Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Netherlands, Part I

Dateline: 3:04 pm May 30, 2007 Filed under:

Coming to you live from Utrect, a beautiful college city about a half-hour train ride southeast of Amsterdam. My hotel is located one narrow alley away from a winding canal lined with cobblestone streets and charming old buildings. Coming home last night after a long day tromping around seeing Dutch urbanity, it was positively wonderful to take a midnight walk along the canal. If you’ve never been to Utrecht, I recommend it right now.

We spent the day yesterday on a guided tour of Almere, a suburb of Amsterdam with 175,000 people. The amazing thing to consider is present day Almere is a polder, meaning it was underwater – yes underwater – just 40 years ago. The national government decided to grow there, built dikes and pumped out the water, which was shallow to begin with, to allow development to occur. The whole concept of creating land is a bit staggering to me.

Think of Almere as a huge master planned community with the city government acting as master developer. Master planned communities I have seen typically have seen have one central information center created and run by the developer. Visitors can find out about the community and the various home styles and prices currently offered. In Almere, the information center is located in city hall. In most American city halls, you’re lucky to find out where the community pool is located. Things are different here.

In many ways, though Almere is similar to master planned communities in the states. There is a mix of rental and owner housing, homes and neighborhoods are built in phases, parks, trails and open space are preserved, and land is set aside for the eventual need for retail and services as the town grows. Differences with Almere are the first housing built was rental and affordable, and the town has an established bus service with train links to Amsterdam. No home is farther than 400 meters from a transit stop. These differences are representative of both national values and funding. Transit and affordable housing are not an afterthought. Indeed, as is the case with Almere, they are a vital part of new cities from day one.

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