The European currency features buildings that didn't exist, until Spijkenisse made them in concrete
- The euro banknotes feature seven different bridges – all of them fictional.
- They represent periods instead of places, so as not to offend anyone.
- But one Dutch town has turned monetary fiction into monumental fact.
Go to the end of this street to find Heartbreak Hotel.
Credit: Google Street View
In topography, there's a wonderful subcategory of places that existed first in the imagination before they materialized on the map. Examples range in size from the New York landmark of Agloe, a tiny map trap that accidentally became real (see #643) to the huge country of Pakistan, one man's dream turned into a home for millions (see #647).
For an example at the intersection of lyrical and whimsical, book a stay at Heartbreak Hotel. It's in Memphis, right across from Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. The King of Rock 'n Roll had a hit with that title back in 1956. Today, as in the song, you'll find the hotel down at the end of Lonely Street.
The euro bridges were designed to be transnational – but now they're all Dutch.
Credit: Google Maps, ECB (Graphics: Ruland Kolen)
And then there's the otherwise unassuming Dutch town of Spijkenisse, where you can take a walk across seven brightly-colored bridges which until recently only existed on banknotes.
You might recognize those bridges. If you've ever handled euro notes, you'll have seen them on the reverse of each of the seven denominations. Those bridges, however, are not real. Unlike other currencies, which often double as patriotic pamphlets and/or tourist teasers, the euro notes do not feature real-life landmarks or real-dead Europeans.
That would have involved favoring some countries and leaving out others, and in a multinational endeavor like the pan-European currency, that was a definite no-no.
So, what to do? It's a problem that had to be solved relatively recently, as the euro is the youngest of the world's major currencies. The look of the euro notes can be traced back to a European Council meeting in Dublin on December 13, 1996, when the European Monetary Institute (the precursor of today's European Central Bank) announced the winner of its competition to design the euro notes.
The five-euro bridge: Classical, and dirt-grey.
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
The prize went to Robert Kalina, a designer with the National Bank of Austria. His 'Ages and Styles of Europe' was chosen from among 44 contenders. Mr Kalina had some form in the matter. All Austrian banknotes from 1982 onwards were by his hand, as were notes he later designed for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, and Syria.
Mr Kalina's euro designs scrupulously avoided any allusion to particular people or places, referring merely to abstract, supra-national style periods. The obverse of each note shows a window and a doorway, symbolizing Europe's spirit of openness. Each reverse shows a bridge, exemplifying communication and cooperation, both between the countries of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.
The architectural style of each note progresses chronologically as the value of the denomination increases. Most also feature a color from the rainbow spectrum.
The ten-euro bridge, Romanesque in style and red in color.
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
- €5: Classical (as this was to be the most widely used note, grey was chosen to mask the dirt)
- €10: Romanesque (red)
- €20: Gothic (blue)
- €50: Renaissance (orange)
- €100: Baroque and Rococo (green)
- €200: 19th century Industrial (yellow)
- €500: 20th century Modern (purple)
These euro bridges would have remained fictional, were it not for Robin Stam. The Rotterdam-based artist got the idea of turning financial fiction into architectural fact in a pizza place, while fiddling with a euro note. "Suddenly it struck me how amazing it would be if these fictional bridges came to life," he said.
Mr Stam found a willing partner for his idea in the city council of Spijkenisse, his hometown, a suburb of Rotterdam. The plan was to build seven euro bridges across a canal that almost entirely surrounds an area called De Elementen ('The Elements').
Letter of approval
Gothic blue: the twenty-euro bridge
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
But before he got started, Mr Stam felt he needed the blessing of the European Central Bank. The euro notes scrupulously avoid favoring one member state over the other, but Mr Stam's euro bridges would all be in one country – the Netherlands. Would the ECB mind? Mr Stam sent them a letter. But he needn't have feared: out of Frankfurt came a kind reply with an official letter of approval. "Their main concern is counterfeiting. And you can't pay with a bridge," says the artist.
And so, 'The Bridges of Europe' got underway. Funded by the city and aided by local contractors, all seven bridges were installed between October 2011 and September 2013. They all preserve the color and shape of the 'originals'. All were made of concrete except the two most recent styles (€200 and €500 notes), which were made out of steel. In all the project cost around €1 million to complete.
The fifty-euro bridge, in Renaissance orange.
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
However, the euro bridges of Spijkenisse are not as monumental as their depiction on the notes suggests. In fact, they're pedestrian in more than one sense. Mr Kalina, who first drew the fictional bridges, while amused by the project, has said he would have liked the bridges to be built in the style in which each was designed, instead of their appearance being used as a "kitschy façade." So, it's perhaps more appropriate to call them 'follies', but then many have said the same about the euro itself.
From 2013 onwards, a second series of euro notes was published. This 'Europa' series–named after the Greek goddess who is watermarked into the notes–is a redesign by the German banknote designer Reinhold Gerstetter, who wanted the notes to be "more colorful, so they would appear friendlier".
Useful to criminals
If it's Baroque/Rococo and green, it must be the one-hundred-euro bridge.
