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Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’

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Photo: Anne Lakeman/Mediamatic ETEN
Testing the Serres Séparées safe-eating concept at Mediamatic restaurant in the Netherlands.

My husband keeps saying he can’t imagine that going to restaurants will ever be the same after coronavirus. In fact, he says, if nice restaurants continue doing takeout, maybe we should just stick with that.

Of course, restaurant owners are already thinking about these issues.

Byron Mühlberg reports from the Netherlands that the possibility of future guests requesting their own separate spaces has got some restaurateurs thinking creatively.

“With Dutch restaurants, bars and other catering services engulfed in uncertainty over how they might adjust to the 1.5-meter society,” he writes, “one Amsterdam restaurant is set to experiment with a brand new way of condoning off its guests: Using enclosed greenhouses.

“Mediamatic ETEN, part of a larger arts and entrepreneurship center focusing on sustainability, is a vegan restaurant. … From May 21, the restaurant will begin taking in guests, only this time they will be seated inside Serres Séparées (‘separated greenhouses’), enclosed glass structures, each equipped with a table for two or three diners.

” ‘This was one of the most feasible ideas from a large list of ideas we had when brainstorming,’ Mediamatic’s founding partner Willem Velthoven told NL Times. …

Initially, no more than three guests will be allowed to dine inside each greenhouse, even though there is the capacity for more. ‘[This is] is because we are now careful with our optimism,’ Velthoven explained. …

” ‘Bigger groups could [come] now, but then they should be families. For now, bigger groups are being discouraged because, from our experience, they are just louder and then you get the excited behavior causing spittle to fly and so on, and that’s the kind of behavior that would make the virus spread faster,’ Velthoven said. …

“Catering industry association KHN told NL Times, ‘We sent a protocol to the government two weeks ago, containing advice on how best to open the 1.5 [meter] distance. It is crucial that the government provide perspective quickly.’

“While KHN said it would not yet advise restaurants to reopen on June 1, renowned catering tycoon Laurens Meyer … questioned the idea of people becoming too careful with space.

” ‘We have to realize that there will always be some kind of virus. Whether it is worse than the flu, we have to see. If there is nothing left of our economy, we will no longer be able to afford health care and that will also cost human lives,’ explained Meyer.

“Velthoven, on the other hand, disagrees with Meyer’s approach, urging caution before advising restaurants to open their doors to the public without careful examination. ‘It’s about others and not just yourself in this case,’ he said. …

“Velthoven also understands the business argument, even though he has spent a career looking for creative solutions to problems instead of blunt responses. He ultimately wondered what the government’s plan is for the catering sector if those businesses are ordered to stay closed for a longer duration. If billions of euros are being diverted to KLM, he wonders what the government will be able to do to bail out his industry.

” ‘If I am not allowed to do anything the rest of this year, it’s finished,’ he lamented.” More at NL Times, here.

If you have heard of other good ideas for restaurants and bars in our cautious Covid-19 world, please share them in Comments. Pretty sure that there’s a large group of potential patrons who will be looking for the safest way to dine out — at least until a vaccine is widely available.

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Photo: Sky News
Dutch students sail across the Atlantic to get home after coronavirus blocks their flight.

Of all the nutty adaptations caused by Covid-19, this is one of the most unusual. A group of Dutch students who were on an educational sailing trip in the Caribbean were unable to fly home. So they sailed all the way back over the Atlantic Ocean.

Aleksandar Furtula (with contributions from Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague) reports at the Washington Post, “A group of 25 Dutch high school students with very little sailing experience ended a trans-Atlantic voyage Sunday that was forced on them by coronavirus restrictions.

“The children, ages 14 to 17, watched over by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic forced them to radically change their plans for returning home in March.

“That gave one of the young sailors, 17-year-old Floor Hurkmans, one of the biggest lessons of her impromptu adventure. …

“ ‘The arrival time changed like 100 times. Being flexible is really important.’

Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for the northern Dutch port of Harlingen, a five-week voyage of nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles), on board the 60-meter (200-foot) top sail schooner Wylde Swan. …

“The teens hugged and chanted each other’s names as they walked off the ship and into the arms of their families, who drove their cars alongside the yacht one by one to adhere to social distancing rules imposed to rein in the spread of the virus that forced the students into their long trip home.

