It was not altogether coincidental that I recently walked into a municipal council meeting here in the Netherlands where the environmental vision was on the agenda. With this vision, which the government requires, municipalities have to determine the main direction of their spatial planning development for the long term. In which, of course, strategic choices have to be made.
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To my astonishment, one group after another contemptuously opined that urban growth can never be a long-term goal in this: ‘Our obsession with growth is disastrous,’ I heard, and: ‘Growth gets in the way of our well-being, we need to scale down production and consumption.’
Which is fairly unrealistic. Last time I checked, the world’s population was still growing exponentially, and most of them are also headed towards living in a city.
Obviously, growth is not an end in itself. And to be sure, growth must be sustainable and innovative, and indeed there are legitimate questions about where the limit to growth lies.
For one thing, more affordable housing is definitely desperately needed.
High concentrations of people and high growth are bound together. It is quite possible to translate that in spatial terms into a very nice, compact city.
What’s more, it seems to me much wiser to play with growth and contraction and take advantage of the opportunities offered by both scenarios.
Eindhoven is growing the fastest
Because growth is not at all a foregone conclusion. Stabilization or contraction is occurring across most of the Netherlands. The labor force with people in work is barely growing. In contrast, it is happening in urban regions. In fact, among large municipalities, the Dutch city of Eindhoven grew the fastest in 2022. Remarkably, this municipality has shown strong growth rates year after year, both in terms of population numbers and the economy. This makes its phenomenal appeal undeniable.
Companies and people in cities tend to be more productive because they benefit from more and better facilities, a larger and more diverse labor market, as well as a direct exchange of knowledge and information. These so-called agglomeration advantages are becoming increasingly important. And are the elixir of life for our manufacturing industry and wider communties.
This offers urban regions such as the Eindhoven metropolitan region a favorable base for start-ups and high-growth companies, and this trend is expected to continue
Yet these kinds of developments are unpredictable. Especially over the long term. Too many uncertainties surround them for that. Especially when it comes to the development of technology. Volatility is the operative word.
Consequently, it would seem ill-advised to say: let’s not put all our efforts into these particular advantages. It’s been pretty good up to now, but it’s time for a change. Clear decisions are needed and should also be voiced and not swept under the rug, otherwise you will end up with farmers protesting on the Malieveld or parliament buildings.
You have to have the courage to say we are really going to make a difference here with strategic and green growth policies for the manufacturing industry. The predictions of 100,000, even 200,000 more jobs in the medium term are not a fallacy. So, it would be even better to shout from the rooftops that the Netherlands is still doing way too little to promote the growth of this region and that it should aim to accommodate an additional one million inhabitants in Brainport.