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
The basic design of the first series, including the colors and bridges, has been maintained, with one notable exception. The Europa series no longer features a €500 note, out of concern that it appeared to be more useful to criminals than to law-abiding citizens.
The reason is its exceptionally high value. True, Switzerland has a 1,000-franc note (app. € 900, or US$ 1,075), but the euro is the only major currency to have a note this valuable. Compare the US dollar, which has the $100 bill as its highest denomination.
Because it is so valuable and was so relatively widespread, the €500 bill is ideal for transferring large amounts of money in a compact volume of notes. Turns out that quality was greatly appreciated by money launderers, drug smugglers, and tax dodgers.
Industrial and yellow – the two-hundred-euro bridge
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
The notes soon acquired the nickname 'Bin Ladens' because, despite their notoriety, they were rarely seen in public. One examination by the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency noted 90% of the €500 bills distributed in the U.K. were in the hands of criminal organisations, who liked the note because it made it easier to launder money (the highest British denomination is £50). For that reason, the U.K. Bureaux de Change stopped trading €500 notes in 2010.
Old €500 notes will remain legal tender forever, as will other notes from the first series; but they will gradually be taken out of circulation. Spijkenisse for its part has as yet no plans to demolish the €500 bridge.
Strange Maps #1075
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purple and modern, like the 'Bin Laden' note beloved by criminals: the five-hundred-euro bridge.
Credit: ScWikiSc, CC BY-SA 4.0
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A crash course in the history of money, the birth of Bitcoin, and blockchain technology.
- We've all heard terms like Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency being thrown around in the past few years, but what do they mean? Consider this your crash course.
- Experts from across the spectrum of money and tech provide a history of commerce dating back tens of thousands of years, explain what blockchain and Bitcoin are and how they work, and offer insights into the differences between centralized and decentralized systems.
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A new study casts doubt on previous research showing that emotional well-being plateaus at an income of $75,000 per year.
- A new study examined how income affects experienced and evaluative well-being, which are two measures researchers commonly use to evaluate happiness.
- The results showed that both evaluative and experienced well-being tend to increase alongside income.
- Still, the results don't suggest you should assign more importance to money, or tie your ideas of personal success to it.
Can money buy happiness?
In 2010, a Princeton University study added nuance to that adage by showing that money does indeed affect happiness, but it stops mattering after you're making about $75,000 a year. People who earned less than that amount tended to report lower levels of emotional well-being, potentially because of stress related to meeting basic needs. But when earning more than $75,000, everyone's more or less equally happy.
However, new research casts doubt on those widely cited findings.
"It's a compelling possibility, the idea that money stops mattering above that point, at least for how people actually feel moment to moment," Matthew Killingsworth, a senior fellow at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, told Penn Today. "But when I looked across a wide range of income levels, I found that all forms of well-being continued to rise with income. I don't see any sort of kink in the curve, an inflection point where money stops mattering. Instead, it keeps increasing."
Income and well-being
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study surveyed 33,391 employed U.S. adults ages 18 to 65. As in past studies, the participants answered questions about income and life satisfaction. But the study offered new insights because Killingsworth created a smartphone app that asked participants the question "How do you feel right now?" at random points throughout the day.
This captured the participants' experienced well-being, which is a measure of happiness in the moment. Another way that researchers measure happiness is through evaluative well-being, which examines the "global evaluation" people make of their lives, including general life satisfaction. The new study measured both experienced and evaluative well-being.
Credit: Killingsworth / PNAS
Unlike the 2010 study, the new research found that neither evaluative nor experienced well-being plateaued at the $75,000 income level. In fact, the results showed that both measures of well-being rose along with logarithmic income (which differs from raw income).
"This means that two households earning $20,000 and $60,000, respectively, would be expected to exhibit the same difference in well-being as two households earning $60,000 and $180,000, respectively," Killingsworth wrote. "The logarithmic relationship implies that marginal dollars do matter less the more one earns, while proportional differences in income have a constant association with well-being regardless of income."
Why does money matter?
The study couldn't offer any conclusive explanations for the money-happiness correlation, but Killingsworth suggested a few possibilities.
One is that extra money helps people reduce suffering and increase enjoyment. Another explanation centers on life control: Responses to the question "To what extent do you feel in control of your life?" accounted for 74 percent of the association between income and experienced well-being. Finally, financial insecurities, measured by participants reporting their difficulty in paying bills, accounted for 38 percent of the income-happiness association.
But while income may affect well-being more than previously thought, the new findings don't suggest you should assign more importance to money, or tie your ideas of personal success to income.
After all, "the more people equated money and success, the lower their experienced well-being was on average (P < 0.00001), and there did not appear to be any income level at which equating money and success was associated with greater experienced well-being," Killingsworth wrote.
Research from MIT's School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative found making college more affordable cut dropout rates and boosted degree attainment.
The benefits bestowed by a college degree are well-known. Degrees open access to job opportunities and, with them, economic stability. The average earning potential of a college graduate is roughly twice that of someone with only a high school diploma. Graduates are less likely to live in poverty, more likely to be married, and more likely to be satisfied with their life and career choices. And the number of jobs that require a degree or postsecondary school training continue to increase.