“For Hurkmans, the impossibility of any kind of social distancing took some getting used to. … Her mother, Renee Scholtemeijer, said she expects her daughter to miss life on the open sea once she encounters coronavirus containment measures in the Netherlands.

“ ‘I think that after two days she’ll want to go back on the boat, because life is very boring back at home,” she said. ‘There’s nothing to do, she can’t visit friends, so it’s very boring.’ …

Masterskip, the company that organized the cruise, runs five educational voyages for about 150 students in all each year. Crossing the Atlantic is nothing new for the Wylde Swan, which has made the trip about 20 times.

“The company’s director, Christophe Meijer, said the students were monitored for the coronavirus in March to ensure nobody was infected. He said he was pleased the students had adapted to life on board and kept up their education on the long voyage.

“ ‘The children learned a lot about adaptivity, also about media attention, but also their normal school work,’ he said. ‘So they are actually far ahead now of their Dutch school colleagues. They have made us very proud.’

More at the Washington Post, here. A Reuters article with other details is here.

 

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Photo: Mevan Babakar
Years ago, a 5-year-old Kurdish refugee received a bike from a kind man in the Netherlands. Recently, Mevan Babakar, now an adult, tracked down the man known only as Egbert to express her lasting gratitude.

As we break our hearts over what is happening to today’s Kurdish refugees, it may be time for a story about the beauty that can occur when refugees are treated with respect and compassion. The story is also about the good side of social media.

Megan Specia reported at the New York Times in August, “Memories of a brand new bicycle — and the mystery man who gave it to her when she was a 5-year-old in a Dutch refugee center — have played out as vignettes in Mevan Babakar’s mind for most of her life.

“Ms. Babakar, now 29, said the generous gift from a man whose name she couldn’t remember had shaped her childhood. On Tuesday, she suddenly found herself reunited with the man whose face had flickered through her memories for more than two decades.

“And it all began on Twitter.

“ ‘I was a refugee for 5 yrs in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike. My five year old heart exploded with joy,’ Ms. Babakar wrote in a post on Twitter, before pleading with the internet to help her track him down.

“The photo she shared — a fading snapshot of the man that her mother had kept — was among a handful of belongings they had from that time. When he gave her the bike, she said, it made a lasting impact.

‘I remember feeling so special. I remember thinking that this is such a big thing to receive, am I even worthy of this big thing?’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘This feeling kind of became the basis of my self-worth growing up.’

“She and her parents fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish population in the early 1990s, which included a gas attack on a village near their home. Their journey took them to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia — where her father stayed behind to work for the next four years — and eventually to the Netherlands. …

“Ms. Babakar took a sabbatical from her technology job in London this summer to retrace the journey, and visited Zwolle to spend a few days attempting to piece together her scattered impressions of her time there. … While there, she wrote a Twitter post that she described as a ‘last-ditch attempt’ to learn more about the man who had struck up a friendship with her and her mother, and gave her the bike.

“Within hours, Arjen van der Zee, who volunteers for a nonprofit news site in Zwolle, saw the photo and recognized the man.

“ ‘I looked at the picture and immediately knew this guy who I had worked with in my early twenties,’ said Mr. van der Zee. … Mr. van der Zee made contact with the man’s family on social media, and they put the two in touch.

“ ‘He started to tell me that he remembered Mevan and her mother,’ Mr. van der Zee said. ‘He said he always told his wife, if there were people he wanted to see again in his life it was Mevan and her mother.’

“They quickly scrambled to arrange a meeting with Ms. Babakar, who was due to travel back to London in the coming days. …

“ ‘He was, I guess, equally overwhelmed,’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘It was like seeing a family member that you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was really lovely.’ …

“Ms. Babakar was ‘incredibly humbled’ that her story had resonated with so many people around the world — both fellow refugees and those who just felt touched by the tale. … ‘I think it’s really easy for people to forget or to feel really powerless in the face of these big, abstract problems that we hear about all the time,’ she said. “It’s really a comfort to remember we are all very powerful in the way that we treat others. Especially in the small acts, we are powerful.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: The Independent
Holland is welcoming bees to bus-stop roofs with plants that also clean dust from the air.

Here is a cool idea for nourishing our valuable pollinators — as long as you’re not allergic to bee stings.

