Amsterdam”s Western Garden Suburbs again a testing ground for Dutch Urban Planning
West of the A10 motorway in Amsterdam lie the Western Garden Suburbs, laid out according to the General Expansion Plan (AUP) of 1928. What is remarkable about the AUP is that it determined how Amsterdam was to develop and was implemented almost exactly as planned. Does the current renewal of the Western Garden Suburbs form a continuation of or break with the original intentions?
The Western Garden Suburbs are characterised by broad avenues, waterways, open space, and dwellings in green surroundings. Tall blocks of flats, dwellings with shared entrance halls and stairways, and houses with gardens predominate. Open building blocks are a common feature. Despite the ostensibly idyllic layout, the garden suburbs no longer meet current standards. For the first time in 65 years, therefore, the AUP is up for renewal, prompted by the area's changing regional position and the large-scale restructuring taking place there. The task is sizeable: a quarter of the existing stock of 41,000 rental dwellings will be demolished and replaced by privately owned homes. In addition, 11,000 dwellings will be built. Social and economic renewal will lead to new programmes, and improving public space is a priority. An urban- rather than garden-suburb character has been opted for. One important question is: just how broadly can, and should, the AUP be interpreted?
Renovating the Western Garden Suburbs forms one of the largest renewal projects facing Amsterdam over the coming years. Bureau Parkstad, a collaborative office uniting local boroughs and the city authorities, will determine the physical effects of the renewal operation, and it has already set the tone in various ways in similar renewal projects both in and around Amsterdam.
The renewal area extends across various urban districts, and that makes it difficult to take planning decisions that affect all areas. After gaining experience in a number of trial projects, all parties felt the need for an integral approach to social, economic and physical renewal. Bureau Parkstad was set up with this in mind. Agreements and ambitions were jointly formulated and set down in the Parkstad Development Plan 2015, which will be assessed by a Review Panel composed of representatives of all the main city departments. The Review Panel will also assess concrete matters like financing and planning. In addition, a Quality Team will examine less tangible aspects such as quality, coherence, and garden-suburb character.
The plans draw a distinction between formal and informal physical structures. Together these form a coherent pattern of public spaces and individual buildings that define the suburban character. Formal physical structures provide a guiding framework of major axes of watercourses and traffic ways lined by large buildings. Informal structures form a finer mesh and are mainly local traffic routes. Located along these are schools, churches, facilities for the elderly, and neighbourhood centres. Spatially, they are totally different in character: quiet, green and open. Differentiation in residential areas is achieved by distinguishing ten residential environments, with such names as: metropolitan, urban streets, garden suburb, suburb, park living, and even do-it-yourself living. Eight centres are planned in the renewal area. The main centre, located south of Sloterplas in Osdorp, will form the thriving heart of the renewed Western Garden Suburbs. Defining a range of residential environments allows existing characteristics to be strengthened and differences exaggerated. 'Urban streets', for example, are marked by a clustering of activities and public functions in a flexible plinth, wide footpaths, and buildings accessed from the street. The residential areas are knitted together by a green and blue network of parks and waterways.
Innovative work methods and development of new instruments
Urban character is determined by density of functions and buildings. The customary criterion of 'dwellings per hectare' is no longer applicable in mixed-use areas. In response, Parkstad devised a method of determining the residential quality of a particular plan according to the Floor Space Index (FSI), Ground Space Index (GSI), Open Space Ratio (OSR), and number of floors. Taken individually, these particulars say nothing about urban character, but together they offer a good indication. This is illustrated in the SPACEMATE graph (developed by Permeta Architecten), which allows conclusions about quality, building typology, public space, number of floors, and land use to be drawn. Patios and large-scale building blocks, for example, are classified as 'metropolitan' according to this method.
Parkstad insists that the framework of parks, waterways and main traffic routes – as defined by the AUP – still provides the basic structure and offers sufficient scope for flexible development. The question is whether the methodology devised by Parkstad is sufficient to cope with the stream of new building projects in such a way as to provide the desired coherence and urban quality. On November 10 the Shopping Hall opens in Osdorp – certainly worth a visit, because that's where it begins.