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Column Marianne Loof | Urban Quality of Life

25 August 2016

Cobouw marianne loof 160825 stedelijke leefbaarheid

Last week The Economist published their top ten ‘most liveable cities.’ A close look reveals that modern metropolises, such as Melbourne, Vancouver, and Toronto, rank especially high. European countries that stand out are Hamburg and Vienna. All are cities from prosperous economies, to be sure. Other characteristics are close proximity to nature, good infrastructure, manageable size, and a relatively low density of high-rise. Interestingly, a typical historical centre is not a requirement for a high quality of life.

High on the list is Vancouver, a city in which I spent much time in 2013. Vancouver is a remarkable blend of small-scaled, intimate street life and metropolitan high-rise life. Tall apartment-buildings stand amidst single homes with direct street access and generous green spaces. Incidentally, it was this city that inspired Amsterdam’s newest district.

The future Sluis-neighbourhood, on Zeeburgereiland, draws from the Vancouver concept. As architect Sjoerd Soeters explains: “A liveable city does not rise higher than five storeys, except for the occasional detail here or there.” Additionally, Soeters often refers to the historic centres of European cities, with their intimate squares, winding streets, and palazzos.

But, no matter how enjoyable a stroll through such historic centres may be, their example cannot help us solve today’s challenges. Growing urbanization asks that we produce compact cities with a high quality of life, with pleasant public spaces, optimal connectivity for bicycles and public transport, and leisurely, cooling green areas; for young and old, singles and families.

Vancouver offers a fascinating source of inspiration. The challenge now, for Amsterdam’s urban designers, is to translate and actually generate these Vancouver-qualities. And that’s about more than building high-rise.

August 2016,