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Can’t We All Just Get Along? Lessons Learned in Amsterdam

November 3, 2010

Oil and water. Cats and dogs. Me and crying babies. The list could go on and on of things that don’t go well together. However the city of Amsterdam challenges you to rethink more than half of the things on that ever-growing list. Here are some of my favorite unlikely pairs found in Amsterdam.

Bike Seats and Steering Wheels: Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was raised believing that the cyclist was a driver’s worst enemy. They deserve their own space in the roads without following any of the rules. Well in Amsterdam, the two live in perfect harmony. They really have no choice as there are over 2.7 bikes to every 1 person. So how does this miracle happen? If you were to look at a section view of the street, you would see variations in the road that give contextual clues so each vehicle knows where they belong.  I was constantly looking for level changes, pavement types, and graphic icons to help me figure out where I should be walking. And when I wasn’t paying attention to any of those, the innocent sounds of bicycle bells would sweetly chime telling me to “Get the hell out of the way!”

Tall Men and Tiny Buildings: Dutch men are very tall. So tall you can’t help but be worried that they might just step on you in the bar. But as you walk through the city all you can see are these extremely  small buildings. The smallest in fact is 1.8 meters wide. I’ll wait a moment for you to convert that to feet… Ok we all back? So how is this possible? Well since all Dutch also keep their blinds open we were able to see that everyone keeps their flats as clean as an Ikea catalog, literally. Clutter is the first thing to go when you are looking for leg room.

Red Lights and Holy Spirits: Look left and you will see an alley lined with windows filled with women capturing the attention of their next client. Look right and you see the looming wooden doors of a medieval church. Now how on earth did the Red Light District end up right next to one of the oldest churches in the city? Well as it turns out, the two actually are quite good business partners. When sailors came into town just for the night, they could get down to business and then be forgiven right next door. How convenient! We also heard that back in the day, the men of the church weren’t so holy… I guess some things never change.

So who says bikes and cars can’t get along, or big men in small spaces, or whores and clergy? If they can do it, why can’t the rest of the world? Come on world, let’s all take a lesson from Amsterdam and play nice . And next time I see a crying baby, I’ll even do my best not to roll my eyes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Maki Lane permalink
    November 3, 2010 10:33 am

    I love the part about tall men and tiny buildings, and would have loved to see Ikea in one of its native countries!!

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