Tuesday, 13 January 2015

how to move through the Beurstraverse without walking

I've been thinking about the different ways to travel through the Beurstraverse (Koopgoot) underground tunnel in Rotterdam's city centre. It's one of the busiest passages for pedestrian traffic in the city, but it's boring when all everyone ever do is walk. In a previous post I shared a rollerblading video where they went through this thing on rollerblades very fast. Some of my longboarder friends had sometime longboarded through it (although you WILL get stopped by security if you do this). Jackie Chan (or his driving stunt-double) had driven a car through the traverse in the film Who Am I (1998). But options on wheels are also overdone, and if we are to really explore the different possibilities of Beurstraverse, we have to venture into the 4th  the 3rd dimension. How can one go through Beurstraverse without touching the ground?

I have come up with two options.

The first option would require a transformation in the traveller him/herself: I'm talking about flying. If we have each learned to fly, we can glide through the air in and out of this underground passage with a level of grace and ease that our humble walking legs can never amount to. If we could envision ourselves among the ranks of Peter Pan and Superman, and contemplate how we would then instinctively navigate through the urban landscape, it's easy to see that a new set of behavioural movement-common-sense will be adopted. First of all we would not NEED to use this underground passage to move across the Coolsingel traffic, we can just fly over the road (Is there even going to be relevant ground traffic on Coolsingel? If people can fly, automobiles will only be needed for cargo or for rainy days). Anyways there IS reason to fly down through a tunnel: it's probably really fun. If I could fly, one of the first things I would do is shooting through some tunnel. The framing limitation of the passage puts an emphasis on how fast and how freely I can move.

Unfortunately in our current human capabilities we cannot fly through the Beurstraverse with our physical bodies, but it IS possible to (kind of) experience flying this way by piloting a small drone with first-person video display. (I think it's illegal to fly drones on eye level in a populated urban area, but if Jackie Chan can drive a car down here it's probably possible to figure out some arrangement.) A short while ago Eric van Vuuren made a beautiful video with drone footages of Rotterdam. The vid looks great, but I noticed that the majority of city drone videos consist of majestic establishing shots, and my favourite drone footages are the ones that feel like emulations of the 1st person experience of a real flying human being, navigating him/herself through the urban environment. I hope to see more of those. I mean, reasonably speaking, when we do learn to fly, we would't float around and gaze at buildings. We would FLY.


The other option of travelling through the Beurstraverse requires a radical transformation in the physical condition of the surroundings. I'm talking about swimming. This requires some sort of water change that puts the Beurstraverse under water.

It'll be a flooding situation, but not necessarily a uncontrolled natural disaster scenario. In a far future of rising sea levels, maybe they'll decide to intentionally flood out some obsolete under-ground spaces to meet water-management needs. One of my most vivid memories from being a kid was watching Steven Spielberg's A.I. (2001) and being super freaked-out by the scenes of this underwater abandoned themepark in future's flooded Manhattan. At the bottom of the ocean there's no place to escape to, only an endless dark-blue. A younger me could not handle the overwhelmingness of that imagery and at this section of the film almost felt out of breath. It didn't help that the movie was super-sad.

Since then I have learned to swim, and my imagination had become flexible. If a flooding of Rotterdam takes place in the far future, I''ll probably be able to equip myself with an underwater future-tech breathing-kit and swim through our underwater tunnels without drowning. That doesn't make the act any less intimidating, but it is more copable. As opposed to flying, an act that's marked by its speed and nimbleness, underwater swimming is very slow and inching forward calls for constant physical effort. Suppose that I'm swimming here and I don't have to hold my breath. Would I have the spare attention level to admire the condition of this underwater tunnel, or would I wish to get out of there ASAP? It's really hard to say. I'm mostly only fascinated by underwater cities because the very idea is really scary, and I don't know if put into that situation I would be more fascinated or more scared.

Anyways maybe you don't share my specific fascination/fear of sunken cities, in which case your imagination of this Beurstraverse scenario may be little dry (hah!). I want to point to two different water-related places around Rotterdam that can assist you in imagining a flooded underwater pedestrian tunnel. They serve as good reference points.


1.    To the north-east of Rotterdam, in Nieuwekerk a/d IJssel, there is a monument for the single lowest point in the Netherlands. It's also one of the two lowest points in the European Union (the other one is in Denmark). This spot is 6.76 meters under sea level, you can stand here and imagine sea water washing up on the second floor of those office buildings. It provide a very physical understanding of how deep we're really in it for. It's also worth noting that this only measures to our current sea level, and looking at the way sea level rises, in 200 years this thing should grow a few meters. I'll most likely do a specific blogpost on this place one day.

2.  Toward Rotterdam North, in Benthemplein lies Europe's biggest Water Square. This water-management structure includes 3 basins that act as public spaces in dry times, but fill up with water during heavy rains.  The basketball/football fields are designed to be temporarily flooded to hold the excess water from increased rain levels in the future. The sci-fi idea of flooding some urban spaces to divert the waterload didn't come from nowhere!

Maybe I'll do another blogpost on this spot too, there's much more to be said on this system than the brief synopsis above. I picked up a Rotterdam Climate Initiative brocheur 2-3 years ago and had been paying attention to this project since. It's one of my favourite Rotterdam projects that I've watched being built. I like to tell people about it a lot, and if I'm near this area during hours of pouring rain, often times I specifically come here to watch the Water Square fulfil its function. I guess an behavioural exception that proved the rule would be the one night of mad downpouring in October where I walked from the city centre directly through here without looking at any functioning water infrastructure because I wanted to get to a place to see somebody for maybe the last time and there wasn't much else on my mind DAMN SON WE TALKING REAL PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY NOW

3.    This isn't a place, it's just a little trick, but at this point in the text I couldn't figure out how to insert it without a numbering. The trick is pressing both of  your palms against both of your ears and listen carefully. Do you hear the ocean currents? Wherever you are, this exercise takes you (and your surroundings) some place under the sea. Useful, huh?