First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Paul Anstiss
The renowned journalist Herb Caen once said that ‘a city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams’. Nothing could be truer of Amsterdam. At the core of the vision of this ‘city village’ of 800,000 inhabitants lies two themes: connectivity and liveability. These concepts provide the guiding light for politicians, planners, and builders in the key decisions they make about the future growth of Amsterdam.
According to Greg Clark, an ‘urbanist’ who advises on city and regional development around the globe, liveability underpins all successful cities: ‘At its simplest, liveability is the thing that describes how attractive a city is as a place to live. A city that loses its liveability loses its most important asset – its people. And the ones it loses first are its mobile people, who tend to have the biggest choice and the most to contribute in terms of talent and skills.’
Clark stresses that connectivity, both internal and external, is equally critical if a city is to accommodate more people, activities, infrastructure and functions. Internal connectivity, or the ease with which someone can travel from home to their place of work, or from the airport to central business district, has become a major factor in where people choose to live. And external connectivity is about how easy it is for a city to connect to a national framework or, in the case of a global business, to connect to other hubs such as Paris, Brussels, London, New York and Hong Kong.
Balance in the city
Enabling growth while maintaining liveability and connectivity can be a bit of a balancing act, according to Eric van der Burg, the alderman responsible for Amsterdam’s urban development. Keeping pace with demand for more housing and business facilities is no easy task: in 2015, Amsterdam built 8,500 new homes, the largest number in 35 years. But it’s not just about building homes. It’s about building a city: ‘Our motto is “balance in the city”, and that’s what we are trying to create. We don’t want to have a city only for the rich. We don’t want to have a city only for the tourists. We don’t want a city where you can only work and not live. We strive for balance in all of Amsterdam’s 22 neighbourhoods.’
Today, in every part of Amsterdam, you will find major construction projects in progress. Whether it be innovative rental accommodation for students, buzzing network hubs for entrepreneurs, sustainable homes for families and singles, or swanky apartments for the rich and famous, Amsterdam and the wider metropolis are creating something for everyone. There’s more to it than just bricks and mortar or building places for people to live, work or do business. It’s about connecting the dots and giving people from all walks of life a stake in this vibrant and evolving town.
Blueprint for growth
The Director of Housing for the City of Amsterdam, Bob van der Zande, says it’s an exciting time to live and work in the city. ‘There are no bad parts in Amsterdam anymore. In addition to the waterfront projects, there are comprehensive plans for other parts of the city. Direction 2025 provides the spatial blueprint for the next ten years.’ This vision includes building 50,000 new houses for the centre of Amsterdam, along with 50,000 more in the greater metropolis. A mix of housing, schools, business and leisure facilities come together to complement each other and provide urban living for the 21st century. According to the Director of Housing, 70% of Amsterdammers who are looking for a home want an urban lifestyle with all that it promises.
‘We need to create a denser urban atmosphere to satisfy demand. Patterns of living are changing all the time, as is the use of the car. It means that we have to be more flexible in our planning and take into consideration the changing social and economic dynamics. What makes Amsterdam unique is that there’s no segregation. There are people of all incomes living here.’ So how does Amsterdam score on connectivity and liveability? Let’s take a look at a few of the hottest new developments around the city.
Overhoeks: reimagining boundaries
Until recently, the A10 ring road defined the city’s boundaries. Today those boundaries are being extended both in the imagination of its planners and in the broadening of its infrastructure. The new €€3 billion North-South metro line is due to be completed in 2017 and will open up the area north of the city. Two new bridges connecting the north to the east and west are also planned, and the stretch of water known as the IJ will no longer be an insurmountable barrier, real or imagined, to interconnected growth.
Forward thinking is behind the development of Overhoeks, the area just across the IJ from Amsterdam’s Central Station. What was once an industrial estate now boasts two of Amsterdam’s newest icons: the EYE television and film museum and the A’DAM Tower, the completely renovated former Shell Tower, which now houses recording studios, restaurants and nightclubs.
