Intelligent Urban Planning

The city of Louvain-la-Neuve is located less than an hour south of Brussels. I had long heard that it was a major University City for the Franch-speaking Belgians. But what I never fully understood is the story of why and how the city was built, only 40 years ago, in a very unique manner.

So today, accompanied by my cousin, we headed down to LLN to see the city and how it all works. As we rode the train into town, I knew we had arrived when suddenly everything went dark and the train went into a neverending tunnel.

This is not only true for trains, but for cars as well, all traffic circulates underneath the city. As we got off the train and climbed the stairs up to street level, you look around and see people walking in every direction, the occasional bicycle, and only the sounds of people.

street level

It was pretty amazing to see, a city who’s construction began only in 1968. And even back then, they understood that to create a truly vibrant and healthy city, you should find a way to have NO cars on the roads. Voila, you never see the cars because they are underground. Occasionally you run into a stairwell or an elevator to the sub-level street where there is parking. But otherwise, you see nothing but college students in their early 20’s, a beautiful site in such a calm environment.

A place like this amazes me when you consider the terrible cities that exist in this world. Obviously most of them were not properly planned and are so old that extreme circumstances led to some aspects getting out of control. But still.. then you visit Louvain-la-Neuve, and while it may not be the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen, it is still wonderful… especially when you think to yourself… people can create and live in a place like this.

LLN

Flattr this!

85% Voter Turnout

Greetings from an almost secret location in Belgium where I’ll be stationed for a few days. Coincidentally, just close enough to France so that everyone is this area is clinging to the French election results, and for the most part, pulling their hairs out in disappointment and frustration.

While it is hardly under-reported news, it is interesting, watching these elections in the global context. An old friend of mine in France once said, as much as his fellow citizens would never admit it, the French are very similar to Americans in many things. Every now and then, like in these elections, I think she was right.

He plays on fear. He threatens to be tough on immigrants and to cut taxes and benefits and whatever else he can cut. He goes on and on about national pride and what a great country it is. He could basically be a president candidate in the USA, but in fact, he is the new president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy. (or as I heard him referred to today, mini-bush)

As people learn the result of today’s election, you’ll hear lots of disgusted responses. “So embarrassing” people will say. Sounds familiar.

But unlike the US, where even if you bus people to the polls you can’t get a 50 percent turnout, reports from today say that turnout was at 85%! 85%! Now at first glance, that’s impressive. People can say, and they are, that it is a healthy sign for democracy because people are participating.

Then again, 85% voting for, with more than 50% of them choosing a pretty hardline conservative candidate also makes it hard for a country to deny who they are. At least in the US you can say “hey.. thats only half of the 40+% that vote who chose that bum, we’re not really like that”. In France, you can’t say that anymore. So if Sarko ends up rounding up all the immigrants and putting them in labor camps. Or joining the US military in its latest adventure to invade and bring democracy somewhere. It won’t be just a small percentage of crazies that took over the government. Nope… it’s a majority of the country that actually shares (at least some of) these values.

Once again, I don’t have a better idea yet, but western democracy is still overrated.

Flattr this!

Queens Day HAs Not Left Yet

I promise this is the last post about celebrations here in Amsterdam. But considering the scale and unavoidable appeal, here’s my official post about Queen’s Day ’07. (cross posted from my sister blog, Trippist.com)
—-

One thing you may not hear about on Queen’s Day is the underlying spirit on the canals. Sure there are lots of drunken people, lots of loud music, tons of crap for sale, and plenty of men peeing in to canals. But what you may not hear about, and what Ive grown to love, is the spirit of sharing amongst boat people.

At some point all my passengers want off, so I pull over and off they go. Suddenly Im boating alone, trapped in the thickest boat traffic possible.. elbow to elbow with all kinds of people partying. And one after another, they all react the same way when they see me and my empty boat. “You’re alone? Why are you alone? You need to pick up people!” And then comes the second phase, “Here, have a beer. Here have this fruit. Here have cheese and cake.” Suddenly I’ve let go of the stick and people around me are pulling the boat along, from all sides, while I eat all this food people hand me.

And that is how it goes all afternoon long. At some point I want to give some love back, and just then – a boat pulls alongside me on the Amstel and asks “Do you have any beer?” I say nothing and hold up a wine bottle, handing it over to them. “Wait” they shout, grabbing my boat to keep me from floating away, “Have some wine with us”, I put the engine in neutral and drink a toast to the Amstel river. We chat for a bit about what canal is good to ride on at this hour, and then I speed away.

Count the boats

You’ll hear plenty of stories about Queen’s Day, and mostly they’ll paint it as one big mess. They’re not wrong. But on the canals, I know a different tradition, and its the real reason I like Queens Day.

Flattr this!

bmtv46 Remembering a Revolution

It’s the 33rd anniversary of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution. It was and still is, the single most inspiring moment in history. (for me) This vlog will explain further.

Flattr this!