Polynuclear nonsense

On 19 juni 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The World Cities’ (1966) by Peter Hall:


Dutch planners love polynuclear patterns of urbanisation. They think these patterns are the most sustainable. Polynuclearity, they say, is the best you can get. The Dutch became world champions in developing polynuclearity and are still proud of it. It became part of the Dutch planning paradigm. It has to do with planning history. The Golden Age of Modernist planning were the sixties, when the young Peter Hall praised the socalled Randstad concept in The Netherlands. In his ‘The World Cities’ (1966) the Randstad is one of the seven ‘World Cities’, next to London, Paris, New York, Ruhr Area, Moscow, and Tokyo. Mind you! The little country next to the big Germany was praised by a young teacher from Birkbeck College London, who described it as a planning paradise. It made Peter Hall world famous, at least in The Netherlands. Problems of a world city in general, Hall declared, were its sheer size, its fast growth and complexity. Big cities would become too crowded. The biggest problem by far was the city-centre. So Hall advocated solutions he adopted from his hero-pioneer Ebenezer Howard. These were all utopian ideas – nineteenth-century schemes which were very anti-urban, something of a fusion of city and countryside. It was all nonsense of course, but Hall became the evangelist of decentralization: build new towns! Add green belts! Develop new centres! Dismantle the exisiting city! The Dutch promised to do all this. They were full of good intentions.

Polynuclearity fitted remarkably well in the existing Dutch geography of small cities, lacking real urban centres. So ironically the only thing Dutch planners had to do was avoid the coming of a big city. Which they did with fervour. Postwar planning in The Netherlands became vehemently anti-urban from the start. Polynuclearity is not wrong of course. If only you develop it within an existing agglomeration. The Dutch polynuclear pattern is different. It isn’t sustainable. The ecological footprint of The Netherlands is one of the worst in the world. Congestion though isn’t evil either, on the contrary, it is admirable, something really to aim for. And megacities are, in fact, the best and the most sustainable you can get. If only you keep them livable. For that, you don’t need huge amounts of countryside, but parks, not highways, but public transport, not many centres, but one big city-centre with many subcentres. Peter Hall thought the megaregion was not social. Again he was wrong. He just hated heterogeneity, diversity, chaos, density, and he was afraid of complexity. So are the Dutch. And the problem is: they all agree.

Afscheid van de Randstad

On 28 oktober 2007, in internationaal, ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Gelezen in Structural Change in Europe – Cities and Regions Facing up to Change (2007):

Niet dat het een bijzonder sterk tijdschrift is. Is het eigenlijk wel een tijdschrift? Ik kreeg een exemplaar in handen tijdens de Zaragoza Meeting van METREX afgelopen week. In ieder geval stond er één artikel in dat beslist de moeite waard is om te lezen. Het is natuurlijk weer van de hand van de oude meester, Sir Peter Hall. De titel komt bekend voor: "Europe’s Multi-centered Urban Future". De altijd goed geïnformeerde Britse hoogleraar snijdt opnieuw het thema aan van de groeiende polycentriciteit van het Europese stedenstelsel. En ergens in dat veelkernige stelsel ontstaat zelfs, jawel óók binnen Europa, "a Polycentric Mega-City Region". Hij is erg groot en zeer complex: het Zuidoosten van Engeland.

Over de oude polycentrische stelsels op het continent, namelijk Ruhrgebied en Randstad, is hij veel genuanceerder. Zijn betoog is nu dat deze polycentriciteit in een productiegeoriënteerde economie misschien efficiënt was, maar in een consumptiegedreven economie veel minder. Er zijn zelfs veel argumenten tegen dergelijke polycentrische stelsels op dit moment aan te voeren. Door het bedrijfsleven, merkt hij op, wordt met klem gewezen op de nadelen van deze polycentriciteit. Er is geen dominante stad, terwijl er wel één stad is die als mondiale toegangspoort voor de steden functioneert. Als toegangspoort kan die stad niet concurreren met èchte metropolen. In het geval van het Ruhrgebied is Düsseldorf de toegangspoort en in het geval van de Randstad gaat het om Amsterdam. Geen van die twee steden, aldus Hall, kan de voordelen bieden van een metropool als Londen. Voor wie het nog steeds niet wil geloven citeer ik de meester: "Recent European research has identified a powerful counter-consideration: business respondents in Germany and the Netherlands, interviewed for the project, find that a polycentric structure has disadvantages. In particular, regions that are apparently highly polycentric because they have no single dominant city, like Randstad Holland and RhineRuhr, prove to be less so in the way that dominates the rest by acting as global gateway to the rest of the world, like Amsterdam in Holland or Düsseldorf in the RhineRuhr area. And even then, respondents report that such cities – or Frankfurt in Germany’s Rhine-Main region – fail to be fully competitive with global giants like London."

Say no more.

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