New apartments with views over the water can be rented or bought at prices unimaginable to people in other European capital cities, according to real-estate broker and appraiser Marijn Kroes. Kroes says that, as more people wake up to the possibilities of living across the water, properties in north of Amsterdam are growing in value for the first time in years.’ People are starting to look at Amsterdam North differently. Until recently, the neighbourhood might as well have been 40 km away. Homes there are up to 40% cheaper than in the centre of Amsterdam. And soon it will be only two stops away on the metro.’
Zuidas: the epitome of urban living
One of the projects that best epitomises high-quality living, working and recreation in an urban setting can be found to the south of the city in Zuidas, also known as the ‘Financial Mile.’ It’s hard not to be impressed with all the building that is taking place in this approximately 270 hectare (2.7 million m2) area. Although the project will not reach its full potential before 2040, accessibility, liveability and connectivity are clear defining features.
Zuidas is situated along the A10 ring road and between the Amstel and Schinkel rivers, and is served by rail and metro. Amsterdam Zuid is expected to become Amsterdam’s second main station, with connections to Schiphol Airport (only 6 minutes away), Utrecht, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Paris and Brussels. The North-South metro line will also eventually terminate at Zuidas. The area has already become a hotspot for international offices, with more than 700 companies, including Google, AkzoNobel and ABN AMRO, vested there. Soon it will become Amsterdam’s second most prominent housing location, with nearly 600 housing units completed and another 8,000 to follow.
The Managing Director of Zuidas, Klaas de Boer, says its inclusiveness has seen Zuidas transformed into a well-rounded neighbourhood with all the amenities you need. There are both international and Dutch schools, cafés, restaurants and hotels. There are sports centres and a growing number of retail outlets, from convenience stores to gift shops. Rental apartments range from €600-1200 a month, and those for sale average around €4,000 per square metre. You can feel the buzz, according to de Boer. ‘When you go out to Zuidplein at lunchtime, you see that it’s an area with young people who work hard and play hard. There’s a lot of testosterone. The mixture of offices, apartments catering to everyone’s budget, the students from VU – they all give it a thrilling youthful vibe. It’s very much Amsterdam, but with a twist of its own.’
Zoku: Part of the tribe
For those not looking to purchase or rent property on a long-term basis, there are plenty of other opportunities to experience liveability and connectivity in the ‘city-village’ of Amsterdam. Zoku creates a new category in the hotel industry that provides global living and working for the travelling professional. It is one of several innovative projects that are being developed in Amsterdam to provide accommodation on the go.
Situated in the Metropole building near Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein and canal district, Zoku Loft provides starting at 25 m2 that are equipped with not only a bed but a small kitchen and a meeting area where you can easily conduct business or interviews. You can even personalise your loft space with a selection of art available to hang on the walls. According to co-founder Marc Jongerius, Zoku caters to a younger generation of entrepreneurs with nomadic lifestyles who are comfortable mixing business with pleasure.
‘Zoku represents the end of the hotel as we know it. Whereas traditional hotels are about putting heads in beds, Zoku combines all the services of a hotel with the social buzz of a thriving neighbourhood. Here you can live, work and relax with like-minded people while getting wired into the city.’ The project was crowdfunded, and spaces were designed and evaluated with the help of 300 human-resource experts and business people from around the world. Prices vary according to the length of stay. Co-founder Hans Meyer says liveability and connectivity are very much part of the Zoku ideal: ‘Zoku is the perfect springboard to set up your business or a local office in Amsterdam. Our community managers can connect you to local social and business networks.’ Amsterdam already has a global reputation as an open and diverse place with a rich history, vibrant culture and strong identity. Despite its relatively small size in global terms, it retains the ability to punch above its weight. But in order to attract and retain decision makers, investors, skilled innovators and entrepreneurs, the city is re-defining what it means to live and work in a city fit for the 21st century. Liveability and connectivity are key to its success.