First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Hans Kops
About the Amsterdam region
The Amsterdam experience covers a large and highly varied area, roughly covering a radius of 64 kilometres from the storybook canal city that people from all over the world flock to visit and work in. It is the backbone of the success of the area as an economic growth machine and talent magnet in today’s digital society. ‘The proximity of a metropolitan hub fuels the Amsterdam Area, and our hinterland provides the city with the space to grow and develop further,’ explains Hilde van der Meer of amsterdam inbusiness, in her office overlooking the Dutch capital’s iconic skyline. ‘Because of the attractiveness of the brand name ‘Amsterdam’, the region draws visitors from all over the world, and attracts new businesses and ventures. In turn, our regional partners make it possible for us to maintain the sustainable growth path we are on. To be able to accommodate more new businesses, and host the growing number of internationals and their families, we intensify our cooperation by upscaling the ‘Amsterdam-ness’ and integrating our services to internationals. Without losing our valuable identities, naturally.’
Expanding in to the Amsterdam Area
The Amsterdam Area allows the city to expand, while the Amsterdam brand is the area’s ticket to the world in terms of its sphere of influence. The Amsterdam Area covers 33 municipalities (Amsterdam included) in two provinces, and is home to a total of 2.4 million inhabitants (or consumers, depending on your perspective), 1.5 million houses, and 230,000 businesses. It boasts two airports, two seaports, a leading financial centre, the world’s busiest Internet exchange and flower auction, a dense network of professional services providers, three universities (not counting the one in Utrecht) and various institutions for higher education (all with bilingual curriculums), 18 international comprehensive schools, and an easily accessible network of health institutions.
The area is also home to a large number of creative, digital and FinTech enterprises in the startup and scale-up stage; a Media Valley (cluster of entertainment companies around Hilversum), a Seed Valley (seed cultivation in the strip around Enkhuizen), and a Health Valley (companies from Leiden to Wageningen that work in bio and life sciences), as well as a strong fast-fashion industry. In addition, everything is compact and connected. The average commute time is lower than in most agglomerates, and it takes an hour at most to swap your office chair for an airplane seat that takes you directly to more destinations than your current timetable contains. And the Amsterdam Area has superior Internet connections too.
Explore the Amsterdam Area
But Amsterdam’s bestselling point is the geophysical variety within direct reach. Join us in taking the tour. Going clockwise: leaving the city to the north, in minutes you enter a historic polder landscape (on UNESCO’s World Heritage list), sprinkled with medieval towns and villages (some even older than Amsterdam) and dominated by Zaanstad, with its strong industrial heritage. To the east stretches the vast space of the more recently man-made Flevopolder, featuring Almere and Lelystad, the two fastest growing residential areas, separated by the wilderness of the Oostvaardersplassen National Park. Southeast lies the region of Gooi & Vecht, a favourite residential area and home to the media and entertainment industries.
In the shadow of Amsterdam, you’ll find suburban and green Amstelveen, a favourite place to live for many Japanese and Indian internationals and their families. Moving south, you’ll find the Haarlemmermeer, host to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and further away Leiden – the birthplace of Rembrandt and former home of the Pilgrim Fathers; now a leading academic centre of life sciences and biotech in Europe. To the west, you can relax on the North Sea beaches or spend time in the seaside resorts. And then there is Haarlem, lifted from the Golden Age to modern times while maintaining its authenticity. All this, once again, within an hour’s travel time from the bustling crossroads of business and city life that is Amsterdam.
An international focus on education in Amsterdam
‘This proposition of city life in a rural setting is hard to challenge,’ says Van der Meer, who is responsible for attracting new business and boosting economic development. But the continuously growing demand of businesses and institutions to set up a location near Amsterdam, fuelled by the upcoming Brexit, creates a situation that can easily turn into a luxury problem. That’s why an Amsterdam Area 2020 Agenda has been set, and amsterdam inbusiness is actively speeding up the distribution of some of the internationally oriented facilities of the big city to its neighbours.
One of the aims is to scale up the number of international schools in the region and the number of students they can host. Last year, there were 16,000 places in bi- and multilingual education available in the entire Amsterdam Area, up 850 from previously; and plans are to reach a target of 19,000 in two years. ‘Two new schools were set up and two existing ones have expanded,’ says Van der Meer. ‘A broad selection of schools, with an international focus, is on everyone’s shortlist. So this is a top priority. We know that people choose their residence closest to the place where their children can be educated. This makes it an interesting mechanism to release the pressure on the city and balance the concentration of internationals elsewhere.’
The future of housing in Amsterdam and beyond
Another priority is managing the availability of affordable and suitable housing. The housing market in the city is overheating, certainly compared to neighbouring cities. Property prices are high by Dutch standards (although not as high as in Greater London, for instance, or Paris plus its suburbs) and the political debate rages on about the extent to which this can lead to divisiveness. Further urbanisation of the region is the answer, and the challenge here is to develop housing that fits both young native-Dutch newcomers to the housing market as well as internationals. But the housing demand of internationals is varied. Some come here for a short period; others are looking for a suitable home for a year or more.
There is also a growing group of internationals that bring their families along; they naturally have different accommodation needs than single, young, urban internationals. ‘We need more customised housing,’ explains Van der Meer. ‘For the family group, the housing range available exceeds their needs. Plus, a quarter of a million new houses will be built in the next 20 years. In Amsterdam alone, we have a project (Haven-Stad) that will create up to 70,000 houses and apartments in the popular waterfront area in the next five years. There are also a lot of short-term initiatives: in one of our suburban areas, Diemen, empty offices are being refurbished in Holland Park. These are especially designed to host international singles and duos in a cosmopolitan environment. The same goes for Haarlemmermeer. And there is the “Friends” concept, in which youngsters can share their rent with one or more roommates at the same address. These sorts of new living concepts are being created throughout the Amsterdam Area. A good example creates a chain reaction, and it is our role to put this in motion.’
The renaissance of Amsterdam Noord
The next step is to bring more Amsterdam experience into these newly developed residential areas. ‘It’s not that the city centres of Almere or Haarlemmermeer, for instance, must be lookalikes of what we have here. That’s impossible,’ says Van der Meer. ‘But we will make sure that the connections are optimal. That way, Amsterdam comes to the region – even more prominently than it already does.’ Amsterdam Noord is a case in point. ‘After it became public knowledge that Noord would be connected to the underground metro system, this somewhat isolated post-war industrial area quickly transformed into one of the most popular hotspots. The area became a magnet for restaurants, media, FinTech startsups, galleries, cinemas, a great variety of retail stores – you name it. Amsterdam has officially crossed the River IJ – just like it has, and will, to other parts of the Amsterdam Area as well.’