17 million, at last

On 21 maart 2016, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Read in the Dutch newspapers today:

We Dutch expected to reach a population of 20 million in the year 2000, we only got 17 million in 2016. Today, nr. 17.000.000 is welcomed. Still, people do think this country is crowded. True, all over the Netherlands commuters are stuck in heavy traffic jams, and by building new roads and adding ever more trains we still are not able to solve this problem. We seem to prefer to sit in our cars, waiting and looking at our spoiled countryside, feeling bored.We have become masters in infrastructure building; the number of fly-overs has doubled, tripled, over the last twenty years, but we lack real nodes. While the number of centres has exploded, our cities lack vitality. Most of our cities are tiny compared to what you find in other countries. If you drive through them, they’re all sleepy places. Culture is not concentrated, art and culture, all based on the principles of the welfare state, are evenly distributed and heavily subsidized. With the exception of the inner cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, there are no crowded streets, no high rise, no queue formations, no mixed use, no busy, highly specialized districts, no metro systems. Most of us drive cars. Urbanity is missing.

Just imagine the Netherlands were one big city. Then one could compare it with Moscow, Istanbul or Los Angeles, all three cities of 17 million inhabitants. The urban economy of LA is double the size of the Netherlands, in terms of economic growth Moscow and Istanbul are overhauling the Low Countries. If we had followed them, the rest of the Netherlands would be nature reserves now. Would anybody then have thought this country is too crowded? These 17-million cities are true beehives, economic powerhouses, with great public transport, wonderful culture, a thriving 24-hours economy, and beautiful parks and nature. All their economies are booming, migrants get relatively easily integrated. So this feeling of crowdedness in the Netherlands is largely based on spatial preferences for garden cities, small towns, low densities, suburban living, say, a very expensive and brittle spatial configuration generating a dominant feeling of crowdedness. The Netherlands is the least densily built city in the world.    

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Let’s suburbanize!

On 23 februari 2016, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Guardian of 9 February 2016:

While the Dutch newspapers reported that people are leaving the Dutch cities again (‘Meer mensen verlaten de grote steden’, in NRC Handelblad), thus suggesting the revival of suburbanization, the city center of Amsterdam is coping with the biggest crowds on its streets in history. Crowd management is badly needed, the city center is flooding, the city thinks it can no longer accommodate all those visitors. It proofs that Dutch demography as a discipline is outdated. Demographers simply work with statistics of households and inhabitants, they do not reflect critically on what they find, and the new data are only on domestic migration, it ignores internationalisation. At the same moment the British newspaper The Guardian published a far more intelligent article on dynamic urban demographics in the UK. In ‘Is Britain full?’, Andy Beckett writes that the British population is growing unusually fast. In 2030 it will house more people than France, in 2047 more than the whole of Germany. In the near future Great Britain will be the most populous country in Europa, its economy is booming. It is a trend nobody had expected. And yes, London is the epicenter of this exciting trend. The cities’ infrastructure is almost collapsing. Lack of resilient planning?

People do sense the crowdedness in and around London nowadays, The Guardian observed. “Doom-mongers warn that schools, hospitals, roads and housing are overstretched.” They don’t like it at all. The Guardian: “Our expanding population is almost always talked about in negative terms.” But imagine, the newspaper adds, all the problems you would have to deal with if the population was shrinking! London was a shrinking city in the sixties and seventies. For those who lived there it was a horrible time. People wanted to leave. So people should be happy instead! Population growth makes austerity less painful. But most people don’t want the disturbance of large numbers of people coming. The newspaper quotes experts explaining that population is not well discussed in Britain. They think it is because England is an old and constrained country. “We’ve forgotten what depopulation feels like.” For the Netherlands the situation is a bit different. Most of the people in this small provincial country hate thrilling, high-density 24-hour cities. They do not want to be disturbed. They think that those leaving the cities hate the crowdedness or prefer suburbanision. They do not. They simply cannot enter the cities. Too small.

