How will we live in 2041? We outline the Netherlands of the future in a series of six articles. How rich will we be? How will we consume? How will we work? How societal will we still be? And how will we spend our leisure time? In this first episode we wonder: how will we live?
Looking down from the airplane, the Netherlands of 2041 still is that yellow & brown blanket of agricultural land. But when we examine the dark seams between those patches of land a little bit closer with architect and former Flemish Government Architect, Leo van Broeck, we can also see that the spread of boxes, distribution centers, mega-stalls, datacenters, solar parks, ribbon development and other landscape clutter has come to a standstill. Everything that's still there, is overgrown with vegetation. And what about our beloved church towers, ditches, bridges? All still there. The monotonous lands sprayed with poison have been replaced by more diverse agriculture and much more open nature – but wait a minute. Didn't we suffer from a housing crisis in 2021? An acute shortage of 331,000 houses according to ABF Research? The Dutch population has increased since then by 1.5 million people. Where do all those people live? “Not here, that's for sure”, says Van Broeck. “Not in the open space.”
In the rural areas
Back to the year 2021. The ‘game’ of musical chairs is ongoing on the housing market with less and less chairs and more and more participants. Ever since the central government abandoned the issue, slum landlords force the prices of housing up, foreign investors, project developers and municipalities only build expensive, profitable apartment complexes and social housing has disappeared to make way for the private sector. People with a median income move away from the cities. Starters are forced to live with their parents. The number of homeless people is increasing. And because seniors have to live independently for longer, they grow lonely in way too big family homes.
Everyone agrees on one thing. One million houses extra in ten years’ time. But where are those houses to be built? Outside or inside the city limits? Heated debates have been going on for years now. “I believe we have to leave it to the people”, says Co Verdaas, dike reeve, former state secretary for the PvdA and professor in area development. “According to my data, one-third of the people wants to live in the city, one-third just outside the city limits and one-third in a rural area. A mixture of everything. We have no other choice but to build outside the city limits. We make an exception for nature and good agricultural land, but along the radials A2, A12, A28 are still plenty of hectares to be found for at least 700,000 new houses.”
It's a horror scenario for architect Van Broeck. “The Netherlands used to laugh at Flanders because of our chaotically built-up landscape. It is indeed true that you once gave consideration to the open space, but that has changed in a short period of time. You are now establishing entire ghost towns in the polder meadows. I visited Lelystad once, horrible. Not a living soul in the streets. You are asphalting everything to damnation.” According to Van Broeck, the Dutch worry way too much about the housing shortage. “You should be worried about the destruction of the eco-system instead. Expansion in the region emits twenty times more greenhouse gas than incorporation in the city. Global warming is caused by people who live outside the city centers. So, clear the rural areas and free up agricultural land. Nature becomes a reserve, a protected area.”