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Redefining Urban Living: Amsterdam’s Polycentric Approach to Growth

As cities grow, legislation should evolve with them. With the foresight to adapt to the changing needs of its growing population, the Amsterdam city council has embraced the ‘Comprehensive Vision Amsterdam 2050: a humane metropolis’ as its guiding light for the decades ahead. This visionary document outlines five strategic choices to steer the city towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. Among these choices are polycentric development, growth within sustainable limits, fostering healthy mobility, embracing rigorous greening, and fostering a sense of communal ownership in city planning.

A significant issue in Amsterdam is that everything is directed towards a single centre. One of the principal aims of this new vision is to become a city and a region with more than one urban core. This intervention in the city’s structure can be achieved by turning now-business areas into bustling urban districts and investing strongly in urban amenities for the existing centres. Density and quality are key here: more residents and more space for business activities mean more support for shops, cafés and restaurants, and high-profile facilities.

This polycentric approach extends beyond the city limits, encompassing the wider region. By redistributing employment opportunities and bolstering the urban appeal of regional towns, Amsterdam aims to alleviate congestion and foster balanced growth. Integral to this strategy is integrating new housing and job opportunities around (new) public transport hubs, thereby enhancing connectivity and accessibility.

Amsterdam aims to provide at least 150.000 houses for 250.000 new residents by 2050, as well as 200.000 new jobs, only permitted inside the current city limits. This will allow the city to improve the neighbourhood quality, make buildings more sustainable, and protect vulnerable landscapes. Growth inside the existing city limits can be achieved by converting industrial districts into mixed-use areas and offering room for growth in post-war districts where smart densification is possible.

In densifying a district, the central principle is to raise the quality of life with pleasant public spaces. At the same time, the city will be designed to reuse materials and resources and to meet its power requirements in alternative ways. This will further increase the pressure on the little open space available, but it is done with the knowledge that urban density is more efficient and sustainable.

In an ever-denser city, one has to be very careful about how to use scarce open spaces. We need space to build houses, create green areas, and support active mobility. As heavy users of space, cars will, therefore, have to step back. The council has a three-fold aim: more space, cleaner air, and active mobility – at no cost to accessibility. Thanks to densification, Amsterdam residents will soon be only a short walk or cycle ride away from city amenities, including parks, in their neighbourhoods. Districts and urban centres will be linked by a network of safe cycle routes and public transport links. Busy through-routes for car traffic will be turned into attractive, green avenues that give substantial space to cyclists and public transport and are also pleasant residential areas with shops, restaurants, and other amenities. New connections will be created between city districts and adjacent municipalities will be brought together by promoting clean transport: fast cycle routes and more public transportation connections.

Higher urban density will be combined with an expansion of urban greenery. The aim is not just greener cities but, more importantly, higher quality greenery, with less hard surfacing and more greenery around and on buildings. A rigorous greening programme will add more and better greenery throughout Amsterdam. Streets and squares will be greened, and paving stones will make way for trees and plants. Buildings will include more nature, with greened facades and roofs. This will only be possible if the people of Amsterdam think along and participate. Greening is an ecological necessity, but it must also meet the desires of those who live here.

All the greenery planted in streets, squares, and parks will be designed to encourage personal contact, relaxation, and recreation. Other important aims are to reduce heat stress in the city and to expand its water absorption capacity. Connections between these green wedges and the new urban centres will be improved, creating attractive residential and recreational areas.

Ultimately, the realization of Amsterdam’s 2050 vision hinges on inclusive governance and active citizen participation. By empowering individuals to contribute to the city’s evolution, Amsterdam aims to cultivate a sense of collective ownership and preserve its unique identity amidst rapid urbanization. While the exact form of Amsterdam’s future remains uncertain, one thing is clear: through strategic densification and greening initiatives, the city is poised to embrace a future of sustainability, resilience, and community vitality.

Thijs van Soest
Thijs van Soest
Hi, I am Thijs! Since September 2018, I have been part of Girugten, and I am the current Chairman of the Editorial Team. I am following the MSc Real Estate Studies. My main interests are infrastructure, transport planning and real estate, but I also write about other subjects.
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