Going Dutch: Amsterdam’s Urban Political Ecology

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 19.29.34Photo: Cyclists at Vijzelstraat – Joey Hou 2017

The UPE of a city looks beyond the simplistic annotations of the abundance of nature in its ‘raw’ form. Instead, it underlines the convergence between nature and society at all aspects of urban life and the socio-natural unevenness within the city that this creates (Heynen, 2014). UPE as a whole is bigger than its parts and is formed by the unique processes – be it political or ecological – that shape the urban in its current form (Keil, 2003)

“Few countries exist where man has exerted a greater formative influence in the shaping of the landscape than in the Netherlands

–Kahn and Plas, 1999: 371

Some cities are praised as admirable examples of urban governance, whilst others are seemingly avoided for their negative connotations. Aside from some social ’taboos’ stereotypes associated with the city, Amsterdam has a sound reputation of being amongst the best places for its environment, it’s sustainability, and the management thereof. Nonetheless, local residents are amongst the first to question why Amsterdam is praised internationally for its environmental sustainability. As one notices, view of “nature” in the city simply does not resonate when looking amongst sea of built-up spaces and cars (Trouw.nl).



Perhaps it’s the efficient central governance of the city that has allowed residents to take for granted the complex history of interactions that Amsterdam has had with nature. The development of city has permanently stipulated the careful establishment of urban areas within its environmental setting. The development of Amsterdam in relation to its changing environmental surroundings are well depicted here:


We see from the video that since its formation that the city has had to combat rising water levels in creating its complex system of canals, catering for what was an emerging finance and trade centre. Bridging to present day developments such as in Ijburg, we see Amsterdam continuously exploring ways to accommodate urban growth whilst simultaneously liaising with various stakeholders in integrating nature into multi-use spaces. Thus, “the city combines a long tradition of social democracy and strong statehood with entrepreneurial policy trends” (Savini et. al, 2015).

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 05.06.56Photo (2): Ijburg Boat Houses, Friso Spoelstra – Boat People of Amsterdam Lemniscaat 2013


“Amsterdam is as much planned as it is organic”

– Sustainable Amsterdam

With a history of constantly re-articulating itself amongst urban trends, changing ecologies and political fluctuations, Amsterdam highlights a successful case study of urban development in the Global North. However, the city is not without its problems and challenges. There remains a stark divide in the access of resources between those in the city’s centre and its suburb. With a changing demographic and environment, the city faces clear obstacles ahead.












Heynen, N. (2014), “Urban political ecology I: The urban century.” Progress in Human Geography, 38(4): 598-604.

Kahn, D. and G. van der Plas (1999), “City Profile: Amsterdam”, Cities, 16(5), pp. 371-381.

Keil, R. (2003), “Urban Political Ecology.” Urban Geography 24(8): 723-738

OECD (2017), The Governance of Land Use in the Netherlands: The Case of Amsterdam, OEDC Publishing, Paris http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264274648-en

Savini, F., W.R. Boterman, W.P.C. van Gent and S. Majoor (2016). ‘Amsterdam in the 21st century: Geography, housing, spatial development and politics, Cities, 52, pp.103-113.



3 thoughts on “Going Dutch: Amsterdam’s Urban Political Ecology”

  1. Hi Joey!

    It’s interesting how you started the post questioning Amsterdam’s reputation for its environment, sustainability and management practices. I think that’s the plus point of an insider positionality as we explore academic literature that sometimes only portray the views of ‘outsiders’. Indeed, it is the experiences of local residents who are very much subjected to the material and networked flows of everyday materialities and practices (Harris, 2015) that would surface the myriad complicated interactions appreciated through a UPE lens.

    Can’t wait to read more of your posts!


    1. Thank you for your interest in my post Yi Ming! It certainly is a very different perspective coming from an ‘insider’s view’, and it was one of the influencing factors in choosing Amsterdam. I would certainly say that being from the city itself, I would tend to ignore (and thus not critically examine) the city’s unique systems and this blog task has definitely allowed me to change this. Would this be similar in your opinion too in your writings on Singapore?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes and very much so! There were so many things that I have neglected and ‘overlooked’ due to its ‘blackboxing’ or simply because it was rendered ‘invisible’ as it did not seem to have any tangible impacts on our everyday lives – I WAS SO WRONG !


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