Dutch cities are getting on wonderfully – so why is Geert Wilders set to do so well in the election?

Your local neighbourhood far-right politician now comes with detachable dyed peroxide-blond hair, as if it weren't bad enough already. Image: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Europe's cities.

Life in the Netherlands is pretty good. GDP per capita is the fifteenth highest in the world, the national Human Development Index is the fifth highest on the planet, and inequality is the ninth-lowest worldwide.

They’ve conquered the seas with an intricate system of dykes and dams making life in Europe’s toilet boil relatively pleasant, and they’ve got the art of the cycle lane down to a particularly strangely-pronounced tee.

It’s the land of brownie-munching liberal paradise Amsterdam, international legal rights enforcing hub The Hague, and hip-and-happening mega-port Rotterdam.

Even outside of these huge centres, cities in the Netherlands are faring very well – particularly when compared to our own urban blobs here in the UK. Unemployment is lower:

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Amersfoort has the lowest unemployment level, at just 2.56 per cent, whilst even the city with the highest unemployment rate, Groningen, clocks in only 7.14 per cent.

By contrast, the range in the UK is from 3.31 per cent to 14.06 – almost double.

Similarly, GVA per worker – essentially, how much each individual worker contributes to the economy – is a lot higher in the Netherlands.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Productivity in the lowest-performing city of Enschede runs at £46,300 – much higher than Britain’s worst figure, Doncaster, at £38,100.

And even the powerhouse that is London – £68,900 – can’t compete with the Netherlands, where Amsterdam comes in at £75,200, and Groningen churns out £80,000 per worker per year.

Dutch cities are more inventive, too. By patent applications to the European Patent Office, the Netherlands’ cities come out ahead of the UK’s:

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities

The general range of Dutch cities stretches from just 3.31 patent applications per 100,000 people in Almere, to 19.28 per 100,000 in Arnhem. But then along comes Eindhoven, smashing everyone out of the park with 251.63 per 100,000. It’s not really fair, is it.

Even with the outsize beasts of Oxford and Cambridge included, Britain can’t rise above a piddling 74.05, while the full range of our pathetic pitiful lack of invention stretches down to Telford, with a formidable 0.9 applications per 100,000 people.

On the skill of its workers, too, the Dutch come up ahead.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Cambridge and Oxford again sit vastly ahead as outliers in the UK, and the proportion of the workforce classed as high-skilled varies, from 18.61 per cent in Hull, to 50.39 per cent in Edinburgh. But once again, though, the Dutch powerhouses roust us – from Haarlemmermeer at 28.49 per cent to Utrecht at 56.66 per cent.

And, on the flip side, it has fewer lower-skilled workers.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities

While Dundee registers an astonishing 46.65 per cent of the workforce as low skilled, the Netherlands can’t scrape above 32.9 per cent, in Rotterdam.

So with things this peachy, why is the extremely extreme far-right PVV party of terrible-haired peroxide-blond demon Geert Wilders jostling for first place in the polls – with one eye on becoming Prime Minister of the Netherlands?

Part of the answer, as ever, is that cities function as different political organisms. The gatherings of people in close quarters change the way people think, order priorities differently, and affects their political leanings.

The most Dutch-countryside picture I could find. Image: Peter Hessels.

But that doesn’t explain everything. After all, the PVV is polling around the 20 per cent mark, and between 82 and 85 per cent of people in the Netherlands live in cities.

So even if – as is most certainly not the case – every single person living in the Dutch countryside voted for the PVV, Wilders would still be picking up a fair few votes in urban areas.

Analysis of results and polls from the Netherlands’ last general election in 2012 suggests the clue may be our age-old friend in politics: education, education, education. The more qualified the population, the lower the level of support for the PVV, whether you’re in a city or in the countryside.


Which is why Amsterdam, full of nerdy well-to-do folk, tends not to rush into Geert Wilders’ arms, while a less educated city like Rotterdam does so to a slightly greater extent.

So the solution, long-term, may be a very simple one: whether you’re a city mayor or a rural regional official, get your education, education, education in order. And the rest will, hopefully, sort itself out.

In theory, anyway. 

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Which pairs of capital cities are the closest together?

Vienna, which is quite close to Bratislava, but not quite close enough. Image: Thomas Ledl

It doesn't take long to get from Paris to Brussels. An hour and a half on a comfortable Thalys train will get you there. 

Which raises an intriguing question, if you like that sort of thing: wich capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? And which are the furthest away? 

