Rotterdam: the Kop van Zuid
The major difference between Rotterdam and the other cities featured in Global
Harbors is that central Rotterdam was almost entirely destroyed by
German bombing in World War II. I have photographs of a lone church
steeple standing afterward; it was preserved in that state as a monument
to the city that was lost. There is also a gripping, abstract statue
to the women and children, which became the symbol of Rotterdam in
the post-War years.
Rotterdam determinedly rebuilt the center city after
World War II. Because there was nothing left of the old buildings
or infrastructure, they turned to new, modern architectural designs
— many of them drastically counter-traditional and abstract — even
grotesque to our eyes, but very popular in theirs.
The rebuilding was successful and the city was prospering
by the late 1980's. The City Real Estate Department, headed by Jan
Doets, proved masterful in producing new office and residential development
through inventive public-private financing methods.
The old center city was practicality built out, and
the old small-boat harbor was reconstructed on the north side of
the Mass River — along with some attractions including a maritime
museum — when the container ship movement caused the major port activity
to move farther down the river toward the North Sea. That opened
up land for new development — primarily on the south shore of the
Maas, which is what the name, "Kop van Zuid" is in translation.
About this time, Rotterdam's prosperity was threatened
once again — this time by the looming economic competition from the
formation of the European Economic Community in 1992 and the tunnel
under the English channel in 1995.
The city's power structure decided to draw up a master
plan to redevelop the industrial area that was being vacated by the
Port on the south side of the river, to combine both sides as a unified,
single C.B.D. They commissioned an elaborate master planning process
headed by Riek Bakker, then the Director of the Town Development
Department for the City of Rotterdam.
The Kop van Zuid Master Plan was accepted by the people
and the city government : what was missing was agreement on a strategy
to carry it out. That was when Jan Doets formed a consortium composed
of his department and Rick Bakker's with a private Dutch investment
firm, a major building contractor and the Enterprise Development
Company to create a "Strategy for Action."
The Master Plan did appear to reflect a knowledge
of the Baltimore model but the presentations in models, reports and
conferences were done with great technical ability and openness,
leaving little that Enterprise could add to the innate Dutch
thoroughness. What did result was a recommendation to create a new
"delivery system" — a public-private partnership that would follow
the organizational structure that had been successful in Baltimore.
This was to consist of a steering committee of public
and private decision-makers staffed by a professional development
corporation and an Architectural Review Board of nationally-known
design experts and supported by a development committee of private
business CEO's to market the city to other corporations.
The Strategy for Action set forth a phased, 20-year
development plan for the Kop van Zuid, starting with high-density
housing in the built-up area, followed by a high-rise, mixed-use
project on the riverfront, and finally an extensive housing inventory
for the existing residents of the south bank.
The recommendations were accepted by the city, and
this led to the national government appropriating the necessary funds
for construction of the dramatic, architectural Erasmus Bridge connecting
the north and south banks of the Maas, which has become the visual
symbol of the new Rotterdam. The high-rise riverfront project became
know as "little Manhattan," and new office towers began going up
at the water's edge.
Rotterdam already had a dozen attractions that were
drawing 5 million visits a year, but they were separated into different
parts of the City; so the Enterprise team concluded that it was not
practical to collect them into a "critical mass" of major tourist
attractions as at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Instead, the Strategy
recommended a regional Riverfront Center of shops, restaurants, entertainment
and a hotel and conference center, facing onto a shoreline promenade
and capitalizing on the passenger terminal of the Holland-American
The City followed the recommended strategy by creating
a separate Kop van Zuid Development Office, in the role of Baltimore's
Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc. Ten years later, a celebration
was held in Rotterdam to mark the completion of 50% of the 20-year
plan, including the creation of a festival-type marketplace in the
former Custom House, conversion of the Holland-American Line's headquarters
building into a cutting-edge funky hotel, the rejuvenation of the
old cruise ship terminal and the construction of high- and mid-rise
housing for new and old residents of the urban center created by
the combined north and south banks of the river.
Jan Doets went on to become Chair of ING -- a major
Dutch real estate investment firm -- and ultimately a consultant
of national reputation, and Riek Bakker formed a new city planning
firm with an international clientele. Gobert Beijer filled Jan Doets'
position as Director of the Rotterdam City Development Corporation,
and later moved into the private sector as well.
(The report, "Kop van Zuid: a Strategy for Action,"
dated December, 1988, is available for inspection in my office if
Martin L. Millspaugh
July 23, 2007