In Search of Inzichten

Amst1 Over the last several years, readers of these periodic posts may have noticed I have had a longtime appetite for inzichten uit de Nederlandse stedebouwkunde – insights of Dutch city planning. I’m intrigued by the international nature of Dutch culture, its democratic roots, and the relationship of their planning to scarcity of land. The constant threat of flooding through their history has stimulated shifts in each of these areas.

This week, I leave for travel that will include time spent with family in Holland, and I’m looking forward to exploring another tradition’s approach to city building and public finance. A few examples I’ve touched in here at the Cents of Place include:

  • Understanding the value created both by access to transportation, and by a mixing of real estate asset types, remains a driver in Donjek projects. The Dutch connection is diluted in this piece, but I cited evidence from the Lowlands suggesting the premium for commercial real estate located near rail stations exceeds 10%.
  • Highlighting the historical connection of urban success stories and concerted public investment, I cited the model of Amsterdam as it emerged from the Middle Ages in reviewing Joel Kotkin’s 2006 book, “The City, a Global History.”
  • As a past adjunct instructor of economics, I could not be expected to forego some consideration of the fascinating period of Dutch history that centered on the mania of the tulip bulb. Similarly, I could not be expected to forego the comparison to the housing bubble, which I did in 2008.
  • Given the intensive construction underway outside the Donjek office, which will lead to easy access to nearby light rail transit, I’ve been reminded of the promising product of Dutch firm, the Ooms Avenhorn Group. Using street infrastructure for more than multimodal transportation, the geothermal systems collect and store warm and cool water beneath road surfaces for climate control in nearby buildings.

This is a small, unscientific sample of ideas. There are a great many who have both a more authoritative and more comprehensive perspective on Dutch planning and development. Call me a student. With luck, I will bring home more ideas for applying the most effective Dutch practices in American central cities.

Photo: Courtesy Flickr/Tashenka


  1. Jon, I’m envious. I love the Low Countries, and I share your interest in the history and evolution of their built environment. I spent some time in Belgium and the Netherlands a couple of summers ago, and would love to go back sooner rather than later. In addition to being a lovely, charming, rich place to visit, there’s so much to be learned from peoples and places that have a long history of sustaining their communities.
    It would be great if we could look forward to photo-tweets and micro-analyses of things that catch your eye! I look forward to hearing about your trip.

  2. Tracy, thanks for your comment. I am definitely going to be taking photos and notes – and hope to share them! Thanks for reading.

  3. Jon,
    After (or during) your trip I’d be curious to hear your perspective on the comparative roles of the public sector in the Netherlands vs. the United States. When I visited the Netherlands and talked to a variety of folks there, I found that they expected strong public involvement in development (beyond infrastructure), and the authority and capacity of their public staff to directly engage in long-term shepherding of the public good was a real eye-opener for a Minnesotan. I was also told that developers see this partnership as a way to reduce volatility and risk in the market.
    Oh, and the Amstel tour was fun too. Enjoy your trip!

  4. Thanks, Dan. I am definitely diving into some of the public decision making issues when we’re in NL in particular. I am reminded of conversation with Tom Fisher about his points concerning the polder model (I wrote about it at the STB at and its strength as a social compact. Seems to have some modern application, including in how it manifests in the process of how developers manage uncertainty through implementation of real estate development.
    I hope to be able to share some observations on the road or once I’m back! Thanks for reading.