptford, deemed in part as a way of keeping the unsociables from loitering.
In all aspects of urbanism, I think we have a great deal to learn from the Netherlands.
All communities, cities, towns, villages are unique and they deserve recognition of such. And this becomes of increased urgency in the age of globalisation in which we live, where peoples sense of identity is being slowly eroded… our fixedness in space is being destabilised by our increasingly networked, digital societies in which place becomes increasingly less relevant (for the better or worse).
Sense of identity in place brings on a sense of local pride and belonging and in turn see us act as better stewards of the land: although be wary of local nationalism!!
* I’d need to research into whether local people were consulted on designs. However knowing the Dutch, I am quite sure the process of developing the artistic offerings will have involved users/residents in the design process