ULI Netherlands: Density – Drivers, Dividends and Debates

ULI Europe recently published a report on density entitled ’‘Density: Drivers, dividends, and debates’, written by ULI Senior Fellow Greg Clark. The research examined what is meant by the ‘term density’, how it has been delivered in different places around the world, and what we can learn from different models to help equip us for the new generation of global cities.

Clark presented the main findings of the report at a panel discussion in Amsterdam on 24 September. He explained that cities will have to densify in order to accommodate more people, to create more economic dynamics, and to keep pressure on the environment as low as possible. However, deciding to densify is one thing; the way cities execute their densification strategies can differ very much due to social, environmental and cultural aspects.

In the research, ULI makes a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ density. We all clearly remember the bad examples from the past, ranging from single use suburban office parks, to out of town shopping centres and post war Soviet residential blocks lacking proper infrastructure and access to amenities. Cities in the twenty-first century can learn from this by creating environments where different groups and different functions can mix. This leads to social and economically dynamic and vibrant spaces.

Panellist Zef Hemel, Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam, agreed with Clark on the need to densify. He views the Netherlands as a suburban city-state that needs to densify quickly in order to lower the pressure on the environment and to compete economically on a global scale.

Fellow panel member Jurgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO HafenCity, explained that densification is  also on the agenda in the traditionally low-density city of Hamburg.  He discussed the need for density in Hamburg to implemented in a way that fits the cultural background of the city, where church towers dominate the skyline.

The lecturers agreed that densification will make European cities more economically competitive and vibrant, less segregated, and will help them cope with the demands of increasing populations.

The event also raised some important questions. What is the best scale to densify (Amsterdam, Randstad or the Netherlands)? In what way can building more on a smaller surface help to create a mix of people and functions? How can we keep densified cities affordable for city-dwellers? Are highly dense cities becoming too full or do they create chances for more qualitative spaces? And how can we ensure that cities to take a long term perspective, while the current governance structures only focus on the here and now?

This post was written by Joost Zonneveld.