This post was written by Tuna Tasan-Kok.
Spatial governance and urban planning are going through a transformation phase in The Netherlands. The new Omgevingswet (Environment and Spatial Planning Act) is on the make, which will change the way cities are planned and decisions concerning spatial interventions are taken once officiated. One of the expectations is that the new Act will change the way private and public sector actors collaborate in urban development within the framework of deregulation of national planning which aims to decentralize planning responsibilities. This entrepreneurial approach enables the involvement of market actors supported by neoliberal policy agendas in urban development but more importantly motivates ‘experimentation’. The Act also creates a new narrative for an active citizen, who is able to organize a community initiative and takes care of their own needs. Having this critical perspective in mind, and considering that the Act is still not there, UGoveRN members headed off to Almere to explore the one city that shows some characteristics of what will yet to come with this form of spatial governance.
The aim of our Study Day was to explore the shift from spatial planning to spatial experimentation, in a place that contains quite some elements to observe this shift in space.
We took Francesca Ranalli’s ongoing PhD work in Almere and Dr. Danielle Chevalier’s publications with us to be better informed. We walked around, explored the community center, which was kindly enabled by the City of Almere for us to have presentations and a brainstorming session, and had a fantastic lunch in a local café, which seems to be a unique meeting point for the residents. We learned a lot from the Study Day, and more importantly, left Almere Poort with more questions to be answered, and more ideas to be explored than before.
Almere is one of the planned new towns in The Netherlands, which was created on a reclaimed land about 20kms east of Amsterdam with the idea to provide housing to the young couples working in the city and struggling to find affordable housing end of 1950s/beginning 1960s. Today Almere is the 7th largest city in the country and yet to grow based on the agreements with the government to expand the city in the future. It was an excellent example of Dutch ‘top-down from bottom-up’ planning style where the fundamental decisions were taken at the highest hierarchical levels of the government in consultation with the local communities, property market actors, and others. Almere has 4 districts, which were developed from 1976 onwards. Almere Poort was initiated in 2000, and today it is a fully functioning neighbourhood. The original plans of the Almere Poort were revised to accommodate more population but more importantly, they changed the way plans were initiated and implemented. Instead of following a plan that designates the development, it enabled the residents to plan for themselves, setting one of the first examples of slef-building in the country. Dutch traditional land development planning style did not motivate or enable self-building. Instead, the land would be planned by the municipality with the support of the national government to fund infrastructure, and with the contribution of the property developers to build on it. The result has always been very well coordinated and orchestrated spatial development, to the detail sometimes even to dictate the details like color of window frames.
On the contrary to this traditional planning style, in Almere-Poort, some experimentations were enabled by the municipality, which resulted in neighbourhoods like Homeruskwartier where people were invited and supported to build their own house. We walked in this neioghbourhood, which looks like intertwined circular developments in birds-eye view of the plan (link/photo here). However, human eye level of experience did not really catch this self-built feeling, but rather felt quite like a new town area developed as a result of top-down planning. However, large green spaces, and some elements like the HetKlokHuis, which is designed by children, gives hints that there is something special in this space. Francesca Ranalli’s ongoing work indicates that the City’s willingness to invest on developing a sense of community in this area will change it’s spatial characteristics in the future. She argues that this urban environment with distinct and separated areas show a common ground in the social life where people seem pioneers of a new part of a town that is working to search its own identity and sense of belonging. Francesca’s presentation in the Buurtcentrum, which gave us examples of how intergenereational planning and co-design will change the sense of community in this area, was followed by Dr. Danielle Chevalier’s talk on the role of law and regulation in developing new areas. Dr. Chevalier argued that built environment gives rise to certain social phenomena as we observed in Almere Poort, and these reflect to urban visions that are supported by the law as a commonground. Omgevingswet, in this respect, will provide a common ground for such developments Almere-Poort is pioneering.
Although we did not walk to the other side of town to explore Oosterwold, which is an example new forms of planning experiments, we did read some articles, and discuss how it may differ from Almere Poort physically and socially. of how the new experimentation style of planning may end up. The City of Almere collaborated with a property company of the government (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf), MVRDV to develop a new strategy for Almere Oosterwold, which is located in the West of the city (check the location) to bring self-building to a new level: self-planning. People are motivated to freely design areas to create a sustainable (rurban) neighbourhood. There is not much realized but we agreed to keep an eye on Oosterwold to see whether this extreme level of experimentation will indeed lead to new forms sustainable urban communities, or will it enable property-driven initiatives to profit from it. Time will show !