Tracy Metz, Amsterdam Framer, and Koen Olthuis

Here’s an excerpt of the match report Archie, my roommate from Glasgow wrote. I didn’t play because of the egg sized mound I grew on my forehead after getting knee’d in the head last weekend. I’m traveling quite a lot in October and I want to keep the limited mental capabilities I have working in ship shape. But still I got a shout-out!

The game started brightly for the Rotterdammers, within 5 minutes putting pressure on the men from Utrecht. The ball was snapped out inside the 22 from captain Mikey ‘12:30 SHARP’ Hornby to stand-off ‘Uncle’ Archie Pollock, pop-passing to new boy Sander Korel, who bashed his way through 3 defenders to crash down for 5 points. It was the first showing of a strong game from the young upstart Korel, who was to finish as joint man of the match. More points soon followed, as Dirk ‘here comes the hot stepper’ de Raaff ghosted by the Panther defense, breaking his side stepping virginity past one player in a particularly strong solo run. The step was so powerful however, that it damaged his tendons, and de Raaff will now be sidelined for several months, along with other notable injuries Pieter ‘we score more points, we win de game’ Joosse, Frank ‘crabhand’ Nijenhuis, ‘Bram the tram’ van den Pasch, and ‘so good they named him thrice’ Samuel David Bruce, who expertly donned the club bear mascot outfit and added at least 10 points to the score line.

Proof:

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On friday I took the train up to Amsterdam to meet Tracy Metz, a journalist who recently published a book called ‘Sweet and Salt: Water and the Dutch.’ The book is a beautiful artifact. It explains how the Netherlands’ manages its complex and dynamic relationship with water and points out what the rest of the world can learn from the Dutch. Alongside co-author Maartje van den Heuvel, Metz’s writing and use of photography, art-historical analysis, and architectural design shows how the Netherlands’ battle with both sweet (fresh) and salt water has evolved over the centuries.

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Her book has put her into the global spotlight. She’s the spokesperson at water management conferences, a lecturer all over universities in the U.S., and a go-to for journalists and writers investigating these issues. Although she described herself as “no expert,” she certainly is.

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Here is one of my drawings featured on Metz’s twitter:

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Ms. Metz told me that she is shell-shocked about the success she’s had on her book. She hears her name called all over the place, but automatically thinks ‘who? me?’ We talked for an hour about the research I’ve done so far. She seemed to enjoy flipping through my sketchbook. Her lunch date at the end of my hour with her was with the Consul General of the United States in Amsterdam, Randy Berry. From the State Department: Mr. Berry’s career with the State Department has also taken him to postings in Bangladesh, Egypt, Uganda (twice), and South Africa, as well as Washington DC.  Mr. Berry holds a State Department Superior Honor Award, and is a nine-time Meritorious Honor Award recipient.  He speaks Spanish and Arabic. It was very cool to get to shake his hand and tell him about my Watson project. He told me he could connect me with some people in places I’m heading out to later on in the year.

Later on that Friday afternoon, I stumbled by a print shop. Reproductions of old maps of Amsterdam caught my eye. I went inside and started chatting with the shop owner, an Amsterdammer who has lived in the city his whole life. I never caught his name, but he started telling me some pretty interesting things–his hypotheses about why the Dutch are the way they are. Growing up, his Dad was a collector, so thats how he starting getting into collecting maps, prints, etchings, and other artworks that he now sells in his tiny little underground shop. He sells original works and reproductions. The shop owner seemed to be very knowledgable about Dutch history–probably because he knows a lot about the background behind the images he sells. These three things from our conversation stuck out–

1. Because of the North Sea fishery there was always a great abundance of fatty, fresh herring. The Dutch never had to worry about feeding themselves and could focus on other issues, like patching up and draining their deltaic landscape, building ships, making trading routes, and inventing technology. The fish set Dutch up on a platform for success.

2. Because of the nature of the delta landscape, survival required co-operation. The Dutch needed to work together, look each other in the eye, make compromises, quell their individual egos and work together to create a landscape that was habitable. They needed to use their collective talents. This essentially explains how the water boards began. Dikes were built by the farmers who would directly benefit from them. But as the systems for water management became more complex, they needed an overseeing body to govern. Nothing could be accomplished alone.

