We project our ideals, generally, on blank sheets of paper. But what if my own projection – of a postcapitalist economy within 50 years – had to be projected on the first ever urban capitalist economy: the city of Amsterdam. I mean the 250-500 year old brick built environment of canal houses, canals, bridges, pavements, roads and cycle paths.

The city is today both a bourgeois paradise and hell. Hell in the sense – for the salariat who lives there – that it is too perfect. Paradise in the sense that it has innate beauty, proportion and an absence of garish modernity.

So let’s suppose by 2050 we have the basics of a postcapitalist transition under way. There is: a basic income of 10k euros in today’s money; the banking system is stabilised, diversified, no longer speculative; a standard work day of four hours; 16–20 hours a week; around a third of the economy is the state, a third the market and a third the non-market collaborative sector.

I will re-imagine the area around Leliegracht-Prinsengracht.

  • The canal is a thoroughfare; no more tourist boats but a low-energy travel grid again for people in zero-carbon watercraft; also zero-carbon physical supply vessels. All bridges are lift-able, to let big craft through.
  • Cars are banned from inner-Amsterdam in favour of water vessels and bikes (except for people with essential needs).
  • All the kitsch ‘museums’ – of cheese, tulips and sex – are gone.
  • The houses themselves have a mixed occupancy, because the rental and ownership structure has been gradually and progressively opened up, de-bourgeoisifying it.
  • The basements and indeed lofts of the canal houses are restored to their functions: as maker labs or workshops. There is much less retail.
  • Most of the cafes have lost their individual character and melded towards a general character when it comes to what they provide; yet their specific character is generated from the social groups that use them as organising centres.
  • There is a lot more public art because most people are spending a lot of their time on creativity; so performance spaces, readings, murals – much more in evidence than now.
  • The weird skanky sleaziness around the red light district is gone. If people still sell sex and buy it, it is much more open and just seen like selling acupuncture now.
  • The voyeuristic tourists are largely gone, deterred by taxation and the condition that you have to contribute, wherever you go, and by a general rise in interesting-ness in people’s own lives. Everyone can come here ‘virtually’ anyway, so the gawping factor has gone.Instead, there are good tourists. They come to contribute labour or creativity as well as to consume.
  • It’s entirely sustainable. All communications are entirely free.
  • There are no hen and bachelor parties because everyone is polyamorous and genderqueer…

In Amsterdam they are, anyway.

Paul Mason is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker and author, whose latest book Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future, is said to ‘illuminate the present in unexpected and occasionally revelatory ways.’ He will be taking part in Cityscapes: past, present and future, the first in a series of discussions on cityscapes organised by the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research. These discussions under the Centre’s Cities@SAS banner, are designed to reflect on the different approaches to the city through cultural studies, classics, art history, modern history and modern languages.  


The post was first published on the Cities@SAS blog, and is reproduced with kind permission.