Assignment Zero

This first image jumped out at me for a few reasons.  The first is the close proximity of the streetcar to the street-side businesses and the people in between.  At first, this may not seem so strange, but having lived in Seattle for my entire life, I can’t think of another place where I’ve seen this type of infrastructural set-up.  In the U.S. rather than running streetcars right by the sidewalk, we would always occupy that space with a lane for cars, or at the very least some parking spaces.  To me, the arrangement in this picture, along with the number of people on foot and multiple bicycles parked along the sidewalk, suggests that streetcars must be used much more often than cars in this particular setting.  Judging by the content of other pictures in the group, where cars are not only conspicuously absent most of the time, but there also seems to be little space for them in the streets in general, I would tend to think that this is true throughout the city rather than just in this particular location.  This is an interesting cultural difference in and of itself, but to me it suggests something else: that the people of this particular city tend to favor a more ambulatory lifestyle, with commonly occupied spaces much more closely situated and public transit well-developed and stream-lined within major urban centers.

Another detail to note about this image is the size of the shops and the constant presence of apartments situated above.  In Seattle, and the U.S. in general for that matter, businesses on busy urban streets are set up quite differently, often sprawling and taking up a subsection of the first floor of a large skyscraper primarily devoted to offices for various businesses on the upper floors.  Here, the set-up is quite different.  Each business of the street level only spans maybe 15-20 feet maximum and is contained within its own separate building.  Rather than renting out a portion of a huge building, these businesses occupy the bottom floor of an individual building that is seemingly squeezed into a tightly-packed latticework of other buildings, all of which seem to contain one or more living spaces on the floors above.  To me, this resembles an environment similar to that of the University of Washington, where housing is urbanized in this way out of necessity so that students, who can’t afford the luxury of a car, can live close to both the University and the businesses that they must frequent to buy food, clothing, etc.  However, this setting with its ACE Jewelers and high-end clothing store, seems like a more upscale area, suggesting to me that this set-up is the norm in this city, with people living within easy walking distance of their work, their sources of products, and any transportation they may need.

This image also speaks to me of this city’s vastly different mentality when it comes to housing and common methods of transportation.  If you’ve spent your life in Seattle, you might not find this image particularly odd, as Seattle has a relatively large and widely-spread houseboat community.  However, if you look closely, it becomes apparent that this set-up is quite different.  Notice the bridge in the background and the cement structure that Dr. Corser is standing on.  That is not a large body of water, that’s a canal!  These houses, like the apartments in the picture above, are tightly-packed individual structures, but in this case, they are fully integrated into the structure of this urban canal.  And notice the number of small boats attached to these houses and on the near side of the canal.  This canal is not just something to look at and appreciate, it is a legitimate thoroughfare for transportation through the city.  Even the inhabitants of houseboats on Lake Washington seldom commute by boat, they just appreciate living on the water.  Here though, the water has been put to use and incorporated into the city’s infrastructure, allowing the inhabitants of these houses as streamlined method of transportation from place to place along the canals of the city.

Together, these pictures paint a picture of certain cultural differences between the United States and the Netherlands.  In the U.S. a huge emphasis is placed on privacy of habitation and transportation, as well as space.  Generally, one would live outside of urban centers in an individual house unconnected to any others, and then drive your own car to work inside the city proper.  In the Netherlands, the attitude seems quite different: one would generally live within the city, necessitating tightly-packed living-spaces and stream-lined methods of transportation within the city itself.  Rather than using your own car, which besides just taking up a lot of space that a densly-packed city can’t afford to waste, is indicative of widely-dispersed and varied living and work environments that cannot be easily reached by major thoroughfares (and therefore public transporation), the people of a Netherlandish city would instead make efficient use of other, more rigid methods of transportation because they can easily get them where they need to go.

Some questions that these pictures bring out:  Are the canals actually still extensively used as a point-to-point method of transportation, or do people just boat to major transit centers and depart for their final destination from there?  Also, given the extreme density of the city, does it generally expand outward as the population increases, or are buildings just built higher to accommodate more living space?

One other question that I feel might be quite enlightening of cultural views of space of the people of the Netherlands is this: do the individual buildings share the walls in between them, with one built onto the existing structure of the other, or is each building its own independent structure, with its own external walls butting up against those of its neighbors?   The answer to this question I feel would give some kind of indication as to how the people view the permanence of these structures with relation to the structures surrounding them and how this permanence relates to conceptions of private property.

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