3. Because of the work required on the land, the Dutch were naturally tall and built…during the Roman ages, Cesar’s royal guards were often from the Netherlands because of their beastly stature.

It was a fun experience, getting some Dutch cultural history from a guy in a printshop.

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Today I traveled to a suburb in between the Hague and Delft to meet an architect, Koen Olthius who exclusively builds on water. In 2007 he was #121 on Time’s list of the world’s most influential people. He was such a friendly, outgoing guy and instantly made me feel as though he was as interested to talk to me as I was to talk to him. Besides all the fascinating things he taught me about his work and how it has developed over time, I saw first hand how important it is to treat people you’re with with interest and kindness. My hour with Koen Olthius reminded me of this article here, where the author talks about his encounter with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In short, the author meets Hugh Jackman on the street and has a great first impression. Here’s the short of it:

In three minutes, Hugh Jackman turned me into a fan for life–but he didn’t sell me. He didn’t glad-hand me. He just gave me his full attention. He just acted as if, for those three minutes, I was the most important person in the world–even though he didn’t know me and has certainly forgotten me.

Just like a CEO, as an entertainer he is his “company,” and even though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, I now see his “products” in a different, more positive light. 

That feeling totally occurred after my meeting with Mr. Olthius. When I got there, one of his colleagues gave me a free copy of his book, ‘Float!’ We sat down and talked, the whole time he explained things, he’d diagram what he was saying on architecture tracing paper so I have this long 8 foot string of tracing paper with a visual transcription of our conversation. It’s very cool.

I’ll say more about our conversation in the next post. But this is a fantastic overview of his vision. Great for anybody interested in urban issues and/or architecture!

His main point is to make cities more dynamic by opening up space up inside the city by building on a floating foundation. In doing so, he can combat a number of problems that arise from urban growth and climate change.

It was an absolute treat to talk to him!

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Tomorrow, I’m back up to Amsterdam to meet a professor at the University of Amsterdam. Prof. Dr. Jeroen Aerts works at the Institute for Environmental Studies. He is a professor in the area of risk management, climate change, and water resources management.

I have a painting in the works of Tracy Metz, but I unfortunately ran out of paint and don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on more because I don’t to lug it around as I travel around Europe in October.

Amsterdam Centraal:

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Benthemplein

I stuck my nose suspiciously through the metal gates of the construction site, enthralled by the lawn-mower like machines that were hovering over the wet concrete to make it as flat as slate. I was looking at the mid-stages of the construction of a waterplein, a public square that doubles as a water storage basin during heavy rains.

It must of been a combination between backwards baseball and my shorts that gave me away. Only foreigners expose their calves in late September. I was being noticed by three men behind me. Two of them in construction garb, taking a cigarette break, the other looked older and slightly more distinguished. They acknowledged me in Dutch, as if they’ve gotten used to strangers taking interest in this unique construction project. The project has been highlighted all over the press in such things as Tracy Metz’s book ‘Sweet and Salt’ and a small documentary on NBC.

I gave my puzzled, ‘I don’t understand Dutch,’ look. I’ve gotten so good at casting that simple eyebrow raise that reveals so much in a useful instant. One guy transitioned to English. We chatted some small talk for a bit–the weather, the good looking blonde that just rode by–until I got the confidence to ask him if I could walk around the construction site and take some pictures:

It turned out that guy I was talking to was the construction manager of the project.

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After I walked around for a bit, I asked him some questions about the waterplein. The parks is essentially three ‘containers’ dug into the ground. When dry, they are dressed with areas for shrubs, trees, and other greenery, as well as sports fields and amphitheater seating areas. During the dry season the park is a public square, but when there is an abundance of rain, the park fills up and relieves the sewer system. Runoff from the buildings, sidewalks, and roads flows towards the three basins where it can be stored. Rotterdam is already in a precariously low lying area and therefore extremely vulnerable to flooding. This structure mitigates the risk.

