Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The collection covers a range of topics from the city’s historical development to the nearest public barbecue spot.
Regularly updated and practically exhaustive, Amsterdam’s visual data archive is the sort of resource many other cities would love to have. Need to locate your nearest disabled parking space, public barbecue spot, or gay bar? The city has some maps for you. If you’re curious as to where in the city has the highest soil quality, the most vacant offices, or the ideal breeding grounds for certain types of bird, you’ll find the graphics to help you out.
Put together over the last four years by mapper and geographer Klaas-Bindert de Haan,* the archive is a constant work-in-progress. The latest map, showing waste disposal points for paper, glass, plastic, and textiles, was uploaded earlier this summer. But while much information is practical (and largely in Dutch), the archive is also a fascinating resource for history buffs and urbanists.
Below are four maps that show the breadth of topics covered in the archive. While we can only provide screenshots in this post because the maps cannot be embedded, a link is provided to the actual maps so that you can explore the city’s various dimensions on your own.
Amsterdam’s historical development
This map visualizes the city’s historical development and is a good example of the level of detail the archives offers. Charting the city’s development from 1600 onwards, it shows Amsterdam staying almost completely within the limits reached during its 17th-century Golden Age until the late 19th century, when it finally busts out of its inner canal ring and starts to gobble up the surrounding land. The map also makes clear on close inspection how much more spaced-out later buildings were compared to those in the historic core.
How big is Amsterdam, really?
Another addictive map tool in the archive shows the extent to which little Amsterdam punches above its weight. While it is known as one of Europe’s great economic, cultural, and historic centers, it’s considerably smaller than many other cities in its league. This tool helps you to gauge exactly how large Amsterdam is compared with other cities by allowing you to drag its silhouette across the world and superimpose it on top of other locations. We can thus see that compared to sprawling London, Amsterdam is tiny—its footprint fits comfortably into less than one-sixth of the space within the M25 motorway. Drag Amsterdam all the way across the Atlantic and you find that, if you reshaped the city, it would fit comfortably within the borough of Brooklyn.
Other maps in the archive unlock some of Amsterdam’s distinctive characteristics. This property tax map, for example, shows evidence of both Amsterdam’s high housing standards and the city’s relatively narrow (but nonetheless growing) wealth gap. The map shows variations in how much tax is charged per square meter of land. The deepest red lines show areas where taxes are over €5,000 per square meter, then runs down the scale to the deepest blue, where property taxes are lower than €1,500 per square meter.
The most consistently expensive streets in the inner city face the canals or flank the area’s only major green space, the Vondel Park. The densest cluster of streets in the top tax band, however, is in the Apollobuurt, an area that offers large single family homes and (for cramped Holland) well-sized gardens, but is also very near the city centre. To find inner Amsterdam’s cheapest property taxes, you have to go to the other side of the city, across the IJ River, to the working class streets beyond the docks. The homes here are spaciously laid out and attractive, with plenty of green space and not much traffic. Residents may be more tightly packed here than elsewhere in the city and struggle daily with a smaller budget, but the housing in which they live still looks generous and well-built, both in person and on Google Street View. Certainly the space between these highest and lowest tax areas is less of a ravine than you might expect.
The practical side of the archive
The archive can also help locals make key decisions about where they live. The green-conscious, for example, might turn to maps detailing the city’s main concentrations of solar panels, green roofs, and wind turbines. But let’s focus on this map which shows the homes that are heated by district heating: it shows the existing district heating network in red, with outlying city blocks connected up to the the network in yellow. The main plants where district heating is created through waste incineration, meanwhile, are highlighted with orange blobs.
Unsurprisingly, this network concentrates most intensely in areas with new construction. In the bottom-righthand corner of the screenshot above, the main red clusters are in the public housing-filled Bijlmermeer area, and further up to the right, the IJburg, where Amsterdam is still building new housing on artificial islands created in the IJmeer lake. Given that the infrastructure necessary for district heating is easier to install in undeveloped land, the map showing its uptake is also simultaneously a map of Amsterdam’s recent expansion.
*Klaas-Bindert de Haan.