We propose a user driven and community-oriented platform to tackle the spatial injustices highlighted by the COVID19 lockdowns in Amsterdam.
The post-COVID19 cities are already underway, as it could be argued that entire lifestyles and spaces have changed. Cities have seen their regions react to lockdowns, as activity hubs have had to stop. We focus on the question of how to overcome a pandemic in a spatially just way and recover as soon as possible. A “Don’t let a crisis go to waste” mentality is fostered in terms of using this radical ground-zero scene as a possibility for a more sustainable and just restart (Wall Street Journal, 2008).
The project, carried out as part of an integrated student project, follows the concept that our spatial scenario can be heavily influenced by actions taken during the pandemic and leading up to the future “back to normal” situation. Injustices are more visible in crises, as imbalances are more strongly felt (Kihato and Landau, 2020). The lockdowns have helped to impose spots within the city which are unhealthy in their spatial makeup. Lockdowns have also shown the injustice in accessibility, as people have to travel great distances to search for open spaces or essential provisions. With this, we propose COVID19 Add-On as a participatory platform that can study people’s choices and activities during different stages of lockdown as well as provide a space for communication on the needs and challenges faced. We propose a platform, which is envisioned as a means of activating the local individual to help change their spaces and further increasing their confidence of choices by providing them with alternatives. Simultaneously, it provides municipalities and authorities with data on spaces that are used by locals throughout the time of crisis. We argue that in tackling the spatial needs during a pandemic, we create a basis for alternative spaces to activate for the future long-term development towards sustainability, spatial justice and redistribution of tourism. The overall concept of our proposed solution is illustrated in figures 3 and 4.
AMSTERDAM METROPOLITAN AREA
The project focuses on the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA), a touristic metropolis which has been heavily affected by COVID19 and its associated lockdowns. The growth of the tourist sector increased after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 when tourism became a governmental strategy of the economic restart after the crisis. Tourism was considered a successful industry when looked at from an economic standpoint.
The discourse on over-tourism is quite complex, though not just a contemporary phenomenon (Capocchi et al., 2020). It has been globally and locally prominent in the last few years, as its outcomes have exploited humans and nature. Access to many open areas and leisure activities have been taken over, disproportionately used by tourists and discriminating on locals. The same can be said for North Holland Tulip fields, whose owners and workers previously complained about too many visitors ruining their spaces. The growth of the touristic sector in Amsterdam has brought the city to its own limits, leading to indisposition and protests. The call for change has been looming in the region.
To tackle this over-tourism and nature exploitation, the AMA has created many plans and visions. However, this project argues that true collaboration and interactions are not clearly seen. Using publicly available reports and open access data with QGIS for a locational based understanding of the region, we can show how certain areas are part of the touristic hub, and other regions are left out. Tourism’s stronghold in this space was examined and connections to other themes were unearthed, such as a correlation between tourism and inhabitant incomes, as the industry generates a lot of jobs. It affects housing, with land prices increasing due to touristic hubs, Airbnb regulations and accommodation situations. It has created spatially unjust circumstances like suppressing people from the city centre and pushing them to the outskirts due to exploding rents. Although the tourism push was a recovery plan after the Great Financial Crisis, it became one of the biggest threats for many inhabitants of the Amsterdam region before the pandemic.
The COVID19 pandemic and its lockdown have had a huge impact on the AMA, as well as the whole touristic sector and all people working in it. The image of Amsterdam has regularly been marketed on its access to water within the city centre. With the waves of visitors that travelled to see the canals, such acts have infringed on the local’s access to said water as they have been pushed out. For the first time in the last decade, the pandemic has allowed locals to reclaim these spaces (Snijders, 2020). On the other hand, Amsterdam brought in a lot of visitors, businesses, and services. With these shut down, other districts are suffering too as a consequence of their dependence on business generated by tourism. Disjointed planning of the municipalities and governing bodies became more visible. A great volume of people worked in the city centre of Amsterdam but lived elsewhere, and now that they experience lockdowns and are unable to enjoy some of the commodities, they may have had access to before. One indicator of this is looking into what activities and services could remain open during the different phases of the lockdown. Entire quarters of the AMA are devoid of any activities, and spots in which access to basic open spaces and greenery non-existent as seen in these maps. The silver lining of COVID19 is that it brought the city to a point where it can re-evaluate its assets and put in strategies to distribute and handle these issues better in the future. If tourists were distributed in an equal fashion, some of the attention that has been given to the centre of Amsterdam may finally be spread amongst the AMA region instead. Therefore a new re-start model is needed.
