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The future-proof city

Jos Hesselink • 09/12/2020
The value of the city lies in its future-proofness. In order to be able to anticipate the needs of the time, vision and ambition are needed as guidelines for strategic area development.

Over the centuries, the development of cities has been characterized by a continuous interaction between central, regional and local government with the market. Developments appear to be economically, demographically and technologically driven, in various phases of (de-) urbanization, sub- and re-urbanization. With a spatial vision as a framework to a greater or lesser extent.

Spatial planning as a tool for future-proofing

After years of pursuing a decentralized policy, the national government will once again give more direction to urban development. With the National Environmental Vision (NOVI) presented in September, the government gives priority to the development of strong and healthy cities and regions. The enormous task of building about one million additional homes by 2040 is being challenged by the sustainability task. The built environment, aided by the Environment Act (as of 1 January 2022), can and must make an enormous contribution to combating climate change.

The first cities that were founded between 1100 and 1400 were often on the banks of rivers such as Deventer, Utrecht, Arnhem, Dordrecht and Maastricht. Founding a city at the time was a private initiative of residents and lords. They founded an independent economic core, usually with a port. Accessibility was decisive for the choice of location. At that time over water, characteristic of the urban pattern in our country.

In the 19th century, existing cities expanded as a result of industrialization and the city councils were democratized when the Constitution was introduced in 1848. At that time, the government became increasingly active in spatial planning, including infrastructure. The arrival of the railway had a profound effect on the city centers; the economic center of gravity expanded to areas accessed by train tracks. Industrial cities such as Eindhoven and Enschede became quickly accessible and during this time residential cities such as Apeldoorn and Hilversum emerged.

A period of suburbanization started after the Second World War. Residents left the cities, while the focus shifted to car accessibility, also in the city center. This led to an increase in commuter traffic and thus congestion. This exodus came at the expense of the level of facilities, which caused inner cities, the economic centers, to deteriorate. In response, with the Fourth Memorandum on Spatial Planning, the central government gave direction to urban development, making processes of (re-) urbanization visible again. Urbanization is continuing for the time being, although control has been decentralized to the municipalities since the beginning of this century.

Managing where necessary, facilitating where possible

In order to make our cities future-proof, to keep them liveable and economically healthy, and in addition to be able to solve the housing and sustainability challenge, there is now a need for an overarching national vision of cities and regions. With this tool, regions can achieve their own ambitions effectively and successfully, and adjustments can be made when there is a lack of their own vision and management resources. At the same time, space is needed for creating your own identity; a development that is occurring in many places such as in Wageningen (“Foodvalley”) and Eindhoven (“Design City. High-tech city. Brainport.”). The growth potential is mainly where multifunctional areas can be (further) developed; where homes can be added to office areas combined with utility facilities. This creates places where people like to stay. It is therefore also necessary to invest in good infrastructure, both inner-city, between cities and interregional, which creates multimodal hubs. Let us make the right choices economically, demographically and technically, raise the scale level and accelerate. Aimed at a common point on the horizon: an innovative, progressive, sustainable and knowledge-intensive country where spatial planning provides the handle for a future-proof city. 

Every month a column is published on a topic related to the value of the city. This vision is based on internal research and dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, in close collaboration with consultants and analysts from our Real Estate Strategy & Innovation team. More background can be found in the eponymous Insight: Spatial planning: handle for a future-proof city (in Dutch).

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