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A smarter view of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area

“Spreading everything evenly across the region is not what we should do, but we do need to take a more intelligent look at the region in all its diversity.” The International Advisory Board recently advised members of the Amsterdam Economic Board on distributed perspective and leadership – a complicated way to say you should look at the region and take into account the differences between subregions to provide the most benefit for everyone involved, and be pragmatic about who can best take the lead.


Read time: 8-10 minuten

Mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema said during her 2019 State of the Region speech (in Dutch), “Our region’s strength depends on our shared enthusiasm, our willingness really to work together, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of our local autonomy.” The Amsterdam Economic Board’s International Advisory Board (IAB) picked up this idea in its report entitled Distributed Perspective and Leadership for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area: optimising cooperation, which was recently received very positively by the Amsterdam Economic Board members. The IAB recommends viewing the region in all its diversity and seeing what efforts are needed where.

Why ‘the region in all its diversity’?

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA) is an informal partnership between the authorities in 32 towns and cities, two provinces and one regional transport authority. Its area stretches from Lelystad to IJmuiden and from Hilversum to Volendam. The AMA is divided into seven subregions, which are very different in many ways:

  • Zuid-Kennemerland
  • Zaanstreek-Waterland
  • IJmond
  • Gooi en Vechtstreek
  • Amsterdam
  • Amstelland-Meerlanden
  • Almere-Lelystad

The area around Amsterdam is very diverse. The three regional maps below show a small selection of the differences between subregions and between municipalities.

The area around Amsterdam is very diverse. The three regional maps below show a small selection of the differences between subregions and between municipalities.

What do houses cost in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area?

Average price per square metre in euros

This first map is about average house prices in the region between 1985 and 2015. The darker the colour blue, the higher the house prices. As you can see, prices vary widely among the different municipalities in the region.

How long does it take people to get to work?

The second map is the average time in minutes that residents spent commuting in 2017. The darker the colour blue, the longer the journey from home to work. And the coloured triangle indicates whether the average travel time increased (red) or decreased (green) compared to the year before. You can see that the travel time for residents of Almere and Lelystad is much longer than for those in the municipalities closer to Amsterdam, and that the travel time continues to increase.

See maps of the region relating to General Prosperity, including those on commuter traffic, on the data website of the City of Amsterdam

What effects of climate change can we see?

The third map shows how deep the region is below sea level. Areas marked in green or sand-coloured on the map are above sea level. After that, the darker the colour blue, the further below sea level, from light blue for 1-2 meters to dark blue for more than four metres. You can see that most subregions of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area are below sea level, except for the dunes at Zandvoort and the Gooi en Vechtstreek. This is all the more reason for the entire region to pursue the energy transition ambitiously.

See detailed information on the effects of climate change on the region in the Climate Atlas: Klimaatatlas (in Dutch)

What are we supposed to do with the differences?

What the IAB says is that you should take an intelligent approach to the differences, focusing on what each region needs. In terms of commuting and education, it makes sense to consider where new companies and training and education programmes should be located, so that companies can find new employees more easily and residents of the region do not have to spend an unnecessary length of time travelling to work.

Where sustainability is concerned, we can look at innovations that we have already tested in particular places: where in the AMA would be suitable to apply the innovation? How can we organise this as a region?

When it comes to attracting more tech talent, there are programmes to draw workers from our own region, instead of primarily attracting them from other countries. To do this, you have to look at where in the region there are people who can get started on the right education or training programme, and how you organise this in cooperation with universities and colleges. It makes sense to pick someone as a figurehead who appeals to the target groups. The same, of course, applies to other themes. The IAB describes the right approach to this as Distributed Perspective and Leadership.

What does the IAB mean by Distributed Perspective and Leadership?

The IAB uses the following terms:

Distributed Perspective

The perspective on the region based on the relationship between the various subregions and cities, in all their diversity, considering how the strengths of one subregion can help another, and vice versa. Not from government alone, but in conjunction between governments and key figures from companies, universities, and other types of organisations.

Distributed leadership

The leadership required to solve metropolitan challenges from a distributed perspective: not top down and by governments alone, but facilitating leadership that collects and realises solutions through exchange among different types of organisations. This may mean that in certain situations a representative of a university, company or other organisation is the best leader or the best figurehead for a regional initiative.

By distributed, the IAB means something fundamentally different from an equal division among all subregions. It refers not merely to the more widely known concept of ‘distributed growth’, because the IAB regards it as concerning much more than economic growth alone. There needs to be room for a different perspective and a different kind of leadership.

Read the advice paper by the IAB
Read the paper

OK, pretty complicated. Can you put it in concrete terms?

The IAB bases these ideas on what IAB members see abroad and on PwC’s 2016 report Enabling sustainable city competitiveness through distributed urban leadership. The illustration above, taken from this report, shows the factors you could take into account if you looked at the region in a different way. Where is there room for change, what would accelerate that change, and which stakeholders have what power to bring about change? What is the distribution of power, and can you make the best use of it collaboratively?

In practical terms, this means asking the following questions for each initiative:

  1. How can we see specific topics and decisions from a distributed perspective? Can we coordinate regional policy so that it does not clash but is stronger in combination?
  2. How can we distribute successful local action programmes in the region? How can we structurally investigate for which areas in the region a successful project might be even more relevant? One region can then benefit from what another region has developed.
  3. How can we involve stakeholders from other cities/regions at an early stage in local pilots? In this way, from the very beginning, we can create ownership for scaling.
  4. How can we involve all relevant regional stakeholders and from this position see who can be the informal leader, the figurehead? We can then let the most committed people take the stage.
  5. How do we move even more from city planning to region-wide development strategies, with region-wide development officers contributing to the distributed vision and action planning? We can then join forces.

Download the PWC report from which the illustration above is taken: Enabling sustainable city competitiveness through distributed urban leadership (PwC 2016) Enabling sustainable city competitiveness through distributed urban leadership (PWC 2016)

What is going to happen now?

Because the members of the Amsterdam Economic Board take a positive view of this advice, we are going to take it on board in various ways. We will be asking ourselves the five questions above whenever we start a new activity. We will also investigate which successful pilots in the region, for example regarding energy transition, can be copied elsewhere, because of course it makes sense to apply ideas that work well more widely. And we will explicitly focus our programmes, such as TechConnect, in such a way that action suited to a specific sub-region also gets off the ground there.

Are you also using a distributed method? Let us know.

About the International Advisory Board

The International Advisory Board (IAB) has been established by the Amsterdam Economic Board to create strong links between the work of the Board and relevant international developments, such as insights from other urban regions. The IAB has an advisory role and contributes to developing international networks and strategically positioning the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area in Europe and the rest of the world. In addition, the IAB members are valuable ambassadors abroad for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

When this article was published at the end of 2019, the IAB members are as follows:


Ruben Nieuwenhuis (Managing Director TechConnect, Board Codam en IAB-voorzitter) Andrea Maier (Hoogleraar Gerontologie VU Amsterdam), Corinne Vigreux (Co-founder TomTom) Egon de Haas (Internationaal Director Publieke Sector PWC), Eric Boonstra (Vice President & General Manager Western Europe Iron Mountain Data Centers), Hans Leentjes (Vice President External Affairs ManpowerGroup) Jos Wienen (Burgemeester Gemeente Haarlem), Nupur Kohli (Global Shaper World Economic Forum en lid Young on Board) Arjan van Timmeren (Scientific Director AMS), Bart-Jan Freriks (Managing Director ENGIE) Eva Gladek (Founder and CEO Metabolic)
The profiles of the International Advisory Board members
Read IAB-profiles