Majoy Mayors #2 (Eberhard van der Laan)

It’s almost the end of 2017. A year where I wished to write a lot about cities but unfortunatelly… I didn’t.

Or better: I couldn’t. Sometimes there is just too much going on in your personal and professional life. But hey, every new year brings new (or the same) resolutions.

There were lots of things to write about. Cities are only getting more fascinating. And the stories they incorporate. And also the persons that make cities. Not ‘great again’ (please no), just ‘make cities’.

One of these persons was the mayor of Amsterdam. A mayor that embodied his city and represented his citizens with class.

This year Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, passed away after being mayor for about 7 years. I only knew van der Laan vague untill I saw an interview of him on the Dutch television.

Printscreen interview
Link to YouTube video (Dutch)

Everybody knew since January ’17 that he had terminal lung cancer. He wrote a letter to the city residents in September ’17 entitled “Dear Amsterdammers” and telling them there were ‘little reasons for optimism’.

It was my great privilege to be mayor of the most beautiful and best city in the world. I want to thank you all for the trust you have placed in me, for your commitment and for every piece of support and objection that I had the pleasure to receive in the past seven years.

Please take good care of our city, and of each other.

Farewell,

Eberhard van der Laan

Seventeen days later van der Laan died.

During his mayorship he made headlines several times. For example some years ago when he said he was too busy to meet Putin when the president of Russia visited his city, instead van der Laan ordered a rainbow flag flown from the city hall in protest to Russian policies against homosexuals.

It was just one of the statements he made during his mayorship of one of the most liberal cities in the world. His pragmatic approach of the challenges of a city, made him a beloved and respected mayor.

In 2010 two child day cares needed to be closed due to sexual misabuse of children. Van der Laan was praised for his commitment and support to the parents.

In 2013 he was awarded with the Machiavelli prize, a Dutch prize for a person who excelled in communication between governement, politics and citizens.

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When his last interview aired on the Dutch television on a Sunday night the citizens of Amsterdam gathered all together in bars and other places in the city to listen to their mayor. Their mayor spoke and his citizens listened as a sign of mutual respect. In total more than one milion people in the Netherlands saw this interview.

It was one of the most breath-taking television moments I saw this year.

In his interview van der Laan had to chose several video footages that mean a lot to him and then talk about them. His choices represented the mayor he was.

He choose to talk about the supression of Amsterdam by the Nazi’s during the World War and how the people are framing this today. He claimed that many people today wrongly interpret that the citizens of Holland collaborated with the Nazi’s.

Historical research shows that the opposite is true and that the embarrasing feeling many people have about the role of their ancestors during the Holocaust, is not correct.

Besides this van der Laan also chose to talk about:

Nouri was a Dutch football player who had a heart attack during a friendly game, Nouri survived but will never fully recover. The images of people coming together to pray for Nouri after his accident were a very emotional moment for van der Laan. Nouri was a youth player of Ajax and was meant to be a great player for Ajax. Similar to legendary Ajax players Nouri scored during his debut. Unfortunately his future took another turn…

Van der Laan also wanted to show a live concert of Arcade Fire at Best Kept Secret Festival, it was his favourite band.

You can watch and read more about van der Laan’s interview here.

Van der Laan was a great mayor and an example for many others so the title ‘Major Mayor’ suits him perfectly, just like it did for Enrique Peñalosa.

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