The park is part of Rotterdam’s climate adaptation strategy put forward by the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. The strategy has six simple objectives:

  1. The city and the port are protected against flooding.
  2. Rotterdam a livable, attractive city to reside in.
  3. The port is accessible with minimal risk of disruption.
  4. Residents are minimally affected by a lack or a surplus of precipitation.
  5. Residents are aware of the consequences of climate change and what they can do themselves to adapt.
  6. Climate adaptation strengthens the city economically and enhances its strong ‘delta city’ image. ]

A key to the climate adaptation plan is to merge water management with urban development. The water plaza is a great example of this plan being put into action.

After reading about the city’s climate adaptation plan, I realized that the waterfront dike along the Maas River is another brilliant example of a multi-functional flood defense. I’ve biked, skateboarded, and jogged along the riverfront park dozens of times, but finally realized the smart landscape architecture in play.

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Here I drew it in plan and section. It has a running track, grassy seating, steps, trees. It provides a great place to kick a ball around, have a picnic, read, or just enjoy the views of the city. At the same time, it’s shaped like a dike and allows room for water when there are high river levels. It keeps the river away from the business district behind it.

I miss my friend Gus so I drew his picture:

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Here are some other nice photos of my walk around the city:

Also had a nice chat with this cabby:

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He’s a captain for a watertaxi. If there’s water everywhere, then it’s quite an efficient way to get around. Because Rotterdam is bisected by the river, the water taxi fleet is perfect for high-speed, jam-free and spectacularly fun rides to destinations around the city. A ride is quite expensive so the target customers are mostly tourists, mayors, secretaries, celebrities, the kings and queens, but they don’t discriminate and will always take an average Joe trying to impress their lady-friend, Jane. He told me on average he gives about sixteen rides a day.

Dordrecht

I had a FaceTime with my Dad last night. He asked me to shave.

I did. Hope you like it:

Photo on 9-23-13 at 11.39 PM #2My unlucky streak starting when my bike got robbed continued through to my rugby game on Sunday. In the 70th minute of the game, I was rolling out of a tackle situation and got knee’d in the forehead. Almost instantly, I got an egg-sized hematoma on my forehead from ruptured blood vessels. I’m going to rest up this week, under Dr. Bruce’s orders. Don’t look at these pictures if you get grossed-out easily:

I had my roommates wake me up sporadically throughout the night to ask me simple questions and make sure I wasn’t losing brain function from brain swelling. ‘What’s your middle name?–they thought there was a serious problem when I was answering David (not knowing my full name, Samuel David Bruce)– What do you use to brush your teeth? What country are you from? Who did we play yesterday? But one guy, Jappy, started grilling me on all the capitals of European countries at 3am. Not fun. My head feels fine, but I’m going to give it the rest it deserves. It’s the only head I’ve got and I like it.

The night before, a few of us went out for Turkish food at a neighborhood restaurant. Mikey, the British scrum-half and John, the German outside center brought their girlfriends along, so Bruce and Archie, the Scotsmen, were left to supervise and fifth/sixth wheel. It was good fun. The menu was in Turkish and Dutch so I went with the safe option–hummus and mixed grill, perhaps the only thing on the menu I recognized besides ‘bier.’

Good food and good company are one of life’s great treats. These scenarios feel especially sweet this year with new foreign friends in unexpected circumstances. Also this week, I went back to 78 Maaskade to join Marco, my old roommate, for a delicious home-cooked meal. I met a Swede who spent 3 months in Mumbai this summer. He got me super jazzed up about going to India. He said it’s an amazing, amazing place…and you get over the sudden, weekly midnight food-poisonings pretty quickly.

Today I went to Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland. It was granted city privileges in 1220.  Dordrecht suffered from one of the nation’s greatest floods in history, the St. Elizabeth’s Day flood. I saw a painting about the catastrophe when I was visiting the Rijksmusuem. The flood was in 1421 and the panels was completed around 1490.

After the flood, Dordrecht established economic power in the timber trade as an important junction along the river. During the golden age, the 17th century, most of the components of the city were reclaimed from the river and the city expanded and developed. The old city center is basically just a conglomeration of harbors connected by cutesy dutch bridges. You really get a sense of the city’s longevity with the mix of architectural styles.

