Last night I tuned into a PBS broadcast about a development in the Netherlands called “Borneo Schorenberg.” (Not positive I’ve got the spelling correct.) The point of this piece seemed to be that The Netherlands, concerned about protecting what little rural area they have remaining (The Netherlands is the most densely populated nation in Europe with over 1,000 people per square mile), wanted to construct a dense residential area close to the center of Amsterdam to prevent further urban sprawl. “Borneo Schorenberg” is a region of docks along the waterfront that had fallen into disuse because Amsterdam’s seaport is too small and constrictive for large, modern ships. (Rotterdam is The Netherlands’ major seaport, the only significant port on the entire Atlantic coast of Europe.) So it was decided to turn it into a residential area. The goal was to pack in as many people as possible without resorting to high-rises that are generally perceived as undesirable places to live.
The planners and developers spoke proudly of their results. To my eye, it was horrifying. It appeared very much like a vast prison complex, dominated primarily by sprawling, 3-story structures consisting of tiny apartments with tiny balcony areas. But it also included a modernistic structure, approximately 20 stories high, with flat sides clad in zinc (in other words, the exterior was galvanized sheet metal), and the sides were checkered with identical windows. The kind of future that I envisioned in “Scenario 1″ in Chapter 12 of “Five Short Blasts” immediately came to mind. This huge, galvanized sheet metal box structure had a court-yard and the view inside the courtyard was very much like that of a courtyard in a prison. The streets between these “prison complexes” were choked with people. The only redeeming quality of the whole thing was that people had a waterfront view.
One of the planners remarked toward the end of the piece, “It took the people who lived here a while to realize how nice it was.” Translation: People will eventually resign themselves to their fate. (Kind of like the way Americans have resigned themselves to “globalization?”)
There are beautiful things to see in The Netherlands, but this isn’t one of them. It’s a shame to see such a quaint, pretty country being devoured by population growth run amok.