Urban Observations

Blog overview

Ross Tilchin, researcher at the Brookings Institution, came to Amsterdam to work for three months at the Amsterdam Economic Board. For the John Adams he wrote a twelve-part blog on the differences between American and European cities. “I hope to cover a wide range of topics, including urban quality of life, neighborhood design, cycling (of course), diversity and gentrification, and the role of creative industries in urban life.”

When Home Feels Like a Battlefield

Three months in Amsterdam, over and done with. It’s impossible for me to believe how quickly the time has gone by. I love this city, and I’ll miss so many things about it. I’m very excited to be headed home, but I can’t help but feel a sense of dread about the political situation that …...

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What Makes Amsterdam Unique?

London— what a city. I just visited for the first time and absolutely loved it. The place has an unbelievable energy running through it, so much variety in its neighborhoods, such an invigorating landscape of diversity. Rich contrasts abound—it is sprawling yet walkable, obscenely opulent and deeply gritty, frenetic with pockets of incredible tranquility. It …...

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Counterculture and Public Life

Diametrically Opposed or a Perfect Match?

People always talk about the ways that company culture affects organizational performance. But for some reason, these discussions rarely extend to the public sector. It’s strange—contrary to common belief, governments are composed of human beings, and these individuals powerfully influence what government actually does. I’m a strong believer in the innovative potential of cities, but …...

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What Makes a City Cool?

What makes a city cool? A certain threshold of restaurants and bars with exposed brick walls? Pairs of Doc Martens boots per capita? The percentage of residents who subscribe to the “Hipster Chill” playlist on Spotify? I’d like to think the answer is a bit more profound. Here’s a theory: the coolness of a city …...

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City as Facilitator: Problem Solving from the Bottom Up

Every city faces similar social problems. No matter where you go, certain groups or neighborhoods struggle with intergenerational poverty, low educational attainment, poor health, crime, and other issues. National and local policies may reduce the severity of these problems, but there’s a growing recognition that top-down, technocratic approaches to these challenges aren’t doing enough for …...

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Thriving, Affordable, and Inclusive: Can a City Have it All?

A challenging side of human nature—we tend to distrust people from other groups. Because of this, diversity and social tension are often interlinked. We don’t need to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but as American and European societies become increasingly diverse, we’ve got to learn to live with one another. How do we make that …...

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If You Build It, Will They Come?

Zef Hemel is a man with a plan. A former urban planner for the city of Amsterdam and my colleague at the Amsterdam Economic Board, he has been a vocal proponent of dramatically increasing the population of this city. He envisions a future where Amsterdam is home to 2 million people, more than double the …...

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Competition, Supercharged:

Cities, Economic Development and Globalization

Talent, investment, and a high quality of life. No pressure, local leaders, but if your city falls short on any of the above, your economy is doomed. Good luck juggling all three things simultaneously—talented people won’t move to your city unless it offers them good employment prospects. Companies won’t invest in your city unless it …...

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Who Owns the City?

Amsterdam and Venice. Both famous for their picturesque canals and waterways. Both compact, easily walkable, and densely populated. Both overflowing with culture, filled with beautiful architecture, and renowned for offering a high quality of life. There’s only one problem—many parts of both cities are bursting at the seams with tourists. Last weekend, I visited Venice for …...

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A Tale of Two Commutes

Scenario 1: Biking to work in Washington, D.C. I leave the house, heading west. Soon I encounter Georgia Avenue, one of the highest-capacity roads in Washington D.C. As I wait for the light to change, as many as a hundred cars thunder past me—they’re bumper to bumper, flying by at nearly 40 miles per hour. …...

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Howdy, Neighbor:

Happiness, Public Space, and Community Design

Everyone needs a bit of personal space from time to time. But ultimately, we’re social creatures—we thrive when we engage regularly with others, and we’re gloomy when we feel isolated. The design of our neighborhoods exerts a powerful influence on our ability to connect with the people around us. Some approaches facilitate contact and encourage relationships. Others set the stage for separation, anonymity, and even hostility....

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Amsterdam Then, Amsterdam Now

Hello, readers! Welcome to my blog. It’s great to have you here. Seeing as this is my inaugural piece, I figure that an introduction is in order. I am a 28-year-old American, born and raised in the Washington D.C. area. Up until a few months ago, I worked as a researcher at the Brookings Institution, …...

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