During my last class I received written questions from my students as I wanted to know whether there are certain things that they did not grasp or they were simply curious about. I answered some of these questions on the spot and some I took home with me to provide written responses. They turned out to be fun to deal with. One of the students asked me to what extend is planning still important in The Netherlands. He/she was specifically was curious about the importance of planning in areas outside Amsterdam (the rest of the country).
As I indicated in the class on Thursday also, planning has always been, still is and will be important for the Netherlands. The Netherlands known to be the planners’ paradise. You can see several publications to understand why Netherlands is known to be ‘planners’ paradise’ but the creator of the term, or at least who gave fame to the term, is Emeritus Professor Andreas Faludi, who is a prominent academic figure in the planning world, who also worked at UvA (1977-1998) and retired from TUDelft a few years ago. He made Dutch urban planning internationally known, with statements like ‘The Dutch love rule and order’. I think what he said about Dutch planning 20 something years ago, explains why the Netherlands is planners’ paradise. He said “The Dutch have indeed a knack for carrying out their plans, giving shape to their environment, so much so that the country seems a planners’ paradise. The strength of Dutch planning is that planners and the public at large have been socialised into believing in certain ideas, like Randstad and Green Heart”. You can read more about it in his article in Urban Studies titled “Coalition Building and Planning for Dutch Growth Management: The Role of the Randstad Concept”. Willem Korthals Altes and myself questioned whether the notion of paradise still exists by questioning young practitioners and published our reflections recently. What young practitioners told us during this research project that, although they feel some battles are lost in planning due to economic crises, they still think that they were, in their own modest way, contributing to a better world (Korthals Altes & Tasan-Kok, 2017). They said, and I quote “…we can still think of young practitioners in the Netherlands as being among the lucky few who are able to make a difference to society by using their special skills set and creativity to contribute to the process of societal consensus-building” (p. 241).
In relation to the question above, my view is that Dutch planning has more missions than just spatial organisation, which makes it important for the country. One of these missions is about protecting the land against water. As you know the geographical positioning of the Netherlands makes it very vulnerable and sensitive to disasters like floods and especially to the climate change, and there are special organisations like the Delta Commission to protect the country. If you look into the website of the Delta Commission you can see the issues this commission is dealing with, one of which is ‘spatial planning’. The link between environment and urban space is very important for planning, and in The Netherlands it is the most important as flood disasters may destroy not only the most productive land of the country for agriculture, but also parts of the country including the Randstad area, which is the economic heart of the country, may be under water in the coming centuries. Therefore, Dutch planners have to estimate the future very well. Dutch planners not only work hard on finding ways to estimate the future of the country and prepare different scenarios to make sure that they prevent disasters in cities, but also think of scenarios where it is unavoidable that the floods may influence the daily life through new utopias like living in water (like the concept of floating cities, planning for floating city, etc). Planners in this field work together with experts from the fields of water management and engineering of course, but their views and visions are very important as planners are in the position to have an overall view, to link the efforts and to coordinate them. A few years back Dominic Stead and I conducted a research project in the area of Rotterdam and published in this field to discuss how these efforts are coordinated and governed in relation to climate change within the framework of urban resilience.Talking about the link between theory and practice, a topic I continuously underline in my teaching, the theory of resilience which has its roots in natural sciences and engineering, has become an interesting field for planners in relation to climate change although some criticisim emerged in recent years rightly questioning the idea of resilience as a new urban paradigm. In our study Dominic Stead and I summarised the risks and show how the efforts in relation to climate change were coordinated in the area of Rotterdam. As we also underlined in this study “spatial planning has the potential to combine adaptation and mitigation measures and to ensure that these measures are complementary, and this is where attention needs to be focused in spatial planning in the future“.
Planning is important in Amsterdam because it is a city with very high land prices and most attractive for property investment. Therefore, as we will discuss in the class this week, planners face more pressure from the market mechanisms. However, this is only one aspect of planning. Environmental challenges and land management is a very important characteristics of Dutch land-use planning due to the vulnerability to flood disasters and climate change, and therefore for the rest of the country planning has a very important role as well. Planning institutions and planners are those who can have an overview on different efforts and link them through comprehensive scenarios. I think this is a large part of the reason why Faludi said ‘Dutch love rule and order’. Planners in this country need to be part of creating ‘certainty’ for the future. And to create certainty requires rules and order, which are very important aspects of planning regulation.