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Changing public space. The recent redevelopment of Dutch city squares

By R.G. van Melik


Public spaces in Dutch city centres are increasingly subject to facelifts. The car parking that dominated city squares until the 1980s has been removed and replaced by modern street furniture, city stages, and an abundance of sidewalk caf鳮 At the same time, public spaces are more controlled by camera surveillance and strict regulation. Why and how do these makeovers occur? It has been the central aim of the present study to answer this question; that is, to elucidate the social antecedents (background) of the redevelopment of Dutch city squares and to chart its course (process). To this end, we have portrayed the historical development and the main current trends in the design and management of Dutch public space (Chapter 2 and 3). In addition, we have investigated the increasing involvement of the private sector in redevelopment processes and have explored to what extent this might affect the design and management of public space (Chapter 4). Through this actor approach, the thesis complements the main body of public-space literature, which tends to focus on the users (the ‘demand side’) rather than reviewing the role and objectives of the responsible actors (the ‘supply side’). The empirical section (Chapter 6-8) outlined the results of case-study research performed in the city centres of Rotterdam, Dordrecht, Enschede, and ’s-Hertogenbosch. In each of these four cases, the redevelopment of a cluster of two squares has been investigated: respectively the Schouwburgplein and Beurstraverse, the Grote Markt and Statenplein, the Oude Markt and Van Heekplein, and the Markt and Loeffplein. The research is conducted by means of desk research, semi-structured interviews with key persons engaged in the redevelopment of public space, observations, and policy analysis. The research results indicate that recent redevelopment tends to occur in public spaces located within or very close to the historic city centre, yet lack historicity themselves. Consequently, they could be thoroughly upgraded without much resistance from the local population and thus offered much freedom to the actors involved to create spaces that fit the needs of the current society and the main stakeholders. The private sector has been involved in the redevelopment of four out of eight squares, but its tasks were limited. Except for the Beurstraverse, the role of the local government was still extensive regarding all redevelopment tasks, especially process and maintenance. The private sector’s financial involvement was mainly limited to indirect contributions via the price paid for the land. Private-sector representatives regarded these as tangible financial payments, while the public sector did not. Private-sector involvement improves the coherence between buildings and public space and has no negative effect on the duration of redevelopment processes. It leads to restricted accessibility, but only in areas that are private rather than public space. The involvement of the private sector in the redevelopment of public space needs further questioning in urban policy and future public space-research, because in the long run it could effectuate spatial differences in quality and homogenisation in function and design of the city centre

Topics: International (English)
Publisher: Utrecht University, Royal Dutch Geographical Society
Year: 2008
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