Sophie Hirsh at Green Matters has the story. “Waiting for the bus is typically pretty uneventful — unless you live in one Dutch city. Utrecht, a city in Holland, the Netherlands, recently gave makeovers to 316 bus stops, outfitting them with ‘green roofs,’ The Independent reports. The roofs are covered with sedum flowers and other plants, which act as an oasis for bees. …

“As explained by BrightVibes, the plants will also help absorb rainwater, capture dust or pollutants from the air, and regulate temperatures. …

“In addition to the green roofs, the bus stops also feature bamboo benches and LED lights, which are much more efficient than fluorescent and incandescent lights. And to keep the maintenance of the green bus stops as eco-friendly as possible, Utrecht’s municipal employees who service the bus stops travel from station to station using electric vehicles.

“If Utrecht citizens find themselves inspired when waiting for their daily bus ride, the city is encouraging residents to install green roofs on their houses. In fact, Utrecht residents can actually apply for a subsidy to cover the costs of planting greenery on their roofs, according to BrightVibes. …

“According to the USDA, bee pollination assists in producing one out of every three bites of food we take in the U.S. Many foods we regularly enjoy would not be possible without bees. According to the NRDC, 42 percent of U.S. bee colonies collapsed in 2015, putting our nation’s food supply in jeopardy.

“But over the past few years, there have been a few other local projects to protect bees around the world. For example, in 2010, a German couple began installing bee hives on buildings around Berlin, with the goal of helping bees, as well as creating awareness for the importance of protecting pollinator insects. …

“If you have a garden at your home, there are plenty of ways to use your outdoor space to help bees and other pollinators. For example, you can plant flowers that will attract bees, such as alyssum, echinacea, geranium, and clover, preferably in bright colors like blue, purple, and yellow, according to Gardeners Supply Company. You can also stop weeding your garden and mowing your lawn. As explained by the New York Bee Sanctuary, dandelions and other weeds are great food sources for bees.”

More here.

Photo: GreenMatters.com
Pollinator gardens on bus-stop roofs offer numerous environmental benefits.

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Photo: Nederlandse Spoorwegen
A special book given out as gift to readers during National Book Week is accepted instead of a ticket on the train.

The Dutch seem to be ahead of the curve on many things. I’ve posted about their friendly communities for people with dementia, about their environmental innovation, about their biking culture. This story is on their support for reading books.

Jon Stone writes at the Independent, “Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network [in March] as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.

“Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.

“Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the ‘book week gift’ or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.

“But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.

“Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.

” ‘It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,’ author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book. …

“This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.” More here.

And check out this cool article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, in which he describes a wide array of unusual ways to pay fares — ideas from all around the world.

Because of a problem with rail passes, he writes, England’s Virgin Trains let people pay with an avocado for a while. And “Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, came up with a novel way of clearing its streets of plastic waste last autumn: It has been encouraging passengers to trade in trash for bus tickets.”

Among other creative approaches, Russia promoted the Winter Olympics by offering passes for doing a certain number of squats, Berlin partnered with Adidas to offer sneakers with a pass in the tongue, and Japan started experimenting with cryptocurrency.

Can you think of other ideas cities should try? Maybe on Giving Tuesday, transit systems could allow free travel for proof you gave to a charity.

 

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Photo: Eric Helgas for the New York Times
Tiny books, called dwarsliggers in the Netherlands, are the size of a cellphone and feature extremely thin pages that a reader can flip horizontally as if scrolling.

When I was a kid, I loved the Golden Book collections that the publishers miniaturized. I still have the set I got for my own children, and I notice that my grandchildren are drawn to the surprising size. So I’m guessing that a kind of tiny book already popular in Europe is going to take hold in the US, not just with kids.

Alexandra Alter writes at the New York Times, “As a physical object and a feat of technology, the printed book is hard to improve upon. Apart from minor cosmetic tweaks, the form has barely evolved since the codex first arose as an appealing alternative to scrolls around 2,000 years ago.

“So when Julie Strauss-Gabel, the president and publisher of Dutton Books for Young Readers, discovered ‘dwarsliggers’ — tiny, pocket-size, horizontal flipbacks that have become a wildly popular print format in the Netherlands — it felt like a revelation.

“ ‘I saw it and I was like, boom,’ she said. ‘I started a mission to figure out how we could do that here.’

