It was around dinner time and the sky was getting darker when I walked past the canals and the Wester church and entered the brown Café Wester in the city of Amsterdam. The café with its wooden interior was quite busy as far as I could tell, the barstools were all taken and some people had even brought their dogs along with them.
The event had not started yet when I arrived, and after getting a beer, but got kickstarted with A City Made By People founder Robin announcing the topic for this first Amsterdam Talks: What would you do if you were mayor for a day?
A greener Amsterdam
First person to answer this question was Tim from De Gezonde Stad (translates into The Healthy City). With a bright smile he a stated that he would love to make every available public space green again. De Gezonde Stad is actually already trying this. They are transforming squares from brick to green and are trying to accomplish a Rooftop Revolution, to make rooftops greener. Furthermore they even invented an Tinder-esque app where you can match with the perfect tree.
I personally love the idea of green rooftops! It looks amazing and can be a means for people who don’t have an outside area to create one. In the middle of our conversation and ideas, people did rise good questions: Is it not too heavy? Who pays and maintains this? Turns out, not all roofs are right for it, because of the weight. But if your roof fits the criteria, it can actually be subsidised by the government to build one and maintain one! Apparently having more green roofs actually solves a lot of the water drainage problems and it is truly amazing for the climate.
Better Tourists & Housing
Next Cornelia from Smart City Amsterdam told us that Amsterdam is already considered to be a pretty sustainable city. It is one of the best liveable cities and known for being a startup- and techhub.
If she was the mayor for a day she would work on three issues: more housing ( by building a 1000 pop-up housing in containers), better tourists (by raising taxes), and energy transition (by having to pay more taxes for gas).
People have opinions on all of these points: why not definitive housing? where lies the problem? Some even start to tell their more personal troubles which they encountered while looking for a home. I have also had my fair share of issues finding a home. While talking about this issue everyone came across as being more and more involved.
For the tourist issue multiple things were mentioned and even the bartender pitched in with his opinion. Maybe we can teach the tourists how to bike? Maybe we can rebrand the city to only attract a certain less drunk crowd who don’t pee against a door? (Yes, drunk tourists peeing against doors is an actual problem as I learned tonight: in one area in Amsterdam people actually put pictures of their own faces on their front doors with the words “Would you do this at home?”.)
The idea that stood out to me as a pretty interesting alternative was: What if we do rise taxes, but then give people a choice: Either to pay the taxes or work for a social cause for one or two hours? Perhaps I would implement that if I were the mayor along with some nice green rooftops.
Other citizen ideas that we received via post-its:
Car free days (+ all of the canals car-free)
Green capital of the world award
Increase tourist tax
More efficient with city space - unused parking + pocket parks
Only own property if you live in it.
Green roofs on hospitals, big corporate office buildings
Greenest route in Amsterdam
More community gardens
Pop-up Housing - Temporary ‘container’ living houses
Do we need to own a house, maybe we could share living spaces and pass it around
After the debates, personal stories, listening, beers, talking ideas and heated conversation my excitement was up and my cheeks were rosy and warm. This was an interesting night indeed. What would you do if you were the mayor for a day?
See you at the next Amsterdam Talks, on the 20th of March!
Words by Michelle Wrede