Atlas of the Dutch urban landscape


  • Reinout Rutte TU Delft, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment



Why do today’s Dutch towns look the way they do? The appearance, shape and size of modern Dutch towns can be traced back to their formation history and to the changes and developments that have affected them since. We investigate the long-term history of town planning and building in the Netherlands from the pre-urban past up to the present: from the 11th to the 21st century. The urban history of the Netherlands has been studied extensively and a wide range of subjects and periods have been the focus of attention, as have many individual towns. However, a comparative review and long-term analysis of the spatial development of towns in the Netherlands was still lacking. After mapping and combining a vast range of diverse data (e.g. geographic, archaeological, morphological, urban, demographic and economic) it is now possible to present an overview of a millennium of urbanization in the Netherlands.

The present atlas differs from other works on the subject in that it integrates four aspects which emerged over the years during our studies of earlier publications on Dutch towns and during our visits to the towns themselves: (1) An emphasis on what was actually built and did materialize, rather than on plans or the history of the ideas behind them; (2) A consistent recording of the results of our studies of the built environment and its landscape substructure, in the form of a series of uniform maps (the core of this atlas); (3) Extending our scope to towns throughout the country, rather than limiting ourselves mainly or exclusively to those in the west; and finally (4) A comparative overview of Dutch urban history from its earliest beginning to the present day; in other words, the longue durée. We did not attempt an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but merely to present some outlines.

But how to limit such a vast subject? By making strict, practical, and occasionally debatable choices. Our field of study encompasses the territory of the modern Dutch state, but for certain periods, for example the 16th and 17th centuries, we also looked beyond its modern borders. It proved to be impossible to outline the development of all Dutch towns, not the least because no clear-cut definition of the concept of ‘town’ or ‘city’ exists for the long period covered by this book. We were therefore forced to be pragmatic and select the thirty-five Dutch urban municipalities with the largest populations in 2010 (the year work on this atlas began) as our core sample, with 80,000 residents as a lower limit (Fig. 1). As we also wished to understand the present appearance of Dutch towns, selecting urban municipalities that are today among the largest was a logical choice. The choice for municipalities as our point of reference was imposed by the need for fixed spatial units to be able to map our data.


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See also




How to Cite

Rutte, R. (2016). Atlas of the Dutch urban landscape. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(5), 13–26.