“[In October], Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House, began releasing its first batch of mini books, with four reissued novels by the best-selling young-adult novelist John Green. The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin. They can be read with one hand — the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone. …

“Mr. Green was already familiar with dwarsliggers, which he first saw several years ago, when he was living in Amsterdam (the term comes from the Dutch words ‘dwars,’ or crossways, and ‘liggen,’ to lie, and also means a person or thing that stands out as different). In the last decade or so, the format has spread across Europe, and nearly 10 million copies have been sold, with mini editions of popular contemporary authors like Dan Brown, John le Carré, Ian McEwan and Isabel Allende, as well as classics by Agatha Christie and F. Scott Fitzgerald. …

“ ‘Like a lot of writers, I’m a complete nerd for book making and the little details that make a physical book really special,’ Mr. Green said. ‘It didn’t feel like a gimmick, it feels like an interesting, different way to read.’ …

“Dutton and Mr. Green are hoping that younger readers from a generation that grew up with the internet and smartphones might be receptive to the concept of a miniature flipbook.

“ ‘Young people are still learning how they like to read,’ Mr. Green said. ‘It is much closer to a cellphone experience than standard books, but it’s much closer to a book than a cellphone. The whole problem with reading on a phone is that my phone also does so many other things.’ …

“Ms. Strauss-Gabel began her mission to import flipbacks to America this year, when she received Dutch editions of two of Mr. Green’s novels. She was startled by their size and ingenious design — the spine operates like a hinge that swings open, making it easier to turn the pages. She contacted the Dutch printer, Royal Jongbloed, and asked if Dutton could become partners with the company to print English editions. …

“But getting English flipback editions of Mr. Green’s books proved endlessly complicated. Jongbloed is currently the only printer in the world that makes them, using ultrathin but durable paper from a mill in a village in Finland. The first sample pages that Jongbloed sent looked cluttered, with letters and words crammed too close together. …

“ ‘I have no idea how people will respond to this,’ Mr. Green said. ‘They’re objects that you almost can’t get until you’re touching them.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here. I expect that one-handed reading will improve life in crowded subways, where commuters are likely to need the other hand just to hold on.

Photo: AbeBooks
Remember these?

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2048

Photo: Gemeente Zwolle
The plastic bicycle path in Zwolle, the Netherlands, is a test for building roads from plastic waste in the future.

I don’t know if it’s because, historically, they’ve had to protect their land from the encroaching sea, but the Dutch seem to be repeat innovators. This blog has covered a lot of new ideas from the Netherlands. (3-D printed houses, anyone? Wind power for trains?) Today’s post is on a possible use for discarded plastic bottles.

Daniel Boffey writes at the Guardian, “The world’s first plastic bicycle path made of recycled bottles, cups and packaging has opened in the Netherlands, as part of a pilot that could see similar roads open up across the country.

“The 30-metre path, made of recycled plastic equivalent to more than 218,000 plastic cups, is expected to be three times as durable as an asphalt alternative. It also contains sensors to monitor the road’s performance, including its temperature, the number of bikes that pass over it and its ability to cope with the traffic.

“The prefabricated sections of cycle path are light and hollow making them easy to transport and 70% quicker to install. Cables and utility pipes are able to be easily fitted inside, and the path is designed to drain off rainwater. … It is believed that many of the benefits of the paths will apply to plastic roads.

“The path’s inventors, Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma, said: ‘This first pilot is a big step towards a sustainable and future-proof road made of recycled plastic waste. When we invented the concept, we didn’t know how to build a plastic road, now we know.’

“Asphalt concrete is responsible for 1.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, equivalent to 2% of global road transport emissions. …

“Earlier this year the EU [European Union] launched an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act on plastic waste and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030. … Each year, 25m tonnes of plastic waste is generated by Europeans, but less than 30% is collected for recycling.”

The idea has real possibilities, but the concerns of groups hoping to end the use of plastics altogether need to be addressed. “Plastic Soup has warned that small particles of the plastic could find their way into the living environment due to heat, wear and run-off.” More at the Guardian, here.

I’m just glad people are trying to find solutions to some of the damage that human activity has done to the planet. The issues are in the news right now as both great powers and small, climate-impacted countries are meeting in Katowice, Poland, to improve on the Paris Agreement.

By the way, if you are on twitter, do follow Sweden’s 15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg), who is speaking truth to power in Poland: “I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.” I just read that Venice is likely to succumb of sea-level rise. Greta’s urgency is warranted. Young people give me hope.

