This PhD-study is about large housing estates. There are probably no other types of urban areas that people have a stronger opinion about. Most people who read this text, probably will not live here, do not like to come here and in fact hardly ever come here. Large housing estates: for some, these are three words that all refer to a way cities preferably should not be built. Large is wrong, because many people prefer a living surrounding that reflects the human scale. Housing is wrong, because lively and vital urban areas should not be mono-functional but be a mix of functions that create activities, vital use and practical contacts between people. Estates are wrong, as people do not live within a particular area that is developed for them but without them. Large housing estates, especially high rise blocks, are very symbolic outcomes of the way a city should not be planned; this corresponds with conclusions of famous urban thinkers like Jane Jacobs and Kevin Lynch.
This having said, we do have, however, the legacy of decades of urban planning, resulting in mass housing estates. Features, statistics, opinions and policies all show that many large housing estates are not the most popular parts in town, and that is an understatement. It depends how large housing estates are defined, but millions of people all across Europe do live in such large housing estates. It depends on the definition of large housing estates, whether we want to include 1980s suburbs and more recently built housing areas among the large housing estates. These do share some similarities indeed: the (large) size, the (single) function and the (overall) way of planning. Large housing estates need attention, simply because these are there. It is simply not enough to state that, with the contemporary knowledge, cities have been planned the wrong way, which might be the case, but the real challenge is how to deal with all existing large housing estates. What could or should be done with those estates? What options do exist, what experiences have been undergone, what local, national or contemporary conditions determine what kind of approaches? Every case is unique, as some state, but this observation is no reason not to try to learn from experiences elsewhere, under other conditions.
This project is the result of years of conducting a variety of research projects dealing with all kinds of large housing estates in a range of cities and countries. It is a reflective study, not dealing with one particular survey or data set. One particular area however is leading in this project, which is the Amsterdam Bijlmermeer high-rise area, one of the clearest examples worldwide of a well-planned neighbourhood, followed by tremendous problems, finally resulting in the largest urban restructuring area in the country and probably in Europe.
In my early career I started with a research project in a problematic area in the Bijlmermeer – actually in an area with low rise flats being built as a reaction to the many high-rise developments. It turned out to be the country's speediest housing disaster: within one and a half year a complete renovation was necessary. My last research project in the Bijlmermeer was a residents' consulting project in another low rise flat area – adjacent to the fast renovated one. Once again the demolition question was raised here. In the twenty years in between both projects, I have conducted a range of research projects in the area: twenty two in total: one per year on average. The Bijlmermeer area developments are the main case, but this area is not the leading topic throughout this book. That is my wondering about the exciting developments in these kinds of areas. The Bijlmermeer high-rise is the connecting thread, which I compare with other large housing estates.
Although a PhD thesis is for the most part an individual activity, I could not have succeeded without the help, inspiration, motivation and contribution of many others. In particular I would like to thank my supervisor Hugo Priemus. I have been on his long list for many years, and despite the long time and the absence of visible progress, he remained optimistic and encouraging. Even after I left OTB in 2009 to go to Nicis Institute (that became part of Platform31 in 2012), he stayed optimistic: “Frank, you have done so much work, you are almost finished without realizing it”. But it would still take more sweat, energy and time to complete than I anticipated. I want to thank Hugo for his neverending optimism, his cooperative attitude, his prompt and useful comments on all texts, and his unflagging encouragement and patience. The length of time it took me to complete my thesis means I am the last PhD candidate in his long career.
I am also grateful to the members of my dissertation committee, who provided such useful comments: Sako Musterd, Pieter Hooimeijer, Wim Hafkamp, Jan van der Schaar, Marja Elsinga and Peter Boelhouwer.
This thesis is based on some published articles and also a long series of practical research in large housing estates. Many of these projects were carried out together with others. I cannot mention everyone here, but you can find them in Attachments 2 and 3. Thank you all for your fruitful and pleasant collaboration!
I would like to thank OTB for giving me the opportunity to work on this thesis, in particular after I started working at Nicis Institute/Platform31 in 2009. Since that time I have been a guest researcher at OTB, and will continue this in the near future. An inspiring environment to do research! I enjoyed being part of the Urban Renewal and Housing research group at OTB, with (I mention only the colleagues of the last couple of years): Alexandra Curly, André Ouwehand, Carlinde Adriaanse, Christien Klaufus, Eva Bosch, Gelske van Daalen, Gwen van Eijk, Helen Kruythoff, Lida Aminian, Leeke Reinders, Maarten van Ham, Marco van der Land, Mariska van der Sluis, Reinout Kleinhans, Ruta Ubareviciene, Sanne Boschman, Saskia Binken, Suzanne Davis, Talja Blokland, Ton van der Pennen and Wenda Doff. Besides these I also worked with and had inspirational discussions with many other colleagues, both at OTB and Platform31. I cannot mention you all, but I do want to thank you! A special word of thanks for the people behind the screens: Martine de Jong, Ineke Groeneveld and Truus Waaijer at the secretariat, and Dirk Dubbeling and Itziar Lasa Epelde at the publication office.
There are many people I would like to thank outside OTB and Platform31: in particular Richard Turkington, Ronald van Kempen, Brendan Stewart, Graeme Stewart, Louise Nyström, Christine Lelevrier, Christiane Droste, Thomas Knorr-Siedow, Hedvig Vestergaard, Roelof Verhage, Gerben Helleman, Chris Watson, Kathleen Scanlon, Christine Whitehead, Alan Murie, David Varady, George Galster, André Thomsen, Evert Hasselaar, Kathy Arthurson, Claire Levy-Vroelant, Christoph Reinprecht, Douglas Robertson, Willem Kwekkeboom, Joop de Haan, René Grotendorst, Robert Leferink, Anna Dasovic, Koos van Dijken, Jos Koffijberg, Nicolas Declerck, Jeroen Verwaaijen, Hans van Tellingen, and many others I have probably forgotten.
This PhD-study is based on fieldwork. Thousands of inhabitants filled out questionnaires, hundreds of them participated in interviews, working groups, etc. and at least as many practitioners contributed to the results. I hope they may profit from my findings.
I am also very grateful to my family and friends for their support, even although many of them never thought I would actually finish my PhD. But most of all I would like to thank my beloved Jacqueline, Eva and Daan.