We see a great opportunity for this multi-scale and integrative process happening on an online platform. This user driven approach was chosen as online dependencies have been increasing in the COVID19 times, and the shift to being more internet efficient has affected most people’s lives. Amsterdam already has many existing platforms (I Amsterdam, TripAdvisor, …), that we assess as inadequate for current conditions nor influencing the built and open spaces directly. Furthermore, they are not integrative amongst different groups of users. Indications of this are the fact that they do not have a detailed view on how COVID19 affects people’s movements and accessibility. Data is held within individual platforms and not shared between user groups and public organizations. Furthermore, they tend to target international tourists, rather than the day to day interested person.
Thus, the proposed platform integrates 5 main user groups: authorities, planners, organizations, locals, and tourists. The idea is that locals are now using the traditionally “tourist” locations and are incentivised to distribute and “load-balance” among the available slots of the attractions and sites according to the current levels of COVID19 restrictions. The platform is targeted at mobile users, as well as an Add-On that can be integrated with existing platforms. Named the COVID19 Add-On, users can see real-time regulations issued in their intended locations, as well as frequency rates that can help them make up their mind on where to go. When data is gathered on their new movements, this information can help local governments with an insight on the type of spaces people are interested in, ideas of where future hubs can occur, and spaces that need additional input to be activated. Organizations and new initiatives can make use of the COVID19 Add-On to promote their current programs fast and flexible. The design, usability and user experience are designed as a low-threshold, inclusive experience for target groups which are less comfortable with mobile technology. The short-term goal of the COVID19 Add-On on the one hand is a quick recovery from the pandemic and on the other hand to provide improvements of people’s lives during the pandemic. With local lockdown rules, awareness and understanding for specific regulations is raised. In a long-term perspective, with the use of the application, nature based, and sustainable tourism is fostered by the promotion of local attractions.
The envisioned interaction process for users using the COVID19 Add-On is technically displayed in a Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN model) and the graphic example of Inga. It shows the paths and interconnections from the creation of a map up to the implementation of new policies. In this process, the five different user groups and several subgroups can participate. Starting with a new map, hosted by planners, tourists and locals add data in the form of their locations. From this data, spatial frequencies are identified which lead to new usage possibilities due to low frequencies. Authorities add data in the form of COVID19 infections per neighbourhood and impose regulations on a local level. Due to local regulations and rules, openings and lockdown-liberalizations are possible in other districts. With the COVID19 Add-On, local and responsible tourism as well as the adhering to regulations is supported. On the other hand, it strengthens the communication between municipalities and offers a tool to publish and communicate about spatial master plans and policies.
Capocchi, A. et al. (2020) Is ‘overtourism’ a new issue in tourism development or just a new term for an already known phenomenon? Current Issues in Tourism. [Online] 23 (18), 2235–2239.
Kihato, C. W. & Landau, L. B. (2020) Coercion or the social contract? COVID 19 and spatial (in)justice in African cities. City & Society. [Online] 32 (1), ciso.12265.
Snijders, T. I. (2020) ‘The city is ours again’: How the pandemic relieved Amsterdam of overtourism. Washington Post. 6 May. [online]. Available from:https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2020/05/06/city-is-ours-again-how-pandemic-relieved-amsterdam-overtourism(Accessed 7 November 2020).
