Rotterdam is the second main city of the Netherlands and part of the country's western conurbation: the Randstad ('Rand' = edge; 'stad' = city). Together with The Hague it forms the urban backbone of the south wing of the Randstad (see figure 12.1 and also the map in chapter 11).
The Randstad is famous in international circles of planners and urban analysts for two reasons (Kreukels, 1992). The first is its particular urban morphology, which is expressed in its name: 'the Randstad' refers to the grouping of the four main cities in the form of a horseshoe at the edge of the western urbanised part of the Netherlands. It stretches from the city of Rotterdam and its seaport (the main one in Western Europe) in the south, to The Hague (home to both the Dutch parliament and the queen) in the west, to Amsterdam (the capital of the country and the site of its international airport) in the north, and to Utrecht (the country's railway node and central city) in the east. Between this band of cities is an open green area: the 'Greenheart' (Burke, 1966). This poly-nuclear urban morphology is famous because its functional differentiations are considered in professional circles an advantageous characteristic from the perspective of continuing growth and dynamic development, especially compared with such vast monocentric centres as London and Paris (Hall, 1977). This is even more important now that managed growth is imperative in a lot of condensed and overloaded urban regions of developed countries.
A second reason why the Randstad is attracting attention is that this particular example of an urbanised region is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the result of a powerful planning regime. Especially the well-organised, coordinated and formalised spatial planning in the Netherlands from the national level down to the subnational government layers of provinces and municipalities is seen as exceptional, even within continental Western Europe with its pronounced nation-states. This planning system got its profile especially after the Second World War and had its heyday from the late 1960s to the 1990s. It can be characterised as central control and a top-down regime. Whereas one can have doubts about its positive functions