And read a wonderful, inspiring book by former president of Ireland Mary Robinson called Climate Justice, which connects human rights and poverty to the effects of global warming and offers hope in the shape of brave, ordinary people.

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Photo: Houben/Van Mierlo architecten
New homes in the Netherlands are being created with a 3-D printer. 

Now for something completely different: how those creative Dutch are using 3-D printers to create homes.

Gianluca Mezzofiore reports at CNN, “Living in a community of 3D-printed homes will soon be reality in the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

“In what is considered a world first, a single-floor, three-room house made of 3D-printed concrete will be ready for occupation in 2019. More than 20 people have already registered their interest in the house since Dutch construction company Van Wijnen announced the project. …

” ‘We need a technical revolution in the constructing area to respond to the shortage of skilled bricklayers in the Netherlands and all over the world,’ Rudy van Gurp, a manager at Van Wijnen, told CNN. ‘3D printing makes things quicker, better, cheaper and more sustainable by using less material. It also fosters creativity and freedom in the design.’

“Working along with the Eindhoven University of Technology, the construction firm is printing a special type of concrete for the house’s exterior and inner walls by adding layer upon layer.

In laying concrete only where it is needed, the amount of cement being used is significantly lower, which helps cut down on costs and environmentally destructive carbon-dioxide emissions. Van Gurp estimates that 3D-printed walls of the new houses will be 5 centimeters thick, while normally they would be about 10 to 15 centimeters. …

“At the moment, research costs and regulation restraints outweigh the benefits of 3D houses, but we may see mass production of these in the next few years, van Gurp said.”

For more pictures and details, go to CNN, here.

Photo: Houben/Van Mierlo architecten
A 3-D printer lays down layer upon layer of concrete for a new home.

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Photo: YouTube
One of the calendars used in the Dutch prison system to encourage prisoners to help solve cold cases.

Here’s a new twist on solving cold cases. It’s being implemented in the Netherlands, and I was going to say, “Trust the creative Dutch to come up with this idea!” But it turns out they got the idea from the United States.

Daniel Boffey writes at the Guardian, “Prisoners across the Netherlands are to be issued with calendars for their cells featuring unsolved murders or disappearances as part of a drive by the Dutch police to crack unsolved cases.

“The so-called cold case calendars will be handed to all 30,000 prisoners in the country after a trial run in five jails in the north resulted in 160 tips to the police.

“Each week of the year in the brightly coloured 2018-19 calendars will be illustrated with a photograph of a missing person and details of the case. The hope is that many of those in jail will know details of some of the crimes or may have heard other criminals chatting about them. …

“Jeroen Hammer, the calendar’s inventor, told Dutch newspapers the calendars had also proved popular with bored prisoners, although some had regarded the initiative as an attempt to turn them against their own. …

“The calendar has been printed in Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, English and Russian to maximise its impact, and a €800,000 reward is being made available for those whose information ends in a successful conviction. …

“The police say they can offer anonymity to people in certain cases.

“ ‘There is no penalty for keeping information about a criminal offence committed. Therefore, you do not have to fear persecution if you have been sharing information, even after years of deliberation,’ they said.

“The idea of the calendars was borrowed from the United States, where every year several states distribute a deck of cards containing information about cold cases among prisoners.”

More here. Someone should study whether participating prisoners are motivated mostly by the reward, by boredom, by outrage at certain crimes, or something else.

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Photo: Ronald van der Meijs
In January, this candle organ was on exhibit in the Netherlands. 

You may recall my January 2014 post about zebra finches playing instruments at a museum (here) and a December 2016 post on Croatia’s sea organ (here). The sea organ harnessed the tides to push water through narrow passages leading to organ pipes under marble stairs.

How many ways there are to make music! So much need for music!

Today’s post is about an artist who created a candle pipe organ. Lauren Young at Atlas Obscura explains.

“There’s a curious low industrial hum emanating from what used to be a fish market built in 1769. At De Vishal gallery in Haarlem, Netherlands, a large nine-pipe organ operated by burning candles purrs a continuous concert.

“In the video, Dutch artist Ronald van der Meijs shows his elaborate musical mechanism. Inspired by the Muller Organ housed at Grote Kerk church next to the gallery, the series of pipes looks like a massive artillery weapon connected to wooden beam air ducts. The intricate system requires careful maintenance — van der Meijs changes out the candles multiple times a day as they burn.

