Research Project 3: Interviews

This text describes the aims, background and method of interviews with activists and public space practitioners responsible for Amsterdam.


These questions were developed with reference to the Interview Protocol Refinement Framework (Castillo-Montoya, 2016). The aim of these questions is to address the research question (RQ) for this paper, namely:

By what standards are claims on urban space by different modes and sectors adjudicated, and how does this affect mobility transitions towards sustainability?

This question has been further developed into sub-questions (SQs) to guide the development of accessible questions that are comprehensible to interviewees both with and without a professional background in public space (Castillo-Montoya, 2016):

  • SQ0: Agreeing on terms – What do you understand by the following terms: urban open space, space claim, mobility mode? Do you agree with the definitions of these terms used in this study (provide definitions)? If so, how do you define these terms?
  • SQ1: What is your connection with, or role in, claims made upon public space by various actors in Amsterdam?
  • SQ2: Can you describe examples of space claims and how they are made by various actors?
  • SQ3: Can you describe examples of how space claims are adjudicated, that is, how they are interpreted, decided on, and how the results are implemented (if interviewee is a public official, add ‘within your organisation’)?
  • SQ4: Do you perceive any differences in how these claims are adjudicated?
  • SQ5: (If yes to SQ4) To what do you ascribe these differences?
  • SQ6: (If no to SQ4) To what do you ascribe the current disparity in public space allocation?

In order to answer this question, an initial study site was chosen (Amsterdam’s Weesperzijde neighbourhood), as a representative example of various sites in Amsterdam in which public space contests have been well-documented, intense, and consistent over several decades. Activists active in the Weesperzijde will be interviewed, along with officials responsible for public space allocation and space claim adjudication, at increasing regulatory scales, from the city government to the metropolitan region, province, and relevant national ministry.


Interviews will take place throughout the weeks beginning on 11, 18 and 25 November, and 2 and 9 December 2019.

Recording Instructions & Language

The interviews will take place in English or Dutch, per interviewee preference. This interview will be recorded and transcribed. A copy of the transcript will, upon request, be sent to you for verification.

What is the background to this study?

Cities of the developed world are pursuing a transition towards more environmentally and socially sustainable urban mobility systems (ITF, 2015). In the European Union, however, this transition is proceeding too slowly to meet current targets for climate change mitigation[1]. Even in cities that are leading this transition, in terms of limiting the use of automobiles and achieving higher modal shares for active mobility (such as cycling and walking), such as Amsterdam (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2019a), automobility[2] continues to play a significant role.

One aspect of automobility’s footprint is the public space required to transport the average passenger and for storage of vehicles, which is highly disproportionate to that of other modes (Figure 1). This disparity persists in Amsterdam, where a majority (51%) of public space intra muros is allocated to the circulation (41%) and storage (10%) of vehicles (see Table 2 in appendix), despite their declining modal share (19% for trips by residents in 2017[3]). This allocation in public space is in tension with the city’s stated aims to promote a more sustainable, multi-modal mobility system, including through the reallocation of public space towards more sustainable mobility and other urban uses, including green space and public amenities (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2019b).

Figure 1: Use of public space by moving and static mobility mode (Source: Gemeente Amsterdam, 2019b)

However, the means by which urban public space is allocated, and by which rival space claims are adjudicated, are highly complex; and in contemporary cities of the developed, motorised world, they tend to reflect the dominance of the global automobility regime over other modes, which urban historians consider to be the outcome of more than a half-century of purposeful political and institutional activity (Emanuel, 2016; Norton, 2008; Oldenziel and de la Bruhèze, 2011; Prytherch, 2018). The historical advantage that automobility enjoys in terms of urban public space is twofold, based on allocation and adjudication. Firstly, automobility has access to a relatively abundant allocation of physical space, including mode-specific space such as car parking bays and freeways. Secondly, the means by which space claims are adjudicated tend to differ between modes, with automobility space frequently routinized and removed from ongoing political contest through codification in construction and urban planning regulations (Shill, 2019; Shoup, 2017). In contrast, space claims made for other modes or urban uses are far more likely to be ‘politicised’ (Tironi, 2015), or adjudicated on an ad-hoc basis requiring political mobilisation and public participation (Castán Broto, 2015; Emanuel, 2018; Wild et al., 2018).Image source: (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2019b)

While the observations above apply (with great variation) to cities of the developed world, they also obtain to varying extents in Amsterdam, including in areas such as parking pricing (Frederik, 2018; Groote et al., 2016). One example of this is the different treatment of space claims by new shared mobility modes. Car-sharing services were introduced into Amsterdam on the basis that car parking space was a market commodity, which anyone could pay for, and in their continued operation, these services have lobbied for improved terms. In contrast, the arrival of dockless bike-sharing schemes in the city faced a regulatory grey area regarding bicycle parking spaces, which are not as fully commodified; combined with anticipatory backlash and other factors, the result was a temporary ban on this mobility mode (Petzer et al., 2019).

Figure 2: Commodification of space in Amsterdam (Image source: Author, adapted from Nello-Deakin, 2019)

These empirical conditions are reflected in very different ways in two distinct literatures, that of urban planning[4] and urban sustainability transitions. The politics surrounding the allocation of urban space, and the adjudication of space claims, are a longstanding concern in urban planning (von Schönfeld and Bertolini, 2017). In contrast, the literature on urban sustainability transitions is much more limited in its engagement with urban public space as a finite resource (Hamedinger, 2014) shared between many socio-technical systems and other competing uses, especially given the centrality of access to space as an enabling condition for mobility modes.




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[1] For example, transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union have continued to rise since 2014, with average carbon emissions for new passenger vehicles rising in 2017, leaving the EU “not on track towards its climate goals” (European Environmental Agency, 2018, p. 1).

[2] We use ‘automobility’ to refer to the mobility system based on the use of automobiles in its entirety, as a system of land use, infrastructure, and regulation that promotes the use of automobiles over other modes of transport (Urry, 2004).

[3] 19% of trips by residents from/to/within Amsterdam per weekday in 2017 were as driver or passenger of an automobile, versus 46% of trips by visitors to the city (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2019a, p. 6).

[4] In this, we include closely related disciplines, such as urban law (Shill, 2019) and urban economics (Shoup, 2017).

[5] For definitions, see Neuts et al (2012) and von der Tann et al (2019).