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Municipal planner: Zuidas 'completely outdated'

7 September 2008 - The development of the prestigious Zuidas business district is facing financial problems. In addition, a senior planner of the municipality now says the concept is 'completely outdated'.

The Zuidas is supposed to boost Amsterdam's position as an international financial centre. The active involvement of ABN AMRO and other financial institutions, which are to come up with 60% of the total cost of 2 billion euro, has been seen as an indication of the viability of the project.

However, last spring, prospective investors threatened to back out, complaining that the risks were too high and demanding more control of the project. In addition, Joop van den Ende withdrew his plan to build a theatre at the Zuidas. On top of that, an investigation has been launched into possible fraud in connection with the construction of the Zuidas.

The current crisis provides an opportunity to have a public debate on the Zuidas, argue the editors of Agora Magazine, which has devoted an issue to the project. Until now, the debate has been largely limited to the back rooms.

Stan Majoor (University of Amsterdam), a researcher who is closely associated with the Zuidas development, argues that it is understandable that there has not been much of a public debate so far. "A few large office blocks have been built on a relatively empty stretch of land. The government hasn't had to make any large investments yet nor have many residents been inconvenienced".

However, as a way out of the current crisis, Majoor suggests to 'radicalise the urban ambition' and to 'politicise' decision-making. Apparently, public debate is no longer seen as an obstacle, but as a useful tool to push through the Zuidas agenda.

A number of experts question whether a large-scale office location is really what Amsterdam needs. "Regulations, taxes, a generous immigration policy and good education are far more important than a bunch of shiny sky-scrapers", writes Ewald Engelen (also University of Amsterdam).

Jos Gadet, a senior planner working for the municipality, says that it has been ten to fifteen years since the development of the Zuidas started and that the concept is in fact 'completely outdated'.

He says the focus should be on small places like cafe-restaurant Dauphine, opposite the Amstel Railway Station, where freelancers and other professionals bring their laptops and mobile phones to work and do some networking.

Still, he does not think that the Zuidas plans will be reconsidered. He likens them to an oil tanker: once set in motion, it is very difficult to slow it down or make it change course.

Agora (in Dutch)

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