Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beautiful Java Island in Amsterdam

I was just looking through this photo set taken by a photographer over in Amsterdam Nederlands, specifically in Java Island, the former industrial docklands that were transformed into a playground for modernist architects as the area went from brownfeild to residential in the 1990s. Even without the gorgeous gables and circular street layout that Amsterdam is best known for, this place really came out looking nice. In the two times I've had the privilege to visit, I've never actually made my way to Java as the American in me was too much of a lazy ass to walk the long distance it takes to cross the harbor from the city center, but even from a distance, it's quite a sight to see in person.


Anyways I post this because it got me thinking about our own brownfield by the sea for which the city has been trying to make lively and vibrant. For years Ship Creek has been in the cross hairs of attempted redevelopment into a tourist destination, but it's just not working out. The problem is tourists are in town for only three months of the year. In addition, elderly tourists -- who make up the majority of visitors here -- probably find the area too distant and not worth it to walk from downtown. Shuttle services offer rides to Ship Creek, but that's just not practical as a sole dependent. I think the most symbolic example of the failure for Ship Creek to materialize is what happened when an upscale restaurant that only appeals to tourists and special get-togethers opens up in the pit. Had it been a coffee shop or any sort of everymans diner that appeals to locals, specifically employees in the area who work for the Alaska Railroad, Anchorage Port, and the numerous distribution centers nearby, then I would expect the diner or normal priced restaurant to be able to sustain itself year around as it can be a place for workers to grab a bite during lunch hour. Instead, the swank and much hyped restaurant known as The Bridge went out of business in I believe less than a year. It's next door neighbor, The Ulu Factory, is still open, but business is obviously slow if you hadn't been down there latley.

If I were in charge of the redevelopment, this is what I would do. Give incentives for basic-need businesses (groceries, banks, coffeeshops, etc) to open up and cater to the workforce in the area as well as rezone land to intice developers to build medium to high density residential buildings that would house the businesses at ground level. This way even without the areas workforce present during weekends, businesses and the neighborhood in general can depend on its new residents to keep the place alive rather than depend on the three-month-a-year tourist. You've probably noticed this with 4th Avenue in Downtown during the winter as well. The place has been taken hostage by tourists since its reincarnation in the 80s and as a result, a very active street in the summer becomes a ghost town during winter, except for say Fur Rondy and the Iditarod.

Ironically if you've already seen the photos I linked of Java Island, you probably are left wondering where all the people are. I wonder that too, but I don't know the time of day, or day of the week when those photos were taken nor other variables that may or may not make the place seem dead. Whatever the case, I do think what we're seeing in Amsterdam is a smart way to make efficient use of land that happens to be available. Apparently demand for marine related industry is not high enough as the demand for residential space (which I suppose is understandable as the whole medieval city center of Amsterdam is thankfully under strict preservation and protection from new construction). BTW, work is under way on restoring an old building owned by the Alaska Railroad in Ship Creek with the hopes of turning it into office space. Our fingers will be kept crossed.

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