Belgian Situations?

This summer, the current Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Space sent the design 'Structuurvisie Infrastructuur en Ruimte' ( Structure vision Infrastructure and Space) to the Dutch lower chamber, in which the word ‘space’ had (both figuratively and literally) the upperhand: “The Netherlands need space. Space to live and to move. Space to be able to grow even further economically. Space for citizens and companies to take initiatives. The government cannot and will not do everything by itself. Confidence is the basis. We have to change course because of this. We have to give space to provinces and municipalities so they are able to respond to their own situation, to take their own decisions and to give space to citizens and companies to take initiative and to develop. […] The government does not want to fragment the limited available means. It invest in the places where our national economy will benefit the most from, in the urban regions of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.”

All this obviously produced many reactions. Bert Popken, manager project development of the city of Groningen did this pithily in a column (in Dutch): “What I miss is the analysis on the basis of which the government makes these choices. Is the phenomenon of the underprivileged area in a physical way over? Is the policy to let ‘corporations solve it themselves’ a conscious policy? Or is it simply ‘populist policy’, just like the 130 kilometer  measure: as long as we make the paper with a nice statement like: ‘a bit like Belgium is not that bad’. I fear that the government has no underlying thought: ‘That is their problem in the rest of the Netherlands’.”

The minister also said something about the housing market: “More space has to be offered to small-scaled natural growth, the fulfillment of one’s own housing needs and (collective) private commissioning”. This last aspect has not been on the agenda as prominently as this since the memorandum 'Mensen, Wensen, Wonen' (People, Wishes, Living) by Remkes in 2000. And so we look again with Argus’ eyes at those cities (Almere, Leiden, Enschede, Amsterdam) where today and in the past experience with private commissioning (an expensive word for self-building and prefab homes) has been acquired. Apparently because we are all afraid of ‘Belgian situations’. Which stands for cluttering and chaos and, not to be forgotten, taste differences. Within that framework, Adri Duivesteijn, councilor in Almere, was interviewed in a Dutch newspaper last weekend (10 December). Besides arguing in favor of working more demand-oriented, he also made a connection between self-building and the economic crisis. A connection I had not made myself yet. It’s like this: the old business model for the construction of new buildings is deadlocked (the city sells land to developers, they sell houses to people, part of the profit flows to the city). After all, developers only start building when 70 percent of the project has been sold. That almost never happens anymore. Selling individual plots is (for who can afford it and has the time) the only answer so far.

There is something else the PvdA-councilor wants to achieve (which is probably at right angles to the wishes of the right wing minister): an end to the control of contractors and developers. “Ten parties have monopolized the housing market. Developers, contractors, at every meeting you come across the same companies. They build as many houses that all look the same as possible as cheap as possible. For years, they have made huge profits out of this, paid for by homebuyers. For the same money, you can let those people build much better houses themselves.”  In the construction of new housing districts it wasn’t about the people who would be living there, he says, but about the money. “Supply-driven, project-driven, money-driven. My point is that in this way, people are permanently connected to the city, instead of the hit-and-run developers for whom house-building is a revenue model.”

Source Photo: Frans Hanswijk via DeZwarteHond

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