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 cruise line.

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 desired)


Martin L. Millspaugh
July 23, 2007