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Bad news

On 9 december 2015, in demografie, economie, ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 1 December 2015:

There was some news on the future last week. Bad news. Hope you didn’t read it. In ‘The Netherlands will look like this in the future’, NRC Handelsblad reported on a scenario study of the Netherlands in the year 2050. The two long term scenario’s were made by the Central (economic) Planning Bureau (CPB) and the Dutch National Planning Office for the Environment (PBL). In ‘Toekomstverkenning Welvaart en Leefomgeving’ both Planning Bureaus are forecasting a slowing down of economic growth in the future in each scenario. It’s all because of demography: the Dutch population will shrink.  Whether there will be any economic growth, will depend on technology, the planners in The Hague think. Some of them have high expectations of smart machines and robotization, others are more sceptical. In most parts of the country there will be no growth at all. Some regions will shrink even by 10 or 25 percent. “This can change the streetscape completely.” In the scenario ‘High growth’ the Amsterdam region will show the best results, in the scenario ‘Low growth’ all of the country will cope with high unemployment, vacant buildings, administrative crises, budget cuts. So in the low growth scenario even in Amsterdam the streetscape will change completely. For worse.

The surprising fact is that the experts think the Randstad will lose power in each scenario compared to Overijssel, Gelderland and Noord Brabant. Why?  Because the big cities in the West, they write, have already too many one-person households. It’s a typical demographers view. They even advise to build new dwellings all over the country, especially in the East and the South, where they think these houses will be needed. There is no lack of space over there! And Amsterdam, one of them adds, “will certainly not explode,” referring to the heated discussion on recent extreme fast growth in Amsterdam. No discussion on the poor outcome of the scenario’s, on the lack of agglomeration economies in the Netherlands, on strange local effects of globalization. No thinking even on why all this slow or no growth in the future is expected and how we could boost our national economy instead, other than blaming demography and our open economy. Just a lousy, old fashioned report of some experts in a The Hague bureaucracy again. Don’t read it. Just forget it.

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Go West

On 6 oktober 2015, in demografie, internationaal, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad 0f 21 August 2015:


The number of expats in Amstelveen , the southern suburb of Amsterdam, has doubled over the last ten years. You could read it in NRC Handelsblad last summer. The newspaper quoted a research report of CBS, the Central Statistical Bureau in the Netherland. In 2005 there were some 250 Indian families living in Amstelveen, in 2015 there were 2.500, ten times more. Most of them work for Indian IT-companies in Amsterdam – Tata, Infosys, Wipro. Even the Japanes Canon company in Amstelveen has lots of Indian IT-specialists working nowadays. They play cricket, eat Indian food, have their Hindu festivals. Still, most of the expats in the Netherlands come from Gemany and the UK. The Germans work in education and government, the British in producer services. Their total number is now 57.000; two thirds are men; many of them are high educated and earn quite lot of money. Their growing numbers are striking. Half will stay no longer than five years at most, they all work on the South Axis (Zuidas) in Amsterdam, the majority in IT. The Asian community is growing fastest.

Another striking outcome: 70 per cent of the expats in the Netherlands live and work in only twenty municipalities. Most of these municipalities are in and around Amsterdam, along the dune coast, near Leiden, and along the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, near Utrecht. This is the rich northern Randstad area. The newspaper quoted experts who told the journalist that there are 1,25 billion Indians, IT is one of the most popular studies in India, there is a lack of IT-specialists in the Netherlands, so the Dutch Silicon Valley needs them. Amstelveen knows it, and tries to attract them. Amsterdam itself has become too hot now, even for expats. Three per cent of the Amstelveen population now is of Indian birth. Unlike the migrants from Syria and Africa they do not have to live in asylumseeker centers somewhere in the woods,in the Dutch periphery. They can live where they want, so they all prefer concentrated, densily built urban areas in the western part of the country, in their own communities. Except Amsterdam.

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