Amsterdam street furniture

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Amsterdam’s street furniture is impressively diverse in materials, styles, and multiple levels of permanence/formality. When contrasted with the recent examples of the city’s hostile design, it casts Amsterdam as a city with a set of strongly-defined guide-rails and borders for pedestrians’ street-level experience. Whether or not you can sit, walk, or enjoy a meal somewhere is rarely ambiguous. As the capabilities to surveil and sense the urban environment and how it is being used continue to develop, I’m curious how/if Amsterdam decides to pursue the ability to do so, and how that unfolds upon the city’s weathered cobblestones.

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Above is a nice way to amplify the possibilities and functionality of a public bench, in this case through contributing a “public table” to go along with it. The positioning next to the sign warning passersby that they cannot enjoy alcoholic beverages there is ironic, considering what an appealing setup the anonymous creators have made for doing just that. For whom is this sign really meant to apply – locals, or non-local tipplers?

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While the positioning of the sign leaves little ambiguity about whether drinking is acceptable whilst sitting on the bench, what’s the “effective domain” of such this sign beyond the bench? APV in Dutch is short for “Algemene Plaats Verordening” – or “general local regulation”. To my knowledge, Amsterdam has no “container law” as in the US, and drinking alcohol outside is generally tolerated throughout the city. So where does this sign hold sway? Reading distance? A stone’s throw? As cities grow increasingly able to sense what their citizens do, who will decide how and whether this ordinance is enforced, and the consequences of violating it?

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Finally, the relationship between this set of off-sidewalk furniture and the sign in the adjacent window stood out – was this meant as a plea to the owners of this street furniture, who seem to be ignoring the small paper sign’s entreaties to pick up one’s trash and not toss cigarette butts on the ground? Or are the sign-poster and furniture-owners one and the same, with the sign being an outward-facing plea to “[keep] it nice”? As intelligence is baked into more elements of our daily lives, how might that change how (and by who) these pieces of public (and semi-public) infrastructure are used?

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