Jan Duffhues read the publication ‘Shaping Holland: Regional Design and Planning in the Southern Randstad’. About the regional design in the congested district in the southern Randstad, where numerous spatial requirements compete for priority. If spatial planning on a higher scale is urgent and relevant somewhere, then here. Duffhues argues for significant investment in regional design capacity.
Shaping Holland shows what regional design has meant for the province of South Holland over the past 25 years. “Show” can be taken literally here. The book is a veritable treasure trove of illustrated designs, made by and with designers from the province of South Holland. Divided into six chapters and based on the themes of water, corridors, urbanization, landscape, nodes and business activity. As an interlude, we find interviews with key players in regional design over the past 25 years, from deputy to professor.
No literal plan
Regional design is almost never a ‘plan’, but a way of exploring possible futures. It gives “structure and direction, but never has the last word“, said the authors. It identifies challenges, creates new stories and provides a compass for the future. And in an interdisciplinary way with artists, architects, social scientists, economists, engineers and ecologists and so on.
Depending on the political support for both the design process and the final result, regional design can go a long way. The sand engine for the South Dutch coast, the development of junctions along the track of the Oude Lijn (‘Stedenbaan’), the development of the intermediate area between Rotterdam and The Hague along the RandStadRail: the seeds of these successful developments have all been sown through design. They are all printed in this book.
Fall and rise
I myself was involved in Stedenbaan for many years when the design was largely complete. The province, the municipalities, ProRail and NS were all inspired by the idea and design. But when the decision and investment phase had come, the design fell into the background. With administrative pacts and meetings, we held together all parties necessary for success. A process of trial and error, where monitoring has played a major role: translate the design into concrete goals and stick to them. Meanwhile, the idea of Stedenbaan under a different name is back.
‘Short urbanization along the Oude Lijn’
of the province of South Holland
(source: Urbanization Alliance Monitor (2019))
Sometimes things go wrong. An integrated picture of the corridor along the A4 has never been achieved, despite crazy design. Corridors are also twisted complicated things because by definition they cross not only interests but also many administrative boundaries and responsibilities. The designers did not succeed in uniting all interests. The motorway is mainly a motorway, with a few tricks such as a ‘deepening’ of the road at Burgerveen, so that housing became possible.
The Monster Pact
It can also go wrong in another way. The unfortunate idea of building the lowest polder in the Netherlands also originates from regional design. The designers have made a monster alliance with the governors of the provincial government: if the province cannot influence the housing programs of the cities, it will start its own housing program! It no longer mattered that the layer approach and other design exercises actually showed that this was not a good idea at all. The designers are under pressure from the province’s land policy.
This is where a weakness of the book comes into play. All too often it is about the province of South Holland as a government body and not about the province of South Holland as a geographical unit. “There is only one player who can see the bigger picture and call himself the “problem owner” on behalf of the entire community, and that is the province”, it says somewhere. That seems like total nonsense to me and also contradicts the rest of the book: regional design ensures it all players to see the bigger picture.
It is a valuable lesson for the future. Because there is a strong need for regional design to solve the energy, climate and nature challenge in a more urbanizing country. Provided it is done well, it is a way of transcending interests, providing insight into considerations and collection to shape the future. But as independent as possible. Let the designers not be an extension of one ministry, province or municipality, but provide an open and independent studio where there are no taboos.
How many arguments does a minister for VRO really need to invest massively in regional design capacity?
by Andre Muller