There are some that one might think would be quite close, which are actually much further part. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, sits on one side of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, while Montevideo, Uruguay's capital lies on the other side. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But at 207km apart, they're not really that close at all. 

Similarly, Singapore – capital of, er, Singapore – always sticks in the mind as 'that bit on the end of the Malaysian sticky-out bit'. But it's actually pretty far away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. A whole 319km away, in fact:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Thinking of 'countries that cause problems by being close together', you inevitably think of South Korea and North Korea. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And while Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South are pretty close together, 181km just isn't going to cut it. 

Time to do some Seoul-searching to find the real answer here.

(Sorry.)

(Okay, not that sorry.)

Another place where countries being close together tends to cause problems is the Middle East. Damascus, the capital of Syria, really isn't that far from Beirut, in Lebanon. Just 76km:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Seeing as Lebanon is currently host to millions of refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria's never-ending civil war and the atrocities of Daesh, or Isis, this is presumably something that authorities in Beirut have given a certain amount of thought to.

Most of the time, finding nearby capitals is a game of searching out which bits of the world have lots of small countries, and then rooting around. So you'd think Central America would be ripe for close-together capital fun. 

And yet the best option is Guatemala and El Salvador – where the imaginatively named Guatemala City is a whole 179km away from the also imaginatively named San Salvador.  

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Another obvious place with lots of small-ish countries is Europe – the site of the pair of capitals that drove me to write this nonsense in the first place. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And in fairness, Vienna and Bratislava do make a pretty good showing of it. Austria's capital sits on the Danube; drift downstream, and you swiftly get to Slovakia's capital. As the crow flies, it's 56km – though as the man swims, it's a little longer. 

There are more surprising entries – particularly if you're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Bahrain and Qatar aren't really adjacent in the traditional sense, as they have no land border, but let's just go with it. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Manama, Bahrain's capital, is 140km away from Doha, the centre of the world's thriving local connecting-flight-industry which moonlights as Qatar's capital. 

Sticking with the maritime theme, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago is 152km from St George's, Grenada. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Good, but not good enough. 

Castries, the capital of the Carribbean country of St Lucia, is 102km north of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Better, but still not good enough. 

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis, inches ahead at 100km away from St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But, enough teasing: it's time to get down to the big beasts.

If you ask Google Maps to tell you the distance between the capital of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it comes up with a rather suspect 20km. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

A short distance, but considering the only thing separating the two is the River Congo, something's up: Google places the centre of Brazzaville a little north of where it should be, and the centre of Kinshasa many many miles south of where it should be, in some sort of suburb.


So, in true CityMetric style, we turn to train stations. 

Though such transport hubs may not always perfectly mark the centre of a city – just ask London Oxford Airport or London Paddington – in this case it seems about right. 

Kinshasa's main train station is helpfully called 'Gare Centrale', and is almost slap-bang in the middle of the area Google marks as 'Centre Ville'. On the other side of the river, 'Gare de Brazzaville' is in the middle of lots of densely-packed buildings, and is right next to a Basilica, which is always a good sign. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And when marking that distance, you get a more realistic 4.8km. If you want to be really keen, the ferry between them travels 3.99km, and the closest point I could find between actual buildings was 1.74km, though admittedly that's in a more suburban area. 

Pretty close, though. 

But! I can hear the inevitable cries clamouring for an end to this. So, time to give the people what they want. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you ask Google Maps to tell you how far away the Holy See, capital of the Vatican, is from Rome, capital of Rome, it says 3.5km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you set the centre of Rome to be the Palatine Hill, the ancient marking point for roads leading out of Rome, that narrows to 2.6km.

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Fiddle a bit and put the centre of the Vatican as, well, the middle bit of the roughly-circular Vatican, that opens up a smidge to 2.75km.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Mark the centre of point of the Vatican as the approximate location of St Peter's Tomb within St Peter's Basilica, which is after all the main reason the Vatican is a thing and not just a quirky suburb of Rome, and 2.67km is your answer. 

Though obviously in practice Rome and the Vatican are as far away as one single step over the railings at the entrance of St Peter's Square, which fairly blatantly makes them the closest capital cities in the world. 

But that would have been a very boring thing to come out and say at the start. 

Oh, and if you hadn't worked it out already, the longest distance between a capital city and the capital of a country it shares a land border with is 6,395km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

I know it's tough for you, Vladimir and Kim. Long-distance relationships are a real struggle sometimes.

I can't make a pun work on either Moscow or Pyongyang here, but readers' submissions more than welcome. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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