“For the pipe organ, ‘the candles are the musicians,’ van der Meijs explains. The candles vary in size. As the wax melts, the pitch of each pipe shifts slowly and irregularly. The shortening of the candles causes a vertical movement in each mechanism, pulling a wheel connected to a brass valve at the front end of each pipe. Opening the valves allows for different toned pitches.” More.

The mechanical kookiness makes me smile and reminds me of Rube-Goldberg-esque egg-breaking machines I have known. (See this February 2013 post.)

 

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All Dutch electric trains are now powered by wind energy, the national railway company NS has said.

“Since 1 January, 100% of our trains are running on wind energy,” said NS spokesman, Ton Boon. …

“We in fact reached our goal a year earlier than planned,” said Boon, adding that an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands had helped NS achieve its aim.

“[Dutch electricity company Eneco] and NS said on a joint website that around 600,000 passengers daily are ‘the first in the world’ to travel thanks to wind energy. NS operates about 5,500 train trips a day.

“One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles, the companies said. They hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.” More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile in London, researchers are looking into solar-powered trains.

As Michael Holder said in BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, “Imperial College London has partnered with the climate change charity 10:10 to investigate the use of track-side solar panels to power trains. …

“The renewable traction power project will see university researchers look at connecting solar panels directly to the lines that provide power to trains, a move that would bypass the electricity grid in order to more efficiently manage power demand from trains.” More.

I wonder what sounds solar- and wind-powered trains make. Can we still say choo-choo-choo and whoo-oo-OO with our grandchildren? And who will update Thomas the Train?

Photo: Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images
Intercity train arriving at Leiden Central railway station, Netherlands.

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I’m beginning to think that this period of history will come to be known as one of enormous creativity. It’s not just isolated incidents. I was working on the upbeat story below and skipping back and forth to Facebook, where each sign from the marches and each costume seemed to outdo the last — and where I saw women on the US-Mexico border weaving their hair together Friday — when it hit me. One and one and 50 have already made a million. And there is no sign of stopping.

The story I wanted to share is on a creative effort to help refugees, this time in the Netherlands.

Liz Alderman described it at the NY Times.

“Mahmoud al-Omar leaned over a sewing machine in the basement of a former prison being used to house refugees and began stitching jeans for a popular clothing line. With more than 15 years experience as a tailor in Syria, he zipped through one pair and moved on to another, methodically filling a small order.

“The job, set up by a Dutch organization that matches refugees with work opportunities, is only temporary. Yet after Mr. Omar fled his war-torn hometown, Aleppo, two years ago, just having a place to go each day felt like a salvation.

“ ‘Working is completely necessary to speed up integration,’ said Mr. Omar, 28, who still struggles to speak Dutch, hindering his chances of a full-time job. ‘I want to become independent as soon as possible, so I can start giving back to the country that took me in.’

“When more than one million men, women and children streamed into Europe last year to seek a haven from conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, governments viewed the labor market as the quickest path to absorb newcomers. The sooner people started working, the thinking went, the faster they could get off government aid and start contributing to the economy.

“Yet permanent jobs have proven elusive. The lack of language is a big barrier, as is a skills mismatch. Some refugees do not have the right experience, while others cannot get their professional qualifications or degrees recognized.

“Private initiatives have sprung up across Europe to help. The Refugee Company, the Dutch group that steered Mr. Omar toward work, is one of scores guiding refugees into professional networks and opportunities to improve employability.” More here.

From the company’s About page: “Our mission is to empower refugees. We believe work is the best tool to integration; through work, refugees can blend in with their society and build up a new meaningful life in The Netherlands. We speed up integration by providing opportunities for newcomers upon arrival to utilize their talents again. …

“We decided Refugee Company will focus on craftsmanship. We provide work opportunities in the creation and hospitality sector, as that is where our roots lie. We see a growing demand for craftsmen and horeca [Hotel/Restaurant/Café] staff in the Netherlands.” More.

The Providence Granola Project does something similar in Rhode Island, though on a smaller scale. Language is definitely a barrier, so if you have always liked explaining English to people, consider volunteering near your home.

Photo: The Refugee Company

 

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Despite its size, the compassionate Netherlands has welcomed a large number of refugees during the largest migration since World War II, perhaps remembering the terrified families that fled Hitler.

To house all the newcomers is naturally a challenge, but a design competition has yielded creative ideas.