Most of the old city center was a ghost town. All the stores were closed this Monday. I’m not sure why.

I took the waterbus there and the train back. As I was pulling up to the riverfront drive, I saw the waterbus hurtling its way towards the station, so had to race it by bike to catch it and not have to wait half an hour. The thing cruises at 40kph and smoked me! So thankfully it had about a 10 minute lag at the station. I’m convinced the captain saw me scurrying along the bank to get on. What a guy! Here are some pictures from the day:

Here are some drawings:

ImageA christmas card I’m working on for the boys.

Image 1A  map I’m making with the provinces (North and South Holland) that I’ve become familiar with and some notable climate adaptation infrastructure.

photo-9A drawing based off a painting at the Rijksmusuem.

 

 

Half a million people have their bikes stolen every year in the Netherlands

I am one of those people.

I walked out the door and noticed something was off. I went back inside and shut the door hoping that everything would ‘reset,’ then went back outside a second time…Gone.

Every time I locked my bike up, I thought about the possibility that my bike would be stolen. I was often warned by various people about the thieves and punks that vandalize or steal bikes. Everyday my bike wasn’t stolen, I felt more confident that it would stick around. For the first month I had it, I carried it up the 60 degree steep steep dutch staircases and sleep with it beside me.

Last night, I got back to the house at about 4:30 am. Some French girls I met before I left for Rotterdam invited me out to a club that happened to be underneath the pillar of the Willemsbrug, the big red bridge that I crossed 200 or more times in August  never knowing a club existed. It was one of those stereotypical european basement warehouse parties–pretty cool.

So between 4:30 and daylight, someone got to work on stealing my bike.

Those pedals, wheels, and chain were probably the most important tools I had in the Netherlands. Terrible news to have it taken. But, as my wonderful mother told me back home before I left, ‘you’re going to have a lot of ‘inconveniences’ this year just try to look past then and remember the power of positive thinking.’

Here are the positives:

1. I don’t have to find anybody to sell the bike to before I leave.

2. Found something to add to list  for pent-up aggression for the Rugby game this weekend.

3. The guy who stole my bike most likely drifted off the road and into a canal where he got eaten by a giant squid. Sucker.

Picked up a box of oreos. Going to eat the pain away.

Enjoy your new life, mr. bike. Thanks for the service.

Here’s a poem I wrote about him:

 

Goodbye rockin’ Dutch bike.

I rode you across many a dike.

You and I traveled at great speeds.

You surely were a mighty steed.

But last night some jerk stole you.

 

Rotterdam’s Floating Pavilion

This morning I biked across the Erasmus bridge to Rotterdam-Zuid (South Rotterdam) to investigate the Floating Pavilion, designed by DeltaSync architects. The floating pavilion is situated in an old, unused harbor that the city is trying to revitalize. The pavilion is used as a public gathering space and is home to the National Water Centre. It also serves as a message board for the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. Rotterdam is trying to present itself on the international scene as a forerunner in innovative water and energy solutions, sustainability, and delta-environment construction. In some ways, the pavilion is the keystone symbol of that mission. 

FP is an example of a structure that could be just one building block of a bigger floating community.

The building floats on its foundation, which is constructed from a combination of concrete and expanded polystyrene–I can’t tell you much since I barely scraped by in Chemistry 109 four years ago–but I know that it’s a type of foam that makes the platform unsinkable. It consists of 98% air, the rest is a closed cell structure. I assume it’s similar to the way water consolidates into a hexagonal crystal structure and can float. Correct me if I’m wildly wrong. The facade of the building is sort of a hideous bubble. It absolutely looks like the underwater city Jar-Jar Binks was exiled from in Star Wars. The plastic cover of the building makes it light, but also heats the building to reduce the pavilion’s footprint.

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Of course, floating structures aren’t suitable for all marine environments. This building is located in a sheltered harbor about 10 miles inland of the ravenous North Sea. The Netherlands doesn’t get hit by hurricanes and tropical storms. So obviously floating communities aren’t practical for many parts of the world. But in the Netherlands, living on the water can be a way of life. From the house boats on the Amsterdam canals, to the floating IJburg community, there is a market for people who want to zen out with the agua.

