NEW YORK DAYS: Dutch have courage to tame JFK

It is true the Dutch once ran Manhattan, but that was three centuries ago and ended with their man, Peter Stuyvesant, being thrown out. So who is to say that today they are any more able to tame the city? Particularly when their big idea is to put flies in the urinals.

Mayor Giuliani is not about to vacate Gracie Mansion for Wim Kok. But in a gesture of despair over its own management failures, the Apple has invited the Dutch to take responsibility for a place that is the epitome of the metropolis. It seethes and perspires and is a temple of chaos and inefficiency. We are speaking of the international arrivals building at JFK airport.

If you have flown into JFK, it is likely that your first minutes on American soil were a bit of a shock. JFK might have been grand when it opened in 1957 - then it was Idlewild - with its fountains and cocktail clubs. But now it invites obliteration by a powerful bomb.

Even after the ordeals of customs, delayed baggage, and the search for the taxi line, there is still the 30-minute-going-on-two-hour ride through Queens to Manhattan. (Did you really imagine there would be a train to take you there?). America turns out to be a land of peeling-felt roofs, unkempt cemeteries and billboards. Only the pot-holes are bigger and better.

Of the seven terminals, none is more dysfunctional than number four - international arrivals. Built originally to accommodate 2,000 passengers an hour, it now must handle three times that number and 50 different airlines. It has become the antithesis of the glamour once associated with flying.

In spite of being on a domestic flight, I recently suffered Terminal Four when I and my family flew Carnival Air to Fort Lauderdale. First there was no Carnival check-in desk - not one. How were we to know a pair of lonely Iberia counters were going to transform themselves into Carnival an hour before departure? Suddenly the fire sirens go off, red lights flash and my son, quite reasonably, is nervous. Shouldn't we evacuate? Then it stops. A security guard seems not to have noticed and no explanation is offered.

Next it is upstairs to the departures level. Here, by the small food court, where my son explodes a sachet of ketchup over himself, rests the large, hopelessly old-fashioned, indicator board (all clattering names and times, it would have seemed modern in Waterloo twenty years ago), showing the arrivals times. Never mind that those who might find it useful are in arrivals one floor below. Departures information is on suspended television screens - but the nearest one to where we are is a 10-minute walk away.

All this finally defeated the New York Port Authority, which has handed the place over to a Dutch-American consortium, Schiphol USA. With the help of nearly $1bn raised by a city bond issue earlier this year, the group intends over the next four years to rebuild Terminal Four in the image of Schiphol Airport outside Amsterdam. The Port Authority is excited: Schiphol is regularly ranked as one of the world's best airports while JFK is perpetually regarded as one of the worst.

The vision is simple: a pleasant, unclogged terminal that passengers will enjoy rather than endure. There will be shops and cafes and even - though the nature of New York politics must make this unlikely - a raised rail link to the Apple's core. There will also be those urinals.

It was to the Wall Street Journal that the project general manager, Jan Jansen, offered this illustration of Dutch-think replacing Yank-think. He intends installing urinals with tiny black flies etched in the porcelain, as at Schiphol. The idea is to give a fellow something to aim at and to keep the flow in the pan. "Fine, laugh at me. It works. It gives a guy something to think about".

I wonder. In Holland the flies doubtless survive as gleaming beacons. In New York, I fear there will be quickly be obscured by debris, gum and spittle. There is a tidiness about the Dutch, even in the conduct of bodily functions, that I do not often observe in New Yorkers.

How sparkling do we want JFK to be any way? So it lacks a certain elegance. So does the city. If the purpose of an arrivals terminal is to pamper and induce shopping, turn it into Schiphol. If instead it is to prepare the arriving traveller for what lies in store outside - noise, disorder, crowds, rudeness, colour, energy and confusion - then the Dutch makeover may be an error.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...