Jon Comulada writes at Upworthy, “As the worldwide refugee crisis continues, innovative solutions are needed so that the people fleeing civil war and sectarian violence have a safe place to live. …

“In January 2016, the Netherlands launched a design competition called ‘A Home Away From Home’ in which entrants were tasked with designing temporary housing for refugees and disaster victims. All of the winning designs rethought the idea of public housing, adding amenities and innovations to make the buildings more like fully functioning homes than simply a bed to sleep on.

“The winners of the contest recently appeared on display in Amsterdam as part of Dutch Design Week and included things like solar power, water purification systems, and ingenious use of space and material.

“The cube design of the Farmland [below] means dozens can be stacked, placed together, and moved easily. The architects of this design imagined the miniature villages establishing a ‘DIY economy’ with local towns. …

“Home is a concept many of us take for granted, but it’s not a small thing. It makes us feel safe, comfortable, and human.

“The current refugee crisis hasn’t showed signs of slowing down, and with climate change creating more and more dangerous weather systems, we’re likely to see climate refugee numbers grow sharply. All of those people are going to need places to live. Innovative solutions like these help them to not only live, but live with dignity and opportunity.”

Check out several other designs from the competition at Upworthy, here.

Photo: A Home Away From Home
This Farmyard shelter is designed to transform vacant farmland into mini villages.

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According to Josh Planos at the Atlantic, the forward-looking Dutch are at it again. Not only are they on the cutting edge in matters such as energy use and floating forests, they have anticipated the increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses, creating a village where patients can feel normal.

“The isolated village of Hogewey lies on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the small town of Wheesp. Dubbed ‘Dementia Village’ by CNN, Hogewey is a cutting-edge elderly-care facility — roughly the size of 10 football fields — where residents are given the chance to live seemingly normal lives.

“With only 152 inhabitants, it’s run like a more benevolent version of The Truman Show, if The Truman Show were about dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Like most small villages, it has its own town square, theater, garden, and post office. Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit. Some come every day.

“Last year, CNN reported that residents at Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, live longer, and appear more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities. …

“Residents are only admitted if they’re categorized as having ‘severe cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.’ Vacancies are rare, given that a spot only opens when a current resident passes away, and the village has operated virtually at full capacity since it opened in 2009.

“Hogewey was primarily funded by the Dutch government and cost slightly more than $25 million to build. The cost of care is nearly $8,000 per month, but the Dutch government subsidizes the residents—all of whom receive private rooms—to varying degrees; the amount each family pays is based on income, but never exceeds $3,600.”

More at the Atlantic.

Where did I just hear about someone with Alzheimer’s? Oh, right. A detective series on TV. So moving. Boy, I hope that detective’s daughter knows about this village.

Photo: Gabriel Rocha/Flickr

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When homes are destroyed in disaster zones, the Mobile Factory can turn the rubble into Lego-like building blocks to create new housing. They snap together without mortar.

Stella Dawson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes, “In Amsterdam a mobile factory, the size of two shipping containers, ingests rubble at one end, liquifies it into cement, and spurts out Lego-shaped building blocks.

“Call it rubble for the people, converting the deadly debris from disasters into homes and hospitals, cheaply and quickly.

“It’s the brainchild of Gerard Steijn, a 71-year-old sustainable development consultant turned social entrepreneur, who leads the Netherlands-based project to recycle the rubble from natural disasters and wars.

“He plans to create ecologically sound and safe housing by producing 750 building blocks a day from the debris, enough for one home at a cost of less than $20,000 each.

” ‘In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble, and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,’ Steijn said in a telephone interview.

‘But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they loose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?’

“His rubble-busting Mobile Factory has fired the imagination of a landowner in Haiti and a civil engineer at the University of Delft. They have joined forces to test Steijn’s idea and build the first rubble community in Port au Prince next year. …

“Unskilled people can build the homes with the blocks, which meet demanding Dutch construction standards to ensure they will last for many years. [Hennes de Ridder, an engineering professor at the University of Delft,] expects further stress tests he planned for Peru in a few months will show the homes can withstand temblors of at least 6 on the Richter scale.” Read more here.

Photo: The Mobile Factory
Model homes built from cement rubble are on display at an industrial park in Amsterdam. The brightly painted homes are designed for disaster zones, using technology that creates Lego-style building blocks from cement rubble.

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