Metropolitan Regional Planning in Amsterdam: A Case Study

By Alexander, E. R. | The Town Planning Review, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Metropolitan Regional Planning in Amsterdam: A Case Study


Alexander, E. R., The Town Planning Review


The planning of the Amsterdam metropolitan region is presented as a case of interorganisational coordination, focusing on coordination structures and strategies. An overview of regional governance traces the trend towards the establishment of a metropolitan regional 'City Province' and the effects of its unexpected reversal in 1995. Integrative metropolitan regional planning, special area planning and sectoral planning are reviewed, including the metropolitan regional body and national, provincial and local governments, and their interactions in developing metropolitan regional plans and policies. The case study reveals a metropolitan regional planning system of unexpected complexity and attributes the relatively successful outcomes to the intensive role of consultation and the proliferation of coordination structures in Dutch planning.

Metropolitan areas are recognised as a special kind of region, for analytic (for example statistical), administrative and planning purposes. Metropolitan regional planning goes on all the time, in hundreds of places all over the world, from Albuquerque to Zagreb. Yet it has not received much attention, especially in making the lessons of experience available to current and prospective practitioners.

Planning metropolitan regions is often subsumed under metropolitan regional governance. This is the dominant perspective of the (rare) prescriptive approaches, such as the one in the American Planning Association's 'Green Book' (McDowell, 1986), and of many cases such as the descriptions of Chicago, Edmonton and Toronto area planning included in a comparison of United States and Canadian metropolitan areas (Hemmens andMcBride, 1993; Thomas, 1993; Frisken, 1993). Alternatively, planning is related to metropolitan regional development policy, as in case studies of Amsterdam, Birmingham, Boston, Frankfurt and Rotterdam (Harding, 1994; Evans, 1994; Gelfand, 1993; Kunzmann and Lang, 1994). While they provide much useful information, such case studies rarely present the experience of metropolitan regional planning in its full complexity.

However, complexity pervades metropolitan regional planning and it is perhaps the aspect that is most important to understanding the planning process, and the reasons for its successes or failures. This is implied if we view metropolitan regional planning as one form of interorganisational coordination (IOC). While all planning is a form of anticipatory coordination (Alexander, 1993, 328-29), and much planning is concerned with IOC (Alexander, 1994, 343-48), metropolitan regional planning is distinctive.

The major task of metropolitan planning is to coordinate the policies and actions of the governments, organisations, firms and households that make up the metropolitan region and form its physical and socio-economic environments. Interdependence is the reason for IOC (Alexander, 1995, 66-75), and it is the interdependence of the local communities in the metropolitan area that makes metropolitan regional planning necessary. This suggests the IOC perspective (Alexander, 1993) as a useful way to analyse metropolitan regional planning, evaluate its performance and understand its results.

This study takes the Amsterdam metropolitan region as an exemplar of relatively successful planning, judged by its results, and looks at alternative explanations for the positive outcomes of this metropolitan regional planning effort. It tests the proposition that a critical factor in the success or failure of metropolitan regional planning is the way planning is institutionalised in IOC structures, how these perform and 'Rt into their environments. If analysis of this case supported this thesis the experience of Amsterdam metropolitan regional planning would offer some useful lessons in complex coordinative planning and institutional design.

It is interesting to discover how institutional design in this planning arena has tried to cope with complexity. …

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