Biking on a futile day, at a futile moment through Veldhoven, I can’t help but feeling overwhelmed by the ordinariness of it all. I bike past planted trees in between houses, water channels, newly built “modern architecture” but also older run-down housing. The town of Veldhoven is a typical Dutch suburb. How can we look at this heavily urbanised and relatively young town in the province of Brabant? Are feelings of normality and of the town being ‘ordinary’ justified?
Veldhoven was founded almost 100 years ago, in 1921, as a result of the merge of three small towns. According to Veldhoven’s Wikipedia page, in 1930 it had a mere 6900 inhabitants. After the Second World War this amount rapidly increased to the 44.680 citizens it has today.
Veldhoven grew along with the city of Eindhoven, which it lies right next to. The many technical and ICT companies settling in the area increased the demand for family housing enormously, the gap Veldhoven jumped into. It became the place to live for people with families working in Eindhoven. Veldhoven became to Eindhoven what Almere is to Amsterdam.
In Veldhoven, you can find everything you need: numerous Albert Heijn and Jumbo supermarkets, elementary schools, sports- and music associations, and a shopping center ironically named: “het city centrum”. The real Veldhovenaar pronounces this as ‘het sitie centrumm’ or simply ‘het city’, combining the Dutch word for center, ‘centrum’ and the English word ‘city’.
Veldhoven misses the ambience of Dutch towns with a richer history, but has its own charm. The planned design of the architecture sometimes seems to reflect the character of the inhabitants, as if the clear structure of the buildings is mirrored in peoples’ lives. On random moments, I spend a few minutes imagining how some people spend their days: getting out of bed, having breakfast, going to work, doing groceries, cooking dinner, playing with the kids, watching television, and going to bed again, and repeating the whole cycle the next day.
Being submerged in this environment, where so many appear to ‘live’, I cannot help but ask myself: what is it all for? Why do we – myself included – go through such repetitive routines? However, these questions can equally be applied to life in the city. The only difference is that we associate cities with being cultured and lively, and therefore less repetitive and with more meaning.
In Veldhoven there are no techno parties, but monthly ‘disco swimming’ nights for 12 year olds. There is no anonymity, but neighbours will join you for ‘gezellige’ neighbourhood barbecues. There are no Greenpeace demonstrations, but there is a lively community of volunteers working in the local churches, associations, and elderly homes. In Veldhoven there are – apart from an occasional evening in the library – no intellectual discussions on the ‘future of capitalism’, but here one can enjoy a relaxed huisje-boompje-beestje life. And there is nothing wrong with that.
It is comfortable. It is affordable. It is free of pretentiousness. Veldhoven is the Dutch town we vaguely know about but never visit. It is beautiful in its predictability and simplicity. It is special in the way that it is not special at all.
The local community gives many a sense of fulfilment that cannot be found through any career, achievement or individual pursuit. It might sound simple… but people support each other and have fun together.
So if for some reason you end up in Veldhoven some day, or in a similar town for that matter, remember: it’s cool. Enjoy your house, ‘het city’, and the valuable community. You can always visit the city every once in a while for concerts and some neoliberal critique.
All photos by Vera Vrijmoeth