Wandering central Amsterdam’s historic canals, gazing up at crooked old warehouses-turned-apartments, one can feel the city’s rich history. Few cars are brave enough to challenge the bicycles on the narrow canal streets, resulting in a peaceful quietness in the heart of Amsterdam. Occasionally, horse-drawn carriages pass on the cobbled canal streets and I find myself in a bit of a historic trance (that or sometimes the famous “beer-bikes” which offer a different impression of this crazy, quirky, diverse city). Hearing the horse hoofs gently prance, while lazily sipping a beer or tea, enriches the trancelike state and I imagine the city as it would have appeared in the Dutch Golden Age. While Amsterdam is much more than its central canal rings, the city is what it is today, in part because the historic role it played as a trade, science and art hub in the 1700 and 1800s – and for that matter, its continued role in these fields today.
Today, urban planners and city designers prepare for the future of cities: how much energy or water will urban residents require and can this be provided in a ‘smart’ fashion; how can we combine density with expansion; what technologies or infrastructure are appropriate or available; how to ensure present and future urban quality of life. These are all valid concerns – especially as we become an increasingly urban species and have to address challenges like resource scarcity and climate change. Still, as we look forward, we must not forget to look back. Our cities are a chaotic mix of their present, their future, and equally, their past. The historical identity of a city’s urban fabric, including its buildings, roads, alleys, museums, markets, parks and café corners influence how we, as urban citizens, interact in and with the city and consequently with each other.
Amsterdam for one, while a modern city sphere, is built on living history. One of my favourite museums – the Amsterdam Museum – paints the city’s story through the ages. Amsterdam: from a small farm village on the edge of the Amstel River, to a great trade hub in the Dutch Golden Age, to the city’s modern era, dominate in creative industries and famous for its spirit of celebration and tolerance. It’s a great museum providing a through insight into the city’s past and how this continues to influence its future. However, if you are not physically in Amsterdam, but still keen to see the city (virtually) evolve, the below video paints the city’s development over time: Amsterdam – history in the making.