Many Americans can recite this litany, yet when it comes to attaining college degrees, the United States is woefully behind its Western peers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, America was the world leader in degree attainment by young adults a generation ago. Today, it ranks thirteenth. Nearly half of students who begin college don't finish within six years, with a quarter of low-income students dropping out by their second year.
Meanwhile, tuition continues to rise. Even after adjusting for inflation, the costs of attending a four-year public school have doubled in only three decades. Such ballooning expenses have spearheaded a $1.6 trillion student debt crisis.
For many young people looking toward a brighter future, college has become a gateway locked from the inside. As the Department of Education concluded: "Today, college remains the greatest driver of socioeconomic mobility in America, but if we don't do more to keep it within reach for middle-class families and those striving to get into the middle class, it could have the opposite effect."
Research has looked into the predicament and now suggests a daring, counterintuitive means of increasing degree completion among young people: We make college affordable.
The study groups
An aerial view of MIT and Harvard Bridge. The university's School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative partnered with the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation for the study.
Credit: Adobe Stock
The study comes from MIT's School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative. Its researchers wanted to determine the effect scholarships had on degree attainment. As they put it,
"Financial aid is typically motivated by a desire to increase postsecondary attainment by making college more affordable. This raises the question of whether aid meets this test by boosting educational attainment. As with any sort of award or subsidy, it's worth considering the extent to which financial aid changes behavior. The fact that aid is motivated by the desire to increase schooling does not mean aid programs accomplish this."
To test this question, they partnered with the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, an organization that offers scholarships to first-time freshman attending public colleges in Nebraska. The researchers designed a partially randomized study around the Foundation's 2012–2016 scholarship applicants, a cohort of roughly 16,500 students seeking aid.
Because low-scoring applicants were unlikely to complete college, they were not provided a scholarship and were removed from the study. Similarly, while high-scoring applicants were awarded a scholarship, they too were removed from the study as their degree completion was likely with or without the financial abetment. This left a middle pool of applicants, each sporting a comparable level of need and college-readiness.
The Foundation awarded scholarships randomly to this middle group of applicants; those who did not receive scholarships served as the controls. Because the number of applicants far exceeded the available aid, no student was artificially denied a scholarship for the study's sake. All told, the study included 3,699 scholarship-awarded participants and 4,491 controls. Most sought degrees at four-year colleges though some matriculated into two-year schools.
As this group was comparable in areas such as GPA, colleges attended, and expected family contributions, any statistically significant difference between the recipients and the controls would provide some evidence of a causal connection between financial aid and degree attainment.
Easing the six-year itch
The researchers followed the students' college careers, from freshman year to spring 2019, and found that the scholarships did change behavior. Enrollment was only slightly higher for the aid recipients than the controls—98.7 percent compared to 96.1—but as the two groups' college careers continued, a noticeable difference emerged in dropout rates. By the end of their fourth year, only 71.6 percent of the control group remained, a dropout rate of 24.5 percent; meanwhile, the scholarship group only declined by 18 percent.
The scholarships also bolstered degree completion. Though bachelor degree completion was roughly even by the end of the fourth year, the aid recipients began to pull ahead after that. By the end of their sixth year, 71 percent of the award recipients received their degree, 8.4 percentage points more than the control. This suggests that as degree completion began to drag on longer, the infusion of extra financial resources made the final push more manageable.
The researchers not only found that aid promotes full-time enrollment, but that it benefitted historically underrepresented groups most, including non-white and first-generation applicants. These findings support a growing body of research that suggests college affordability directly impacts student decision-making and degree attainment.
The study, titled "Marginal Effects of Merit Aid for Low-Income Students," is part of an ongoing research study. Additional reports will be released as the study continues.
What does college affordability mean?
Scholarships are one way of making college more affordable, but they are part of a much larger conversation as to what affordability means.
The ballooning cost of tuition in recent decades is another concern. Factors for this surge include a massive increase in demand, cuts in state funding, new student services, and bloated administrative compensation. While colleges could certainly rein in some of their more extravagant expenses, and legislators agree to fund more, the question of affordability goes further still.
It concerns the quality of education, whether students are dependent or independent, their resources before matriculating, what they can expect from the investment after graduation, and how much of their future income they are willing (or able) to pay. The calculus must also consider available alternatives, their costs, and their potential outcomes. It's a multifaceted balancing act between what's available, what students can afford, and what schools can offer with the resources they have available—which, of course, ties directly to the funds that schools have available.
In an op-ed for Higher Education Today, Susan Baum, a senior fellow in the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute, correctly points out that a "low-cost program designed purely to train people for an occupation that is unlikely to exist in 10 years, while appearing 'affordable,' is not affordable at all."
So then, how should we think about college affordability?
Baum recommends we start the conversation with need-based considerations at the forefront. "The financial resources available to a student at the time of enrollment are critical. Students have very different starting points for measuring outcomes and value depending on their circumstances," Baum writes. But it also requires us to think beyond funding; we need to consider the resources colleges need to provide a valuable education as well as the types of experiences that students want.
If we want more students to graduate, we need to discover the right balance between moderate spending, need-based aid, and program quality, a balance that will make college accessible to all who desire to attend.