Wall Street Journal (2008) Rahm Emanuel on the Opportunities of Crisis. [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mzcbXi1Tkk&ab_channel=WallStreetJournal (Accessed 1 February 2021).
Who will take these actions?
- Add-On producers (technical and design support)
Outsourced app development to be hired to handle creating the interactive portion of the maps.
The maps themselves are from base maps we have collected in open access data. Additional data would also be regularly increasing and introduced to the app developers.
- The planning input
Academia planners: Academics and students interested in tackling the issues presented or help with inputs
The Team: Our group of interdisciplinary students using this project as an app start up. We focus on the bureaucratic communications needed within the various stakeholders. We also help with the distribution of data and oversee the platform’s performance.
- Experts from existing platforms, which want to implement the Add-on
Iamsterdam: Possibility of having the add-on attached to their existing maps for a touristic perspective
In Your Pocket: a global platform that can be contacted for the possibility of replicating this at a larger scale.
The locals are the valuable users and speakers of change. Their reactions on their spatial scenario, and the platform itself is valuable data that would help make the arguments of necessary change stronger.
Finally, implementations are not possible without the support and integration of AMA municipal actors.
What are the projected costs?
The project has an estimated cost of around 150000€ in its first active year. Yearly operational costs after that may drop to around 90000€.
As the project has many online manifestations, costs are directly linked with the technological needs. The overall development of the hybrid app is assumed at around 60,000€ euros (one-time payment). This includes testing phases that would need to first be carried out. Dynamic maps interactions also tend to be more expensive, and this was considered. The servers dedicated to running the app should be at around 100€. Other costs connected to the platform include a daytime app support for the users. Average prices by outsourced companies handling this have statements of around 4,000€.
1800€ a month has been set aside for quality assessment of mapping data received, to be handled by the team - as most data received so far has been from open sources and is intended to continue. We are all also students working from home, therefore permanent office spaces are not required.
As the platform relies heavily on user inputs and interactions, advertising the app is therefore necessary. First-hand advertising is set at around 1000€ per month, Second hand would be handled by partners (the municipality websites, businesses that want access to data.)
Within the first year, we would like to have data that would support a new vision on what could occur within the neighbourhood scales of the region. We have so far collected detailed spatial data on 4 main locations - Amsterdam centre, Bijlmermeer, Almere and Haarlem. The test and piloting of the project would focus on these specific locals - with the hopes of getting in touch with their local communities to generate the needed user driven data.
Connecting with others in the field (2 weeks)
Contacting existing applications and platforms (e.g., I Amsterdam)
Contacting the authorities from the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area and responsible spatial planners
Aligning partners in public and private institutions.
Technicalities of the Add-On (4 Months)
Technical setup of the application and testing phase
Publishing the Add-On in accordance with the municipality and platform coordinators
Monitoring performance and evaluating open access data with real life studies
Collection and Vision (2 months)
Analysing findings (user comments, user frequency, hidden gems, correlations)
Sharing findings with municipal partners. Connecting similar projects to one another
Offering forums for local initiatives to interact and propose outcomes
About the author(s)
We are an interdisciplinary student group from RWTH Aachen, Germany (European Master of Transforming City Regions):
Amal Al Balushi (Bachelor of Urban planning from the German University of Technology in Oman, currently a Masters student in Transforming City Regions.)
Eva Hoppmanns (Bachelor of Science in Architecture, RWTH Aachen, currently a Masters student in Transforming City Regions)
Laura Brings (Bachelor of Science in Geography, Friedrich-Wilhems-University Bonn, currently a Masters student in Transforming City Regions)
Lea Schwab (Bachelor of Science in Architecture, RWTH Aachen, currently a Masters student in Transforming City Regions)
Vanessa Kucharski (Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, Engineer, TH Nürnberg, Master of Science in Architecture, RWTH Aachen, currently a Masters student in Transforming City Regions)
Martin Welp (Bachelor of Business Administration in WWU Münster, Masters student in Business and Economics faculty)