The Rotterdam Climate Initiative has posters and information posts in the floating pavilion. The whole building is sort of the flagship of the city’s initiatives towards climate adaptation. The city has a goal of reducing its CO2 emission to 50% of its 1990 levels in the next 12 years. In the more foreseeable future, Rotterdam wants to be a sustainable, attractive, and 100% climate-proof city while maintaining its economic integrity. Rotterdam is aiming to set examples for other delta cities.

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Helicopter!
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David Waggonner

Back in January, I gave David Waggonner, an architect out of New Orleans a call. David is highly involved with water management and climate-proofing the city. He works closely with Han Meyer, the professor at TU Delft I met a few weeks ago. I went back to our conversation and typed up the useful and insightful things he said:

SDB: So my plan is really to investigate everything using a visual approach, so trying to draw objects, or people, or different settings that would require me to learn about the different things that are going on surrounding this issue. I’m a visual art minor at Bowdoin, I really want to take advantage of my passion for drawing by using a pen, pencil, or paintbrush to take a look at this issue which really excites me academically.

David Waggonner: I like your proposal to make this visible. Photographs make a record but that’s all most people do. It’s a good idea. There are a lot of people who want to do this now. They just want to go and figure out what it looks like. The only difference is you want to describe it graphically, but you need some insight into what you’re seeing. You also need a practical approach.

SDB: So what’s the future of these cities, what is the future of New Orleans? Is good building, innovation, and design going to do it or does there have to be something else? Is New Orleans still going to be around in 150 years?

DW: That’s a legitimate question. It’s all…it’s all unknown. Nobody knows the rate of deterioration. New Orleans has a levy system…well I don’t know if you know about the stuff we do but…we’re trying to deal with subsidence and water management in the Dutch way. If we manage it with a slowly rising sea then we could sit here for quite a long time, but if the sea level rises 4 or 5 feet…You know Florida is gone.

Is there anything we can do to stem that…? I don’t know. We have to try. I know there are a lot of positive things we can do in terms of climate temperature and we should be doing that. So all you can do is understand is there’s a problem and do everything you can to change that…to offset that.

The Dutch have huge investments; they’re below sea level. They really have a better coastal structure, they have the dunes, and they don’t have storms coming at them that push water over.

But in your life you may see…you know, we don’t even know…what the dislocations might be.

You need to understand that this is going to be your lifetime’s work. You know, a lot of these cities are quite worth saving. Amsterdam is a world treasure. So is New Orleans, maybe not at that level, but it’s a treasure. It’s a wonderful place to live.

Klaus Jacob, a geologist at Columbia is saying that the sea is coming to take back where we are now living. Adaptation strategies are required to lengthen the investments that we have made but we can’t get any change in the political structures like the core of engineers that allow us to do anything about it. It’s tough when your hands are tied. You need to be able to use the possibilities that are there. That’s the difficulty of working in the US rather than the Netherlands…they have some brilliant projects there. For example, the room for the river projects…you need to study those. The Dutch are moving people to allow the river to discharge differently, to let it flood. Those are the strategies that are needed.

It’s not like you can build a gate and hold a whole ocean off of the continents, you know. You can’t really wall off all of New York. That’s not going to work. You can’t wall off Florida. It’s going to be a challenge…so you do everything you can.

I was in Washington on Monday for a presentation at the Dutch Embassy, there was a congressman from Virginia who said that the Climate denial stuff still goes on in Washington. The one part of the government that is not in anyway questioning this, no kind of denial and adapting as quickly as possible, is the Department of Defense. First, their job is national security, which this is absolutely affecting. Secondly, they have many, many assets at sea level and so they are very worried about whatever happens at the naval bases. What the hell are they going to do if the sea rises four feet? They can’t be caught unprepared. Everyday the quantity of petroleum they consume is huge…so they’re trying to reduce that all the time. They are fully engaged in climate adaptation, the American military, even though the government does seem very quick about it at all.

So I don’t know what the future holds.

I know that its not responsible to do less than everything you can.

