Sunday, December 12, 2004
Prosperity had been building for decades now, and so had Amsterdam. The city had more than doubled in size since Henry Hudson's time, and it was now thirty years since its merchant rulers--with impressive confidence in the city's future growth--had conceived of a staggering urban development project, now nearing completion: a series of concentric canal rings. The canals of Amsterdam are so iconic that many people assume they have always been there, but they were dug, by hand, hundreds of tons of earth moved out and sand brought in, forests' worth of pilings driven into the banks, a truly massive feat of engineering and city planning. The result was the creation of some of the first suburbs, for the idea was to encircle the core of the city--with its dens of commerce, sex, and drink--with neighborhoods of elegant housing for the army of newly rich, each home backed by ample gardens and provided with access, right out the front door, onto the state-of-the-art in urban transit systems.
--Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World