New Build and Older Stock Houses and Vacant Site, Nieuw West, Amsterdam

Apartments and Vacant Site, Haveneiland, IJburg, Amsterdam

There have been a number of posts (see here and here) on this site discussing the impact of the global economic crisis in other places. The example of Amsterdam, a city historically renowned for a high standard of urban planning practice,  provides another interesting case-study. Largely due its ownership of approximately 80% of the land, the Amsterdam Municipality has retained a significant amount of control over what is built and where it is built in the city. However, this is not to say that the recent economic downturn has not significantly impacted on recent and future developments in the Amsterdam area. Indeed, the impact of cuts in government expenditure and constraints on private investment becomes entirely visible through a quick glance at a number of large-scale regeneration projects. This includes, for example, the redevelopment of the Nieuw West ‘Garden City’ of the 1950s and 1960s, which, according to a number of people involved in the project, has been severely constrained.

Lower density housing, Reiteiland, IJburg.

Playground and Park, Haveneiland, IJburg.

One of the more high-profile projects to be impacted is the development of IJburg, which is located to the east of Amsterdam. First mooted in the 1960s,  but not formally planned until the late 1990s/early 2000’s, the original plans for IJburg were for the development of six new islands and a total population of 45,000 people in close proximity to the city centre of Amsterdam. IJburg currently consists of a approximately 15,500 people, in a mix of owner-occupied, market rental and social housing on two larger islands – Haveneiland and Steigereiland – along with the smaller Rieteiland. The planning and delivery of IJburg has been carried out through an integrated approach involving planners/social geographers, architects and urban designers. Haveneiland, which is the main island, consists of a mix of medium and higher density apartment developments and town houses, shops, and schools, which, picking up on the historic city centre of Amsterdam, are located on canals, laneways, and courtyards, but in a grid layout. This pattern is slightly altered on the south west of the island, and Rieteiland, which consists predominantly of more up-market lower-density dwellings. Meanwhile, Steigereiland, consists predominantly of town-houses and medium-density apartments along with office developments.

Apartments and Town Houses, Haveneiland, IJburg.

Apartments and Town Houses, Steigereiland. All Photos by Philip Lawton, 2010.

Despite the holistic approach taken in terms of planning and urban design, the current economic down-turn has had a significant impact on the development of IJburg. The picture in some parts of IJburg is therefore a slightly familiar one; a number of occupied houses sit surrounded by empty plots, or even larger scale empty plots await the development of high or medium-density apartments. However, instead of sprawled and isolated developments of half-built housing estates, the development of IJburg has resulted in the creation of a funtioning suburb with essential services such as schools, shops and a direct tram connection to the city centre. Furthermore, the attitude towards the future development of IJburg is also noteworthy. While originally IJburg was to consist of a total of 6 islands, only three of these islands have now been completed. According to representatives of the DRO (Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening or, The Department of Physical Planning), due to the current economic climate, the rest of the development will be placed on hold. Thus illustrating the benefits of the gradual release of, or, in this case, creation of, development land.

Philip Lawton