A detailed chronicling of before, during and after my study abroad experience in Amsterdam and Switzerland.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Amsterdam Short Stories Response

After reading a few of the short stories in Manfered Wolf's Amsterdam: A Traveler's Literary Companion I found the story about the red light district most interesting. It must take a very unique man to want to live in the red light district and immerse themselves in such an odd and tempting environment. I think the author of this story was indeed a little strange in the way that he conducted himself while living there.

The way he made rules for himself about how he would not go into an apartment unless the woman was playing a particular classical record or wearing a very specific outfit was an interesting way to deal with his temptations. This seemed to actually be a common interaction of people that spent any decent amount of time in the red light district. The men who would come to the red light district and walk around the entire day would go from window to window looking for the perfect woman without ever stopping because no woman ever met the image they had in their heads. Then there was the bum who also spent a lot of time in the red light district that said he would only go in if he saw one that was smoking, which he subconciously knew would never happen. All of these people are the ones that spend the most time in the red light district, and I think these types of rules is what allows them to keep a level of detachment from what is going on around them. The interesting part is that the men who are actually customers spend very little time, and were described to basically just get in, do their business and get back out.

The other part of this story that I found interesting was the description of the red light district early in the morning before any customers had arrived. The way it was described made it seem like you are taking a time machine back hundered years back in time with maids out in the street scrubbing the cobbelstone.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Investigating e-research methods for my topic

After talking about some possible ways to go about this assignment in class on Wednesday, I began with what I thought might be the most interesting way to find sources with people that I can actually interact with. This involved searching for relevant topics on wikipedia, and then looking at the discussion and the history to see who is actually writing these articles.

While I still think this is a great idea, for my particular topic, I had some trouble finding relevant information on wikipedia. I began by broadly looking at Amsterdam, and then following some links that spread out into neighboring subtopics. I wasn't really feeling like I was making much progress with this approach until I came across this article on Waag, which is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam. I was thinking that this could possibly be relevant to my research, and then when I looked at the history of who modified it, I found someone who I think has tremendous potential: Dirk van der Made. He is Dutch, lives in Amsterdam, and is a self-proclaimed wikipedia addict.

The fact that he is very involved in wikipedia might make wikipedia itself a whole new form of interaction. Specifically, on Dirk's discussion page he has already had a few in depth discussions with other wikipedia users, and I think actually conducting my interactions through wikipedia could provide the added benefit of other people that are knowledgeable about my topic joining in the discussion. I'm very excited about using wikipedia as a medium for interaction because I think it is much like a traditional web forum, but because it is focused on creating an accurate and detailed source of knowledge, the people using it seem to be much more academic in their discourse.

I did also attempt some other methods for tracking down people I can interact with. In an attempt to scour the blogosphere I tried Technorati by searching for Amsterdam City Planning. I was suprised to find one of the top hits to be a post by Belinda, who is in our class and she was writing about one of the assigned readings. Unfortunately, Belinda probably doesn't count as one of the three sources we're trying to track down for this assignment. The other results that I got from Technorati did not seem to have the information I was looking for.

Although somewhat less interesting finds than my first source, my other two source seem like they could be useful. I found both of these through looking at the Amsterdam links that were put together for us by the librarian from the UW school of Architecture and Urban Planning First is the Berlage Institute, which is a laboratory of architecture in Rotterdam. The Berlage Staff Page has the contact info for various people in the department. The final source is the NAi (Netherlands Architecture Institute). There is a publishing group that puts out different compilations of architecture, that I was able to find contact info for their editors.

Video Podcast Test w/duck video

I am doing some video podcast creation testing, so you may see some odd looking posts popping up on my blog over the next few days, including this one, which is a short video of some ducks in the park.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Rick Steves

Reading Rick Steves’ essays Innocents Abroad and Europe: Eclipsing the American Dream brought up some interesting points about things to look for while I’m traveling in Europe. I found his reoccurring theme of the growing disparity between rich and poor to be very thought provoking. Having a limited background in economics, I can’t really say for sure, but from what I have learned, competition will always yield the most economically efficient outcome. The strong capitalist foundations of the United States have probably had a large impact on our country’s prosperity over the last few hundred years. Rick Steves points out the statistic that while the US has only 4% of the world’s population, we control over ½ of the world’s wealth. There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor in the world, and the US is not doing whole a lot to close it.

What does all this mean? Rick Steves brings up the point that when there is a large difference between the have and the have-nots, inherent problems such as terrorism arise. The steps that Europe is taking to help close that gap seem to conflict with my ideas of capitalism, but giving up a little economic efficiency might end up being more beneficial in the long run. Having a rich and prosperous country isn’t all that great if the rest of the world is living at the level of poverty that encourage crime and terrorism. Rick Steves describes Europe to be a place that focuses much more on equality than the US, and I’m very excited to witness first hand how Europe approaches this issue.

