The raw materials and energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, the extreme drought, the nitrogen crisis and farmer protests are just a few examples of the excesses of a growth-driven economy and a reason to rethink the concept of ‘growth’. This will also have its effects on the way that we plan and design our cities. While sustainability and inclusivity are the objective of almost all spatial developments in the Netherlands, we see that the current way of working does not lead to fundamental changes. That’s why Crimson, together with BURA Urbanism, have initiated a research project exploring what the city could look like if we design within the planetary and social boundaries.
Economically driven urban development Cities have an enormous appeal and attract people and companies who want to live, work, meet or study there. Most cities are therefore growing in terms of inhabitants, employment and visitors. It is a (demographic) growth that cities have to a large extent no influence on. Many cities such as Amsterdam, for example, suffer from an attractiveness paradox. Making the city more attractive will in turn lead to more (demographic) growth and also side effects such as higher real estate prices. At the same time, we see that the economic growth paradigm of the past decades is also causing undesirable effects in our cities and spatial planning practice. Urban development has been used for decades to facilitate the growth of production (companies, factories, and offices), consumption (retail trade, shopping centers), trade and exchange of services and goods (Xue, 2021). On the one hand, this has brought a lot to the city, but has also resulted in cities becoming highly dependent on the market, with financial value development and scarcity being perhaps the biggest drivers behind area developments.
The effects of this are noticeable every day: the shortage of housing, the ever-rising house prices, the impact of urban development on the climate, the depletion of raw materials for building materials and the resulting pollution. The fight for space in a country like the Netherlands to facilitate growth (nitrogen crisis), spatial segregation within cities and parts of the country, the commercialization of city centers and land speculation are also a consequence of this. The city is often seen as ‘the engine of the economy’, but is it really the engine of the right economy?
While hard work is being done in all sorts of areas to make cities more social and sustainable, it is not possible to curb the excesses of (economic) growth thinking. We also see this in our own projects; as designers we have to work within the existing system, trying to achieve the highest possible ambition in terms of social, spatial and ecological sustainability. But the financial starting points of a project are often the bottleneck to pursue an even higher ambition (for example Merwede in Utrecht).
As architects and urban planners, we also think largely in terms of expansion and growth, and we may also be professionally dependent on growth because our income is related to construction and area development. We think that critical reflection is important right now. Because, as designers, should we always facilitate any form of growth in our cities? And how can we from our discipline oppose an attractive story here?
More about this project at www.postgrowthcity.com