You can be trying to fight a fire, and you know that you can’t fight the fire but you still have to fight the fire to protect what you can.

It’s not the future its now.

It’s your generation’s work. If you have children it’ll be their work. But it’s my generation’s work as well. We’re trying to do something about it before it’s too late. Design and drawing play a role in this. Because if we cant visualize it then we can’t do anything about it. You know we have to be able to see, right.

You have to make these things visible. There can’t just be policies that people write on paper. You do have to have rules, you do have to have regulations and you do have to have policies. But you can’t motivate people with ‘thou shall and thou shall not.’ You have to let them touch it, think it, let them connect sensibly with it. You want your proposal to, at the end of the day to be useful to other people. You want them to be able to see what you see.

This is a knowledge transfer business.

 

SDB: If you don’t mind: what do you think about being an Architect. I did the Harvard  GSD career discovery program two summers ago and I worked for a urban planning firm in Chicago last summer and it’s something I’m thinking about. Do you have any advice for me? Or any thoughts?

Architecture is a really good way to think. You get to work with people you like. People in the office are your friends…in the right office. In the bigger offices it’s all systemized with behaviors and hierarchies. Architects by nature tend to be problem solvers, but they also tend to want broader definitions of those problems. I’m enthusiastic about the profession and what it can contribute and how it must contribute I’m less certain that we have an economic basis…you’ve heard that before. I feel blessed to have found my way into Architecture.

Architecture is probably as good an education as a person can get. It teaches you to think broadly, it teaches you to be critical, it teaches that you have to put forward your ideas—and if they’re not any good people are going to have other ones. One problem might have 10 different solutions…those are good things to learn.

Teaches you how to problem solve. There’s future thinking that architects are trained to do, this bettering of places, this almost blind idealism that we have to have to make this project to make it better.

Starchitecture is a hindrance. Hero…doesn’t matter. Need collaboration. Not about 1 architect it’s about many making good buildings together, not signature projects. How many signatures do you need in a city?

These are all interesting questions and ideas and layers of understanding. I would commend the life to you as long as you don’t feel the urge to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

At the time we spoke, I was in the middle of the application process. We take a lot of about my itinerary. Here are some things he said about certain cites:

In Amsterdam and Rotterdam there are lots of people, especially in Rotterdam, which is really the center of all this thinking in the delta cities, the low-lying cities. This is the group that knows the most and is most active in organizing these climate-proofing efforts.

If you go to Hamburg, not far from Rotterdam, you can cover more with less running around and jumping around. They have a whole section of the city that they allow to flood. A very interesting adaptation strategy.

Singapore, of course is an island state with real resources and is doing a lot to try to adapt to climate change. The guy I know is the head of the water institute, the national institute of water.

Jakarta has a huge problem. The issues you they have to talk about are subsidence. When areas are subsiding you have a huge climate change problem on your hands very quickly. On top of that there’s a whole waste issue. That may or not be your area of interest, but it’s certainly a climate question.

Kolkata and Jakarta: you’ll be able to see how poverty comes into play. These cities are a whole different case from Rotterdam and Hamburg. When the toilets are on top of the waterways no wonder nobody wants to be near the water. It’s the garbage. So different from Europe, where there’s one ethnic group and specialized people tackling these problems. When you start to look at overcrowding and poverty on top of it the climate problem, everything becomes so much more complicated.
I would say Rotterdam is the one essential place. Amsterdam is a good contrast. You’ll find out that Rotterdam is a de-watered polder situation where Amsterdam they brought in sand to build it up. Two different approaches to ways you stabilize a city in bad land.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam are the tutorial. But in many ways you’re getting over the best part first.

SDB: Maybe there’s some argument for going there and then coming back at the end.

DW: That would be smart. Then you can consolidate and say that’s why it looks like this. That’s why there are these political implications.

Recently I’ve been having trouble finding some more people to meet and interview, listening to this today left me a little more reassured and self-confident in the work I’ve done so far and happy about the people I’ve been able to meet. He was talking about connections he has in different cities around the world…

DW: It took me years to develop these networks, and of course it does take years to develop networks. These people wont spend weeks with you, but they may let you in to talk to them for a few hours.

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