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Saturday, 19 September 2009

On An Island

The city of Amsterdam has a problem that won’t go away: there is more demand for places to live than there is space in the city to put them. So throughout the post-war period, suburbs were created outside the canal ring. One of these, Osdorp, which lies below sea level, was at another turning point: the realisation that the city could not function without its tram system. It was estimated that the suburb would need a fleet of over fifty buses to serve it, or eighteen trams. The eighteen trams – some of the last built in the Netherlands – won.

Fast forward to the new millennium, and the pressure on space continues. So a new suburb has been created on a series of islands, themselves reclaimed land, in the estuary of the IJ east of the city centre. Not surprisingly, this new town has been named IJburg, and this morning I took a ride on the newly built tram route that connects it with central Amsterdam.

After the tram passes through the long Piet Heintunnel, the first impression is of a bare and deserted landscape: only after some time does the line enter IJburg proper, with the usual range of shops topped and flanked by medium rise apartments. From the end of the line I walked to the “strand”, which looks out over the IJ. But the far shore is so very distant. In fact, everywhere seems a long way away. IJburg gives the impression that, despite its closeness to one of the world’s busiest city centres, it is isolated and lonely.

In the warm September sunshine, it looked a little stark and functional, but when the rain falls and the wind blows, which it does in this part of the world, it will not be a happy place.

I caught the next number 26 back to Centraal Station, hoping that IJburg would grow up happier, and prove me wrong.

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