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Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’

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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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afdelingbeeld.nl-maaikepoelen-nsboekenweek2019-07-hr-832738

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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