Urban design in Zuidas

Left: Photograph of the street in this study from the south side (Site visit November 2 2017); Right: Zuidas boundary area with notation of the private street from Google Maps (Google Maps, 2017).

While exploring the rapidly growing neighbourhood of Zuidas in Amsterdam, there are many unique urban design features that can be found. Taking a walk down Gustav Maherlaan towards Vrije Universiteit, will lead you to a quiet street right before Buitenvelderselaan. Why is this street so unique? Because it is a mix of both private and public ownership, as observed by personal anecdotes from some of the new businesses that can be found. Using the map below, the red color is be used to denote the exact location of this private-public area, in the greater Zuidas district. Although this street does not have a legal name, it still has the look and feel of any other street in the area.


Developing Zuidas

The street represents a “blurred boundary” between the government authority and private actors as demonstrated by the principals of mixed ownership and operational responsibilities (Tasan-Kok, 2012: 11). The Hello Zuidas partnership that is leading the development of the area is formal Public Private Partnership (PPP), but this street itself is not. Instead, what the street offers is place that is composed of shared responsibilities between the government and the private sector. The street raises questions about the quality of the neighborhood for living, and working. It could be assumed ambiguous character of thethat the disadvantage of this type of live-work combination is, that the boundary between the private lifeand the public life fades.To study how this ambiguous street impacts businesses and residents in the area, a short ethnographic study was conducted on November 2, 2017 by graduate students at the Universiteit van Amsterdam.These students surveyed available employees on the area, resulting in the following hypothesis:‘the public character of this private property lowers the responsibility and involvement of residents with the street in terms of maintenance and involvement

Image 2. A photography of the Rob Peetoom salon in Zuidas on this street (Site visit November 2, 2017)

The resulting public character of this private street has been formed by neoliberal climate of the largerPPP in place (Tasan-Kok, 2012 p. 13). The following factors determine the current public character of the street. First, several landlords are involved in De Zuidas, due to top-down approach in which many private partners are involved. This street bridges two tower blocks, one which is residential, and one which is office. Both tower blocks are owned by different landlords, which rearrange residential meetings once every season (Interview Session). The ground floor businesses have only been operating in the area between one to two years, with construction still ongoing on the surrounding streets.


Increasing influence of neoliberalism

According Campbell & Tait (2013), the neoliberal climate which appears after the second world war,disparages the effectiveness of public intervention and celebrates the efficiency and even morality of

markets. In terms of De Zuidas, there are many signs of PPP on the residential level. In the climate of neoliberalism, growth is desired (Campbell., & Tait., 2013 p. 6) which is directly linked to economic successes for private actors. The rapid growth of this street currently has a negative impact because parts of the street are still under development. Hairdresser Rob Peetoom states that they are disadvantaged for being bothered by the construction traffic and the view of the construction side (Interview Session).This could change over time as more residents settle in the area

The most important point of the argument is the lack of connectedness between the residents. For example, a private organization, ‘James’, was asked to create more connectivity between the residents of the housing tower block (Interview Session, “Ons verhaal: 900 Mahler + James”, 2017). This assumes that neighbors do not know each other, which correlates with the stories of the hairdressers and the owner of the Japanese restaurant; there is minimal interaction between residents on the street between neighbors. Furthermore, the street must be maintained by the operating businesses and residents, except from the garbage and the weeds. It was interesting to note that two out of the three people that were interviewed were not aware about the restriction of self-maintenance (Interview Session).


What’s next for Zuidas

Derived from the conversations with these business owners, the street has a variety of characteristics that can be used to form the narrative of the larger development process in Zuidas. According to the master plan vision of Zuidas, public space is marked as a key pillar along with mobility, community and sustainability (Hello Zuidas, 2016). The interviews of business owners reveal that at first appearance, it may seem to be a regular street, but instead it is a bit more awkwardly assembled as a result of larger development-driven forces. As the development authority further completes master vision projects in this area, other similar spaces may emerge, occurring at a greater scale. The importance of evaluating PPPs at the scale of this street may seem trivial, however; this neoliberal climate can ultimately have much larger consequences such as a lack of option of an “alternative urban future”(Roy, 2015: 62). With an ongoing top-down planning approach, “blurred boundari[es]” such as this street could become more common, if more extensive consideration of public space users is not integrated. The challenge for change will be to counter the inertia of existing and future planned private-led development to ensure space for residents and other users.



Campbell, H., Tait, M., Watkins, C. (2014) Is There Space for Better Planning in a Neoliberal World? Implications for Planning Practice and Theory, Journal of Planning Education and Research, 34(1) 45-59.

Ons verhaal: 900 Mahler + James. (2017). Verway Vastgoed. Retrieved 4 November 2017, from https://900mahler.plusjames.nl/254/ons-verhaal.html

Public Space | Hello Zuidas. (2016). Hellozuidas.com. Retrieved 4 November 2017, from http://www.hellozuidas.com/public-space

Roy, P. (2015) Collaborative planning – A neoliberal strategy? A study of the Atlanta BeltLine, Cities, 43: 59– 68.

Tasan-Kok, T. (2012) Introduction: Contradictions of neoliberal planning. In: Tasan-Kok and Baeten (eds.), Contradictions of Neoliberal Planning: Cities, Policies, Politics. Springer: Dordrecht, pp. 1-19.

(2017). Google Maps. Retrieved 4 November 2017, from