Amsterdam is known as a just city (Fainstein, 2010) due to its public landownership, social housing and other welfarist traditions. However, even in this just city, there are growing issues of uneven accessibility to services such as housing. Following the 2008 financial crisis, Amsterdam turned into a property investment hotspot while it also became more and more unaffordable for middle and lower-middle income groups. These developments have also created new urban-suburban dichotomies as people began to move to relatively more accessible peripheral settlements in the periphery of Amsterdam. The property investment capital began to spread from the city to the metropolitan region, which is administratively speaking, not ready to act as an official region. At the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, the City of Amsterdam was trying to deal with the problem of inaccessibility of the city to the lower and middle-income groups by perceiving it as a housing supply issue and processing more regulations to increase the residential property production, and rescaling the metropolitan authority at the same time.

Housing shortage is in Dutch news almost every day and it has become an inaccessible city especially for middle and lower middle-income groups. In fact, the cost of living in Amsterdam is very high. Although the social housing system is in place, the waiting lists take years, and lower-income newcomers who have no networks or history in the city almost have no chance to access the system. In fact, the city ranks as one of the top third most expensive cities in the world to live for immigrants. These underlying problems were nuanced by the Covid-19 pandemic, accelerating the process of suburban emigration from the city towards the suburbs. It seems that the population of Amsterdam and the surrounding area has decreased since April 2020. Already before the pandemic, Amsterdam had a growing and visible problem of becoming an exclusive city (expensive housing for ley workers, limited affordable housing, increasing gentrification, expatriation, and touristification (Taşan-Kok et al. 2018) but these dynamics are now more nuanced in the city. 

Reading the governance dynamics of the city through multiscalar framework of relationships, we can understand that the problems of increasing inequalities are not just related to the spatial dynamics of suburbanization or housing affordability. The increasing urban-suburban dichotomy or inaccessibility of large cities is part of a wider governance problem that adds to growing inequalities in urban societies. The governance infrastructure of Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam has been complex and fragmented already before the pandemic hit the city (Taşan-Kok and Özogul, 2021). Here I refer to fragmentation as the complex institutional infrastructure that contains increasingly diverse actors (organisations) and equally diverse regulations and contractual relations operationalized on a project-to-project basis. These regulatory activities accommodate complex regimes of accountability, which make it difficult to follow responsibilities (Taşan-Kok et al., 2018). When Covid hit cities in early 2020, these dynamic landscapes of actors and relational positions that define the governance infrastructures were shaken. In Amsterdam, like in many financialized cities, people, companies and capital started moving around, creating new relational positions elsewhere and in the hinterland, expanding the boundaries of the socio-spatial interdependencies and creating new uneven dynamics in the region.

In Amsterdam’s hinterlands, we see a steady change of population from the 1990s onwards with population growth in larger suburban settlements like Haarlem and Almere before the Covid pandemic and decline in more central urban areas (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Visualizing population changes (

The mobility of people increased in the region, highlighting pre-existing dichotomies before the pandemic (Tzaninis and Boterman, 2018). Again, already before the pandemic, suburban communities in the region became destinations of immigrants, especially from non-EU origin, creating geographies of segregation between the core and the periphery (Sleutjes et al., 2019). We need to link these demographic trends to the economic dynamics to understand the potential inequalities created in this process. 

Just before the global economic crisis of 2008, we saw a decline in property investment in Amsterdam, but then the market activity picked up and almost doubled just before the Covid crisis in Amsterdam (Taşan-Kok et al., 2021). Our ongoing research shows that new residential investment hotspots emerged in Amsterdam Metropolitan Region in the periphery [3]. We noticed a pattern of declining, mainly international investment, after the economic crises, but then investment boomed during the pre-Covid era with the spread of global investment capital in and around the city. We can also see new investment zones being created by the foreign investments in the suburbs next to almost doubled investment in the core city (Figure 2). Amsterdam’s increasing popularity among new investment channels has created quite some challenges for the City authorities, who on the one hand are thrilled and competitively tried to get more out of increasing investment capital in the region, but on the other hand, they are facing the challenges of increasing prices and unaffordability in the city.

Figure 2. Visualizing location of investments by type of capital and ownership composition (Source: Real Capital Analytics; Taşan-Kok et al., 2021).

Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA) was established as a collective public sector lobby for state funding. It is comprised of 32 municipalities, two provinces (North Holland and Flevoland), and the Transport Authority Amsterdam, where about 2.5 million people – more than 14 percent of the Dutch population – live. Thus, it is based on the voluntary collaboration of some regional administrations who partner with property market actors to control housing production and link strategic infrastructure investments to residential development in the region. As municipal and provincial councils are informed by their own authorities, and there is a certain level of competition within the MRA, the institutionalization of this metagovernance effort is based on contractual relations and covenants the participating authorities sign. Due to political uncertainties, crises, and competition, the progress of this institutional infrastructure is relatively slow and short-term (OECD, 2017). As a result of this slow progress, establishing a comprehensive strategy is difficult. Additionally, there is growing dissatisfaction of the residents and the market actors, both of whom are spreading to the periphery, bringing new issues with them to the hinterland. 

I can see the need for a regional governance infrastructure that enables the local governments to engage with diverse actors, coalitions, and networks seeking to influence emerging reforms in this fragmented governance landscape. However, there is also a growing need for transformative practices for a more inclusive and just urban development agenda in MRA and elsewhere in the world, where governance of this complex landscape of actors, regulations, and political agendas is becoming more problematic. Transformative practices create interlinkages in spatial organisations that transfer the experiences to larger policy frameworks, providing platforms, not only to accommodate disagreements but also to enable the inclusion of passive or excluded voices who do not have access to the city easily. These interlinkages should be established under the conditions that a well-equipped planning system with a long-term vision and political commitment to fight systemic inequalities are clearly stated as main policy targets. That is my vision for navigating the increasing fragmentation we see within the region.


Fainstein S (2010) The just city. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
OECD (2017) The governance of land use in the Netherlands: The case of Amsterdam. Paris: OECD Publishing. 
Sleutjes B, Ooijevaar J and de Valk HA (2019) Residential segregation in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region: A longitudinal analysis using scalable individualised neighbourhoods. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie 110(3): 359-377.
Taşan-Kok T, Atkinson R and Refinetti Rodrigues Martins ML (2018) Hybrid contractual landscapes: Framing public accountability through performance control instruments in urban regeneration. Gothenburg, Sweden: AESOP (Association of European Schools of Planning).
Taşan-Kok T and Özogul S (2021) Fragmented governance architectures underlying residential property production in Amsterdam. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 53(6): 1314-1330.
Taşan-Kok T, Özogul S and Legarza A (2021) After the crisis is before the crisis: Reading property market shifts through Amsterdam’s changing landscape of property investors. European Urban and Regional Studies 28(4): 375-394.
Tzaninis Y and Boterman W (2018) Beyond the urban-suburban dichotomy: Shifting mobilities and the transformation of suburbia. City 22(1): 43-62.

Tuna Taşan-Kok is Professor of Urban Governance and Planning at the University of Amsterdam. She is also the Chair of UGoveRN (Urban Governance Research Network) which is an academic platform that brings together experts on urban governance issues.