Schiphol’s status as Europe’s third largest airport often comes as a surprise to many, after all Amsterdam is home to a mere 800,000 people. Its size and growth can be accredited to the successful collaboration between KLM and the Schiphol Group; creating a transfer hub rivaling the likes of Frankfurt and Heathrow. Nonetheless, with the growth of Schiphol came its significance as a nuisance to locals; bringing the adverse effects of noise pollution and environmental degradation whilst putting downward pressure on house prices (Morrell and Lu, 2000).
As Schiphol continued to expand in the nineties with the liberation of air transport, we have seen a correlating increase in complaints by residents as shown below.
Figure: Aircraft movements, complaints and complainants between 1986-92, Franssen et. al 2002
Being someone who lives near Schiphol myself, I am no stranger to such issues. Air is something that is vital for our existence, however – in a similar way to how the provision of air is ignored as a public good in our daily lives – the subject of air remains understudied within UPE frameworks (Graham, 2015). National studies have found that fine particulate materials from aviation can reduce life expectancy by as much as a year (Milieu Defensie). Thus, the issue of balancing economic growth with the health of individuals and the environment is a contentious topic.
ACTOR NETWORK THEORY & SCHIPHOL
In an increasingly networked society of glocalized and empowered spaces, airports represent a divergence between multi-actor and multi-system interest. We often see the instigation of deadlocks between the various interdependent stakeholders involved in its development:
“Schiphol is not socially constructed, but assembled into being, in networks of materialities, bodies, technologies, objects, natures and humans”
– Mol, 2002
The Alders table plan of 2006 (van Buuren et. al, (2012) tries to tackle such problems. In drawing from the Actor Network Theory, the plan seeks to embrace the multi-layered system of relationships that exist in present day societies by creating a mutual commitment between stakeholders. This would allow the facts and values of the social (residents, authorities, businesses) and natural worlds (environmental actors) alike to be put on a level playing field. In incorporating the demands of inhabitants on their social-environmental concerns, the issues of noise and air pollution became intertwined with the complex systems of governance created that Schiphol is based upon. Accordingly, plans were agreed to: improve the noise measuring system; Invest in quality of life of neighboring regions; as well as to regulate traffic movements at the airport.
Although conceptually this would allow Schiphol’s development to break-away from the traditional path dependencies of large-scaled projects, the plan has largely become a Machiavellian exercise (de Jong and Boelens, 2014). Instead of acting as a mediator of organization between stakeholders, the government instead became a facilitator thereof. Having a contract signed by all stakeholders in development allowed any subsequently plans to in effect be approved by all actors beforehand. It served as a way to get rid of oppositions. We have only seen controversies around airport governance heighten, and underlying problems have still not been addressed.
“The system that supported advice became the advice itself”
– Jong and Boelens, 2013)
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
Until this point the lack of equal footing in the governance and management of Schiphol has meant that only a small subset of sustainability issues have been addressed. To create a more effective system, we need a complexity reduction where information is collected and organized into a simple agenda that bends both human and non-human around it (Boons et. al 2010). The government should act as a referee, embracing the complexities between various actors whilst allowing them each to take on more responsibilities in implementing policies.
The Alders table represents a step in the right direction. Yet, with Schiphol reaching capacity three years prior to the expiration of the Alders table polices in 2020, there exists lingering uncertainties in the future of the airport. With a contribution of 100,000 jobs and 27 billion in indirect benefits, the significance of Schiphol (4% of GDP) means that expansion is a matter of ‘when’ instead of ‘If’ (RTL Nieuws). Concerns are set to increase amongst suggestions that Schiphol’s environmental effects may span beyond its immediate municipalities: to those living in the ‘green heart’ of the country. Time is running out to create a sustainable framework for all and only time will tell if socio-environmental factors get taken into account in future developments…
Photo: KLM Plane Taxiing at Schiphol, Jennifer Schuld Twitter 2017
Boons, F, A. van Buuren and G. Teisman (2010), “Governance of sustainability at airports: Moving beyond the debate between growth and noise”, Natural Resources Forum, 34, pp.303-313.
de Jong, B. and L. Boelens (2014), “Understanding Amsterdam Airport Schiphol through Controversies”, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 31, pp.3-13.
Franssen, E.A.M., B.A.M. Staatsen and E. Lebret (2002). “Assessing health consequences in an environmental impact assessment: The case of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol”, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 22, pp.633-653.
Graham, S. (2015). “Life support: The political ecology of urban air.” City, 19(2-3): pp.192-215.
Mol A. 2002. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Duke University Press: Durham.
Morrell, P. and C.H-Y. Lu (2000). “Aircraft noise social cost and charge mechanisms – a case study of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol”, Transportation Research, D(5), pp.305-320
Van Buuren, A., F. Boons and G. Teisman (2012), “Collaborative Problem Solving in a Complex Governance System: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Challenge to Break Path Dependency”, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 29, pp.116-130.