When you arrive in Amsterdam by train and, a little disoriented, inadvertently go out the rear exit, you’ll find a canal barge converted into a formidable storage system for commuter bicycles, and a smiling man waiting to help you store your ride. It is the very definition of order, efficiency, and service–the things we value in a civilized world. Click here for Order.
When you get your bearings and go out by the front way, emerging into the busy streets of Amsterdam, you encounter bikes of all shapes, sizes, and colors, strewn all over the city in a form of chaos. The scene is the very definition of individuality, anarchy, and tolerance– the things that represent freedom in a civilized world. Click here for Chaos.
Controlled chaos maybe an oxymoron, but it seems to be as accurate a term as any to describe the culture and character of Amsterdam. And you can see all this perfectly symbolized by the way bicycles fit into the urban fabric here, seeming almost to stitch it together. Perhaps most interesting are the arrangements of bikes that have both elements of Order and Chaos, since society needs each to be both livable and vital. Click here for Order and Chaos.
I read recently that the Amsterdam was nearly “modernized” into the US urban model in the 1960’s. The city fathers apparently planned to put a four lane freeway and a typical urban metro system through the heart if the city. They were confronted by a local group of anarchists, students, Marxists, hippies, and “gnomes” who led protests over several years. The protesters eventually prevailed, and the city council in a 22-21 vote in 1972 narrowly blocked a development that would have changed the entire character of Amsterdam. So it appears now that the anarchists are at least partially responsible for what is a quite civilized urban environment in Amsterdam today. And perhaps Critical Mass founded in San Francisco in 1992 will have a similar long term benefit. They disrupt our sense of efficiency and control, which may be the reminder we occasionally need.
And if this seems too hopefully utopian, you may find just looking at the compositions bikes create in Amsterdam is a good ride. Click here for Compositions.
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