The beautiful thing about the dutch culture is their very supportive community. The have a heightened sense of awareness, and a genuine desire to help those who are hurt or disadvantaged. And this mentality extends from large scale policy decisions all the way to the daily actions of people.
The welfare system. Walk in, apply, be in the system for ten days to prove capability, receive 860€/month and an address for a place to stay. In Delft, housing goes for pretty cheap at €2.50/night, the most expensive is Den Haag at €6.00/night. So after housing comes out, 600-700€/month is still not much but its plenty enough to keep a person from resorting to desperate measures just to stay alive. Not to mention, having a place to call home goes a long way in the recovery of a person’s life. Whereas, many homeless shelters have horribly uncomfortable beds and reek of piss which reminds you with every sour breath and every un-restful night that you’re perpetually stuck in the hole with the slimmest of chance that you’ll ever dig out.
Healthcare system works pretty well too. In the public healthcare system, there are different plans with varying levels of coverage, and suggested percentage of your income per month that you should pay for the plan. The top plan goes for about 12% of your income and the primary plan (which is everything except emergency room) goes for about 8%. The people here feel quite obliged to pay these suggested amounts, if not more, and for the most part they think its ridiculous to not pay if they are able. With this system, doctors are paid well, and patients who cant pay for a visit out of pocket (usually a sudden devastating accident, or constant care for a chronic condition) are in the clear here. They dont even know what a copay is here. The response after explaining to somebody what it is was: “how dumb is it that, when you already pay for health insurance, why do you pay additional money?”
Transportation priority system. Where to start? Well they build their infrastructure to give priority to modes in the order of which mode of travel is the most taxing for the user. So let’s start with the users who have the hardest time getting around.
- All crossings have chamfered curbs and long enough signal length to allow wheelchair users to cross safely and comfortably.
- Next level of priority is given to regular peds by ensuring pedestrian medians over wide roadways and split phase ped signals, such that a pedestrian need not cross the entire roadway at once. The pedestrian may wait in the median and press the walk button that is located in the median.
- Next level of priority is cyclists. Cyclists do not have split phases across one crossing, so they are expected to cross the roadway at once, usually. But cyclists have their own signal locations and timings, so conflicts with vehicles are avoided by restricting cyclist movement when there is a conflicting free-flowing vehicular turning movement.
- Hybrid cars and vehicular cyclists are given the next level of consideration, simply by having the signals display a special red and yellow light combination for 2 seconds before the light turns green. This “Ready, Set” light gives cyclists time to mount and start, and allows that crucial extra second for a hybrid vehicle such as the Prius or Insight (which turn off the engine when idling) to restart its engine.
- Buses and trams actually have their own traffic light signal system, which consists of dot patterns illegible to the regular person, and this system always give priority to the bus over the car at an intersection.
So in the end, this thoughtful and thorough consideration provides the means for all kinds of users to traverse the streets at their own rate.
Yielding culture. The infrastructure built in this way was clearly a product of the considerate desires of the culture and population. The infrastructure constantly reminds users to stay aware and give way to less privileged users. So we quickly noticed how frequently motorists yield to cyclists. And i noticed how this culture is embedded in the mind of the people when it comes to helping disadvantaged people at any given opportunity. The Dutch see their community for what it is: A collection of unique individuals.
The successful welfare system inspired me to translate a song and sing it to the Dutch people. I want them to never forget that a working welfare system is what keeps less fortunate souls off the streets during times of hardship. I want to let them know that America’s welfare system is broken. That is why songs are being written, and TV shows are being made, to depict the tragic course of our society that forces our poor people to resort to thievery and sex work and illegal drug dealing just to make ends meet between jobs, or after an accident that breaks the bank, or if they’re kicked out of the house due to differing religious views than parents, or after a breakup with a significant other that they were living with, etc. etc. Are the adults responsible for policy decisions too embarrassed to talk about the real issues?? In the Netherlands, a woman can seek employment as a prostitute, while another woman who is suddenly jobless can seek welfare and does not have to stand on the corner just to make money for rent. But elsewhere, a woman of the ripe age of 19, not even old enough to legally drink alcohol (in some countries), may have no other option but to become a prostitute until she can find a steady job. This is why i requested the help of the people of Delft, to translate the song “In The Night” by The Weeknd, and i spent a few days after this course to travel the country and sing it in various places. A couple of people took notice. One old man, who knew english and dutch, wanted to see the lyrics. We didn’t talk about it, but i could tell by his glistening eyes that it struck his heart, and that he understood. I’m just one voice, but i hope that beginning the conversation can spur some thought on how to shift our culture to genuinely desire to help the less privileged.