New Rules for a New Age: The Constitution of Amsterdam 2.0

Jaakko van 't Spijker, one of the architects of Amsterdam 2.0, asked me in an email, "What is the rationale for the new constitution?"

I'm making a distinction, between the 'framework' constitution--what Jaakko has been calling 'the law of laws', but to be more accurate should be called, 'the constitution of constitutions'--and the 'individual' constitutions that it would spawn (the 'possible cities').

Constitutions have traditionally been developed...

(1) to continue or to restore a historical state (of mind!)--in other words to perpetuate past lines.

(2) to encapsulate the current make up or vital attitude ('constitution') of the group of constituents--in other words to reflect and safeguard 'the current will of the people.'

(3) to state an intention or goal (mission statement) for a group of constituents and to provide a path or methodology in order to achieve that goal.

The Amsterdam 2.0 constitution is based upon all of the above as well as a number of premises:

(1) That cities are for change and not for people.

(2) That people should be able to choose their city and migrate easily (at near zero cost) to the city of their choice.

(3) That there should be a diverse array of cities, cultures and sets of laws to choose from.

It is important to remember that Amsterdam 2.0 is a 'country' rather than a city--a 'country' with not one capital but hundreds of capitals. A country whose sole purpose is to safeguard the diversity and autonomy of each of its cities. The Amsterdam 2.0 constitution is specifically designed to this end.

What is so special about the cities in Amsterdam 2.0 is that they are ubiquitous. You and I may appear to be living right next door to each other as neighbors in Amsterdam 2.0 but in fact we could be living in two very different cities under two very different sets of laws. And if I no longer like how things are going in my city I can move to your city without having to sell my house and pack up the rest of my property--all I have to do is go to your 'city hall' and make the necessary arrangements...

An Introduction to the Constitution of Amsterdam 2.0
or 5 Good Reasons why Amsterdam 2.0
Should Secede from the Rest of the Netherlands

1) Amsterdam 2.0 is a return to Amsterdam's first principles
2) Amsterdam 2.0 takes advantage of the networks
3) Amsterdam 2.0 is a safe haven for diversity
4) Amsterdam 2.0 exploits the new technological habitat
5) Amsterdam 2.0 encourages experiments in living

Amsterdam 2.0 is a return to Amsterdam's first principles

Yes, God created the world,
but Dutch traders created Amsterdam...

Amsterdam 1.0 is mentioned for the first time in history in a charter drawn up in the year 1275. In this document Floris V, Earl of Holland granted the people who lived around the dam on the river Amstel the right to use the district's waterways without paying a toll. This privilege saved the Amsterdam 1.0 merchants a great deal of money and encouraged them to expand their trading activity with their neighbors.

As a 15th century children's song put it:

Amsterdam was founded on water.
Amsterdam rose from a swamp.

Amsterdam was founded on a privilege.
What did Amsterdam promise Floris in return?

In the 17th century it was the merchants of Amsterdam 1.0 that led the Dutch Republic into its Golden Age. The Republic itself was an extremely weak union, with very few legislative or judicial institutions common to the whole body. Decisions, at that time, were made by the individual cities and provinces that made up the union, with Amsterdam foremost. Through the careful exercise of its autonomy, Amsterdam 1.0 became one of the richest and most powerful cities on earth, expanding its own borders and reputation far beyond the borders of the Dutch Republic.

For over a century, Amsterdam 1.0 was successful in making copies of itself and infecting others with its ideas (in franchising itself). Amsterdam 1.0 granted itself privileges to travel on distant seas (e.g. Grotius' Mare Liberum) and established its trading posts in the east and west 'Indies'. During this period Amsterdam 1.0 became a true 'distributed' city, no longer confined to a single spot at the mouth of the Amstel river, but at once existing in many locations around the world.

Amsterdam 2.0 picks up this achievement where Amsterdam 1.0 left off.

