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Utrecht: a city with a plan for the future.

8 June 2024

I suspect many Australians haven’t heard of Utrecht. The smallest of The Netherlands big four cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht is probably also the least well-known. But it is incredible, beautiful, and an understated sustainability leader. With that in mind, I’ll need to do a series of posts to capture all this amazing city (and country has to offer)

One of my first meetings was with the City of Utrecht and Adriaan van Hoogstraten, their Strategisch adviseur (strategy advisor). It provided some very helpful framing.

As he explained to me Utrecht is a city with an ambitious 2040 plan and a clear vision for the future that states. “We are building affordable homes in a healthy, green environment, with easy access to the city and beyond, and healthcare nearby.”

The City of Utrecht is planning for growth as the number of people living in the city is on the rise: Today, 350,000 people call Utrecht home, and in 20 years’ time, that number will grow to around 455,000.

But it’s thoughtfully planned growth, based around a series of hubs and ensuring that Utrecht is a 10 minute, polycentric city, with everything you need no more than a ten minute bike ride, walk or public transport ride away.

“Downtown Utrecht will always be the heart of our city. However, if everyone and everything needs to be there, it will get far too busy.”

To ease the load, Utrecht are creating urban centres in other locations around the city where multiple public transport connections intersect to build more homes, offices, healthcare centres and other amenities.

All of this helps us turn Utrecht into a ‘10-minute city’ out doing the 15 or 20 minute city plans that many cities have.

In Utrecht the plan is that: “everyone and everything you need is close by. Whether you are walking, cycling or travelling by public transport, you can get to where you need to be in 10 minute or less.

This means that buildings that have shops at ground level, offices above, and homes higher up. Homes that are suitable for working from home. The plan is to bring “…more life to our neighbourhoods and reducing the need to travel.”

To make this possible, Utrecht are working on ensuring an excellent transport network. As the plan says:

“We are prioritising clean ways to travel that take up less space, such as walking, cycling and public transport. Our goal is to give you different options to get to where you need to be. Needing less space to move people also allows us to use the remaining space differently. It can become public space, for example, where you can spend time alone or with others.”

Utrecht is creating a public transport ring around the city to help inhabitants and visitors travel quickly and comfortably around the city without needing to go through the city centre. The relevance for Perth here is clear. Our PT system is still very much just a series of spokes and there needs to a connection of the hubs or as we call them activity centres. (And we need to get more people living and working in these centres too.

The transport network will directly connect the different hubs to one another. What you notice is that when you arrive at a hub in Utrecht, it is designed so not only can you easily be able to switch trains or trams, but it is integrated so you can continue by bike or shared car/bike.

I got to experience the shared bike system that is run out of the train stations and it is incredible and efficient add on to the public transport system.

The take away is simple, a land-use plan connected and integrated with a transport plan is essential for a healthy, liveable and sustainable city. Utrecht, along with all the cities I visited, did this well. Perth desperately needs to do the same.


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