The city from above

At a certain point, each Dutch Urban Planner or Human Geographer has to face it. At least, it used to be compulsory study material: the book ‘Ruimtelijke ordening’ by Van der Cammen and De Klerk. The book represents the history of the planned city and shows how tight The Netherlands is regulated. It does so by using descriptions of a great number of examples of spatial planning and many memoranda. I have no idea whether this book is still compulsory, but at the time I thought it was dry stuff because of all the governmental plans. Fortunately, now there is a solution.

My 1996 version ended with a description of the memoranda that especially gave a vision on how the Netherlands were to enter the very open, competitive world of the 21st century. A, according to the memoranda and the first purple government – economic and spatial competition that led to discussions that are still recognizable. For example on 'the Randstad' (the west side of the Netherlands with the four biggest cities) as an important national or international region. But also about the Green heart in the middle of the country and the realization of ecologic main structures. To combat traffic, road-pricing was introduced and the ABC location policy (concentration of certain functions around A, B and C locations) was further developed. A time in which the internet was not widespread yet and the first foundation stones of the vinex districts were laid. How time flies…

For fans of the planned city, the book is a nice reference book. It describes how the environmental planning regulates the use design of our environment. From the urban extension in the Golden Age, garden villages and the Housing Act from 1901 to the large-scale demolition for city creation after the Second World War and the small-scale building in the early postwar expansion districts and the policy of centers of urban growth (combined decentralization) in the seventies. In the eighties, this was all followed by the residential areas with winding paths and courtyards (later renamed cauliflower-neighborhoods).

This list applies to almost every city. The consequence is that every city has more or less the same growth rings. A recognizable urban pattern. Easy to see when you look at the city from above. To be able to show this, teachers have probably been using Google Maps for a while, but now there is a much better tool to do this: the beautiful VPRO-documentary ‘Nederland van Boven’ ('The Netherlands from above').  In January, the theme of the documentary was ‘living’. Although hugely simplified, the episode can serve as a beautiful and simple introduction to the field of study. We can only hope that the episode will become compulsory subject matter for the current students. It will subsequently make the book ‘Ruimtelijke Ordening’ a much easier read.


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