Amsterdam 2.0 takes advantage of the networks

Amsterdam 1.0 grew through its merchant trade and developed by taking risks. In the 17th century the city was the mother of all speculation--its citizens literally climbing over each other for a chance to risk their new fortunes on its sailing ships. Money and the opportunities to make more money were very important to Amsterdam and to its identity. Many modern financial institutions, such as the stock exchange, the bank and the insurance company, first became a reality on its wet streets.

What happened to the original Amsterdam? Why did it stop emigrating and growing by franchise?

At a certain point in any city's evolution an increase in physical size is no longer advantageous. Amsterdam 1.0 is well past this point. Today Amsterdam 1.0 continues to grow but misses the advantage of its increased scale. As the physical city grows so does its problems.

We believe that our future 'wealth and well being' lies in very small cities and very large networks. After the city becomes a multinational, it is only a question of time before the bakery on the corner turns into a multinational. Amsterdam has always been a city of network administrators and managers. Amsterdam 2.0 radicalizes this skill. What was once a city (or a city state) becomes a country (or a state of cities) that spawns new cities, small semi-permanent entities that optimize and take economic advantage of the world's large networks.

Our new rule:

Many small (cities)
Create many gates.

Amsterdam 2.0 is a safe haven for diversity

The system was wide, Ryumin thought. There was room in it for a thousand modes of life, a thousand hopeful monsters... Only time could tell the difference between aberration and advance. Bruce Sterling

Amsterdam 1.0 is famous for its tolerance, so much so that tolerance has become an important part of its reputation and its allure. Tourists flock to Amsterdam 1.0 to experience its sex and soft drug cultures.

However Amsterdam's openness, its tolerance, has limits. No matter how liberal a society there are always limits to its freedom of expression and belief. The laws (rules) of Amsterdam 1.0 and the rights of its present citizens limit the city's future possibilities. This is the problem with planning. To plan is to extrapolate present tolerations and rights into the future.

The sociologist Paul Treanor has this to say about the limiting nature of rights:

Rights function by virtue of their ability to negate; for almost every right there is an opposite or negated right. This enables a selection of rights to function as a barrier for social reform, or for innovation. Rights specify primarily what is socially unacceptable. Such a contra-innovative specification has no ethical validity.

Amsterdam 2.0 can be more tolerant than Amsterdam 1.0 because Amsterdam 2.0 is designed to contain not one society but up to 400 different societies within its dominion--cities founded with a purpose, cities created as safe havens for radical ideologies. The purpose of Amsterdam 2.0 is to ensure that these cities can co-exist without threatening each other and without being threatened by external forces.

Possible cities include: a city for dog eaters, a city for vegetarians, a city for fire worshipers and pyromaniacs, a city for non-smokers, a city for those that wish to have a record of everything, a city for those who wish to erase all records of their past and start their lives over...

Amsterdam 2.0 exploits the new technological habitat

Some advanced life forms are born helpless and require a period of 'protection' or 'incubation' before they are robust enough to stand on their own in the world--once on their feet, however, there is no stopping them.

Amsterdam 2.0 is not about the 'survival of the strongest', or about the 'survival of those that have the most babies', but about the 'survival of those that travel the furthest'.

Amsterdam 2.0 encourages experiments in living

In our world we can distinguish three approaches towards change...

1) those that make a change in order to cure a malady

2) those that make a change as an enhancement

3) those that make a change for the sake of change

Amsterdam 1.0 is by nature conservative and thus leans heavily towards the first approach to change--it only makes changes when necessary (if it ain't broke don't fix it) and then only as an attempt to 'repair' a dysfunctional situation.

Amsterdam 2.0, on the hand, leans heavily towards the second and third approaches. It is not afraid of change for the sake of change or change as enhancement. Amsterdam 2.0, for example, will not debate the costs or benefits of technologies like genetic engineering but will create cities which can explore these technological developments to the maximum.

Paul Treanor's statement,

Cities are for change not for people

critiques the idea of the human-centric city (or the democratic city--the city that has something for everyone) and grants the city its own life and destiny. Amsterdam 2.0 cities are privileged to live and die like other organisms--each has the freedom to advance or become an aberration. Time alone will tell.

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This page was first created on --> 25/9/00; 15:46:53 CET
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