Amsterdam as a blueprint for livable cities

My take on the similarities between Burning Man and Amsterdam.

My good friend Jason Silva was in town. Jason gathered some other birds of paradise who live in Amsterdam or were visiting at the moment from the US.

Amongst them, free spirit film maker Seth Bunting, an immersive experience/design artist, his newly found girlfriend Dutch dance instructor and flow consultant NathalieGerard Adams, founder of Elite Daily and 'The Millenium Mentor' and my friend Mia.

Jason is a nomad. He's Venezualan born, lived in Los Angeles, New York, Miami. He travels most of his time, He is known for his philosophical work (check out his YouTube channel) and I always like talking to him about essential human stuff. My background in astronomy, tech and social mixes very well with the topics which fascinate him amongst other future, techno-philosophy and storytelling. 

We were strolling through the Westerpark and the sun came peaking through the clouds. There weren't many people out and we felt connected through our shared experience and also from the excitement to meet in this different than usual place.

Seth, Nathalie and Jason had just been to Burning Man. I've been there twice a few years ago and the topic easily drifted to the week long desert festival and all the transformational moments which sprung from being there and also how being in Amsterdam with the like minded group is making them feel similar vibes.

When I listened to their views on how the flow of the city was exactly what they need and miss in their daily lives, it sort of dawned on me.

Living the dream

These successful peeps are living the dream. They move amongst the cream of the crop, in places like LA, SF, NY and other metropoles. They fly business class, stay in posh hotels and speak in big conferences all over the world and travel 24/7. They found fame and fortune by making their dreams and passions their realities.

But the people surrounding them are often either admirers or people chasing the same dreams, living the same sort of lives. This is to blame to gentrification bubbles. 

I don't want to name it shallow, but living in those cities imposes essentially a narrow focus because of the daily struggles absorbing its inhabitants. Los Angeles is filled with people chasing the American dream, fake it till fame. In New York it is near impossible and extremely expensive to raise your children, so you find hardly and kids in the streets. People come there to chase a career, make a name for themselves only to leave the city after a few years. Everyone is absorbed with their own egos and ambitions. It's a rat race. 

The sense of community is nowhere or at least very hard to be found.

I think that this is the essence of why an event like Burning Man really feels like coming home for so many and especially these people.

Burners (Burning Man attendees) call returning to 'The Playa'/Black Rock City 'coming Home' probably because it calls on their deep sense of belonging and allows them take of their masks to just be themselves. 

Two of the 10 famous Burning Man principles are 'the act of giving' and 'radical inclusion'. Exactly the opposite of the principles of the Rat Race which is about egocentric living and elitism.

After the seven day festival to go back to your reality and to keep your newly found morals and ideals is very hard and confronting. The weeks right after Burning Man people live in a parallel mindset. Murakami describes it well in 1Q84 where some people see two moons at night instead of the familiar one.

That's why decompressions (Physical reunions/gatherings of Burners who have experienced the same feelings) are important to tell themselves they have not gone crazy and just made up that totally different world they briefly lived in.

"You have to go there to know there."

Coming back to my train of thought to why my friends see the resemblance and feel so at home in Amsterdam.

I think the flow of Amsterdam, or the work life balance, the cultural roots, the social structure etc. is comparable to some parts of the Burning Man flow.

I'll clarify:

The setup
Amsterdam historically was built around an initial core of settlements with semi circle canals. This was designed from a logistical point of view. 

Andy Volk, one of the Black Rock City constructors (someone has to lay out the street plans every year) told me that is was designed to Amsterdam, when he was visiting me on the Moby Boat 8 years ago.

The result is that everything is easy to reach. Amsterdam has practically no traffic congestions. I can easily have seven meetings a day in different locations, travelling by bike.
Similar to Burningman right? The bike takes you everywhere.

The coolest thing about biking (or walking) is the speed. 
We people have brains which are evolutionary designed to process information when we walk or run (kind of biking speed). That means we take in the world around us the most efficient at those speeds. Not in a car or in a train. Read more on this topic here. (some pretty cool insights)

Biking everywhere
On a bike you can pay attention to traffic, make sure not to crash into something or someone and still enjoy your surroundings and have inter human connections. You can say hi to someone! Very social. Plus in Amsterdam you can get to any meeting by bike in max. 15 minutes.

Photo © Jacques de Selliers -

Bike Arch by Ilana Spector and Mark Grieve, Photo © Waldemar Horwat

Livability and work life balance
Amsterdam is a liberal city. You have people there from all walks of life. It used to be the gay capital of Europe. It has a village feel. Amsterdam has been in the top 20 of most livable cities over the last nine years ranking number 12 and this year was ranked the number 1 city in the world as it comes to work/life balance.


Amsterdam has the Old Masters in some of the most important museum in the world and the beautiful UNESCO city centre. It is a delight to move around. 

Burning Man of course is all about art and free expression. Doesn't get much more liveable either.

The top DJs are performing at Burningman. Many of the world best EDM DJs are actually from Holland.

Yes we know how to party.

Even the weather plays a crucial role.
At Burning Man the nights are cold, the days hot and distrupted by sand storms. So you are constantly aware of the elements and how your body reacts to that.

In Holland the weather is usually crappy. Especially if you compare it to LA, Miami or the Bay area which all have monotonous weather. But that helps us appreciate it all the more when the sun comes out.

Like the day we all met.

We did a Facebook Live update (see below) to talk about the all of the above and after my remarks (which were not as elaborate as here in this blog) Jason invited the viewers to all come to Amsterdam and I stopped him right there! :)

Please stay where you are, but focus on building your own sustainable humane communities.

Finding the flow is not about Amsterdam, but about how we built cities and communities which welcome to concept of play and help people embrace their inner child. Places which allow people to not take themselves too serious.

This Building starts with raising your kids and allowing them to play, explore and make mistakes. That mindset should continue in your schools and educational systems, which should be accessible for everyone. Startups and corporations play a big role in redefining work and of course politicians should play their part and can ultimately screw up everything.

Let me know what you think!


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