The Value of Community

Jasper Visser

The three greatest perks of Amsterdam, the city where I live, are its scale its biking culture and the historical tradition that one day turned it into a stop of traders and travellers. For me, Amsterdam is the best city in the world and one day I hope to be its mayor. Then, my message would be, regardless how well Amsterdan is doing, it could do so much better. And for that, I would value each and every one of their local communities: work with them means not only know in depth your city, but undertake new models of coexistence and attack concerns more effectively to raise their standard of living.

Cornelis Anthonisz: Bird’s Eye View—The oldest surviving plan of the medieval town of Amsterdam, 1538. Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Amsterdam

I live in Amsterdam and one day I hope to be its mayor. The three greatest perks of the city are its scale, its biking culture and the fact that historically Amsterdam has always been a city of traders and travellers. The less than a million people living in the metropolitan area use their bike for 6 out of every 10 journeys and have a good 176 different nationalities. When the weather is nice, business is good and nothing at the national or international level is creating unnecessary tensions, Amsterdam is the best city in the world, period. And I’m not the only fan. Bars are buzzing with expats working for any of the large multinationals, companies such as Tesla Motors move their headquarters to the city and our Rijksmuseum and Concertgebouworkest are considered among the very best the world.

Bicycles over the channels, Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

So, what am I going to do as its mayor? Doesn’t a mayor need rampant crime, broken healthcare and closing factories to get elected?

My message would be, regardless of how well Amsterdam is doing, it could do so much better. The 21st century offers countless opportunities for cities to excel, not only because of the new technologies that get all the headlines but also because of the changes in society these technologies enable. The prime opportunity I would like to advocate is how cities can leverage value creation in local communities. In buzzwords: co-creation and crowdsourcing.

In an exceptional project in 2010 and 2011, an urban curator of the Rotterdam Historical Museum repeatedly worked with a group of women in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of the city to discover, understand and document the smart and complex ways they dealt with city, poverty and families. The museum then shared their strategies, insights and knowledge in the form of a magazine. In the magazine the group of women was connected with other women in the city, both in other neighbourhoods and other times. Hence, it’s name: Every Woman. All of a sudden, the entire city, and other cities where the magazine found its way, could benefit from the efforts of a small group of talented city dwellers, and they could benefit from the knowledge of women both in history and those that reached out after reading the magazine. In doing so the museum narrowed the gap between people living in Rotterdam, and at the same time strengthened their ability to deal with issues of poverty and family life in the—big, city.

Delft Vaart, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, c. 1895. Library of Congress, Washington DC

Mark Engelen: Every Woman [cover], 2010–11. Rotterdam Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

The project shows how an institution with the right approach can discover and then leverage value created in local communities. Cities are full of such communities. Some – such as the women in Rotterdam—come together because they share a set of values and hardships, others meet around international hypes such as urban gardening—much like the community managing a little urban ‘farm’ I’m part of. What these communities have in common is that they create value for their members. A city is the sum of all this value, or as the tagline of Madrid beautifully summarizes, ‘la suma de todos’ [the sum of all]. The challenge of a city like Amsterdam is to leverage this value and make sure everybody in the city benefits equally from this. The Internet and other newish technologies play a big part in this, but it also has to do with the way a city is run, the way it approaches its citizens and the extent to which it manages to use all the value and energy created to overcome any issues the city might face.


Gallery of The Night Watch, 1640–42, de Rembrandt van Rijn. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

As mayor of Amsterdam I would hire a team of urban curators who would look for communities that successfully deal with small and big issues in the city. CO2 reduction, immigration, care for the elderly, chewing gum on the streets, safety. Then, using the careful ways of everyday curators, share and scale their learnings across town. If there are no local solutions, look for them internationally through our network of 176 nationalities. If there is no solution at all, yet, invite the entire city with all its talent and enterprise to look for it. With almost one million people and all the talent and enterprise of the world’s multinationals there is no issue we cannot solve if we are connected in local communities, and manage to leverage the ideas of the small to make big changes.

I cannot ask you to vote for me, as mayors aren’t elected in The Netherlands. If this ever changes, this will be my platform.