Bird's-eye Viewing

Experience Dutch cities like superman with Tracy Metz

August 2017
Bringing together Google Earth, animated hand-drawn illustrations and documentary-style interviews, are three films about Dutch cities by Tracy Metz. A writer and media personality, Metz was awarded the Maaskant Prize for her contribution to the debate on architecture, landscape and urbanism, and decided to produce something that takes her written work into a new medium.
“My interest in architecture and urbanism was awakened by the enormous contrast between the place I came from and the place I ended up in," the Amsterdam-based Metz writes in The Dark Side of Urban Success (pdf). In this essay written about receiving the prize, that her hometown,  she says that "Los Angeles is a city that is spread out like peanut butter over a huge surface". Everyone experiences the city from a car. The density of Amsterdam, on the other hand, allows her to run into acquaintances on the streets and be able to choose her form of transport.
“First we shape our cities, but then they shape us,” she quotes Jan Gehl. A Danish urban designer, Gehl's ideas about placemaking have been globally influential but also derided. Too often the livability of public spaces that he advocates goes hand-in-hand with the commercialisation and privatisation of these facilities, resulting in increased tourists and skyrocketing housing prices. Writes Metz:
"In a small city like Amsterdam you quickly feel the pressure of such large numbers of tourists, and especially the groups – also the groups coming off the cruise ships, where they eat and drink rather than in the city. But the most urgent complaints are now directed at Airbnb. At best inhabitants feel that they are the actors on the stage of the visitors’ vacation; at worst they are driven crazy by the pot-smoking and vomiting and shouting and loud music at all hours of the night. And what makes it really unbearable is that it is your own neighbors who are doing this to you. You can blame the city for not keeping a grip on the transgressors, but it starts with your neighbors."

Watch the three films

These "groans of success", which many big cities around the world are experiencing, are what is explored in the essay, and the accompanying three multimedia tours of the Dutch cities in terms of water, leisure and housing.
While the Dutch have become the world’s leading water engineers by necessity, the film is about how climate change challenges are steering the design solutions in a new direction: working with water instead of against it. Tapping into the global concern for affordable housing in cities, the housing video considers what a house means to the Dutch – a home or an investment. The leisure video explores how free time has become an industry, one that often residents are not too keen to share with tourists.

The Superman perspective

The films are the result of a collaboration with multimedia storytellers Kostgangers. The unexpectedly cinematic Google Earth pans are framed with quirky illustrations by Jan Rothuizen, renowned for his hand drawn city maps, and in particular, the Dutch Design Award-winning Refugee Republic. These human-scale drawings give the films the superman-effect of flying around the Netherlands.
The voiceover is by Tracy Metz herself, as well as the capsule interviews with designers, officials, and what she calls, "grassroots citymakers". While the latter are introducing novel urban interventions like office parks from disused houseboats and pop-up street benches in Dutch cities, there just seem to be too many people with different ideas of what a city should be pulling in different directions:
"The question now is: how do we connect these two worlds? The impatient, some - what anarchistic, strong-willed but infor - mal approach of the ‘citymakers’ does not automatically overlap with the bureaucratic stetp-by-step path of government or with the spreadsheet-driven method of the finan - cial world. The ‘happy agitator’ has a whole different definition of ‘return on investment’ than the CFO of a pension fund in some other country."