Urban density and spatial planning: The unforeseen impacts of Dutch devolution

Jip Claassens*, Eric Koomen, Jan Rouwendal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


National spatial planning has strongly influenced urban development and open space preservation in the Netherlands since the 1950s and established the country’s reputation as a planner’s paradise. The gradual withdrawal from this active and stringent type of planning in favour of decentralisation and deregulation has received less attention and its impacts on urban development patterns remain poorly studied. This study investigates residential development since 2000 in relation to the changing planning context. We focused on residential densification and the redevelopment of greyfields and brownfields as desired outcomes of policies that aim to limit urban development in open landscapes. Using detailed spatial housing and land-use data we quantified the relative importance of different urban development processes over three subsequent six-year periods characterised by slowly decreasing national policy attention to steering residential development. Our results indicate that, while the national policy instruments got weaker, the share of residential development within existing urban areas increased. Our results lend further credence to the suggestion that the abandoned national spatial planning policy targeted at housing construction within urban development zones that were predominantly defined on greenfield near existing cities, limited urban redevelopment. Despite reduced government spending, densities increased within existing urban areas as general, local-level restrictive policies with respect to greenfield development remained in place and demand for urban housing remained unabated.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0240738
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10 October
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


  • spatial planning
  • densification
  • redevelopment
  • housing
  • land use


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