A few discussion questions are:

1) Is it better for the world to trade economic efficiency for social equality? If so, where do you draw the line?
2) Is the inequality between rich and poor something that requires a remedy or is it just an inherent part of human nature that will never be completely solved?

Monday, April 10, 2006


The aspect of interdisciplinarity that struck me most was when Klein said, "Interdisciplinarity does not spontaneously emerge by putting an economist and a sociologist, or any other combination of specialists in close proximity." To explain why that statement had an impact on me, let me start by saying that this whole discourse on interdisciplinarity is very new to me. Previously, I just assumed any collaboration of two people from different fields would be considered interdisciplinary work. These readings have given me a much wider perspective on this evolving idea. Rather than just throwing two different disciplines together, and immediately producing interdisciplinary work, it takes time and careful thought on how these two disciplines can be synthesized into a new interdisciplinary field.

In addition to this much more defined view of what interdisciplinarity is, I also realized that it is something that is fairly new. Although some of the underlying ideas of interdisciplinarity originated in the time of Greek philosophers, much of the current ideas of what constitutes interdisciplinarity came about in the last century. Furthermore, much of the interdisciplinary work has been highly experimental. Some universities took the civic model approach to interdisciplinary knowledge, which proposed that books for the basis of intelligence. Other universities took the are approach which focused on teaching people in particular disciplines about other areas.

I am interested to see how interdisciplinarity will manifest itself in our work.
Some questions that I came up with while doing today's readings are:
1) What aspects of our research will be interdisciplinary?
2) How will our views of and actions of interdisciplinarity change from when we are in Seattle versus when we are in Amsterdam?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Preliminary Research Abstract

Title: Urban Planning and Development in Amsterdam

Author 1: Colin O’Rourke

Author 2: Tim Prouty

Author 3: Lindsey Britt


Research Overview:

Using a chronological structure, our group plans to study urban planning and development through multiple lenses. On the one hand, Lindsey will look at urban laws – their creation, development, enactment, and affect on society. Tim will study the contrast between Amsterdam’s progressive culture mentality and their city structure that values historical preservation. Finally, Colin will focus on the Dutch mastery of their terrain and the sea in order to meet their growing needs.

Relevance of Research:
Urban planning and development, given the challenges of the Dutch landscape, has and will continue to be an inherent part of Dutch identity. Their great success at mastering the landscape could serve as a model for the improvement of urban planning in other industrialized cities.

Proposed Research Methods:
We will hopefully utilize a variety of research methods, both traditional and newer digital technologies. Traditional methods we plan to employ include: interviews of related public policy officials, internet/library research to gain insight into what knowledge exists about our respective topics, discussions with various University of Washington professors to discern further information, and visits to applicable urban planning institutions in Amsterdam. Additionally, we hope to pursue the use of a variety of digital technologies such as digital still photography and a podcast as a product of our collective research.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Amsterdam: A Museum City That Still Provides Excellent Travel

Now that I have chosen to focus my research on urban planning in Amsterdam, I have been finding all kinds of interesting information from the reading, which makes me think this is going to be a really interesting topic! In the reading I reflected on in the previous post, there were some interesting points about Amsterdam when looking at the urban planning that came up again in the reading for today in Understanding Amsterdam. The fact that downtown Amsterdam consists of buildings that are hundreds of years old that are separated by picturesque canals, makes Amsterdam almost more of a museum then a functional modern city. Apparently Venice is the only other city that has maintained this dedication historical preservation of its downtown.

Last week's reading indicated that there has been some tension to revamp Amsterdam in the sense of making it conform to the more modern standard. For example: fill in the canals to make them roads, or drain the canals and then pave roads in them. While this seemed like it would be a logical solution to me in order maximize practicality, they chose to make the core of downtown pedestrian only, and instead experimented with other types of urban plans in the areas outside of downtown. Keeping this museum-like downtown seems like it would cause many problems with efficiency of travel, but it seems that the opposite is true.

To contrast, Seattle is a city that has a fairly modern and intricate downtown with many complicated roads that allow the people to drive into the heart of the city. Interestingly, if you asked someone who lived 10 miles north of downtown how they liked commuting to the city every day, I can almost guarantee their response would be a negative one.

Amsterdam, on the other hand, is referred to by Paul Claval in "The cultural dimension in restructuring metropolises" as a metropolitan area that "...Has some of the best conditions for work and daily life in the contemporary world." This seems contradictory at first due to the fact that are more canals than roads in downtown Amsterdam, but the use of mass transit combined with "efficient motorways" where necessary allows commuting into the city to be painless and easy. The fact that a city that was designed hundreds of years ago is easier to travel in than a city that 150 years ago hadn't even been founded, is certainly worth taking a look at.

These questions that follow are related to how I am thinking about possibly approaching my research on urban planning in Amsterdam:

1) What aspects of Dutch culture have shaped the way that Amsterdam's urban structure has developed over the years?
2) While Amsterdam's museum-like downtown has served the Dutch well for the last few hundred years, is it going to be really work for the next few hundred years without significant change? Why/why not?