Paco Bunnik, supervisor urban development at Zuidas

There is a tendency among researchers, your own predecessors at the City of Amsterdam included, to view urban areas and assess their quality from up high. You are different, in that you look at things from the street level. Can you tell us more?

“People need to feel at home. To achieve that, I believe we need to look at things not from above, but from the ground up and from the inside out and from the outside in. The City at eye level. I’m convinced there’s a fair bit of room to make Zuidas denser and more urban. However it will create more pressure at street level and, in turn, on local life. That’s why it is so important to think about what people need and what feels relevant for them. One way we’re doing that, is by aiming for quality and interaction at the commercial ground level, shaping an area with a real urban flavour. Zuidas will become more crowded, more vibrant and more diverse, with a wider range of people using amenities here at any given time of day. That’s what a city is all about, and I think Zuidas has all the potential to become a valuable addition to Amsterdam as a place for everyone.”

How do you want to bring this about?

“Mainly by densifying and diversifying the area and work more smartly in co-creation with all the stakeholders. Currently, the maximum building height runs up, as you go east, to 140 metres. There is also a radio tower going up at some point that can’t be obstructed, and in a way that’s throwing a spanner in the works for many plans. One would really opt for a model of reusing or replacing this function in a smart way, with the aim to develop a highrise district around RAI station. It also makes sense to consider how we can diversify building use, of which Valley and The Pulse are great examples. By radically examining how to do some things differently, we can find smarter ways to fill in both new and existing spaces, and that will only make the district stronger.”

Housing developers are eincreasingly expressing concern about all the requirements surrounding building design and construction. So, to what extent is densifying existing spaces realistic?

“It’s true that these kinds of ambitions are becoming less feasible as inflation goes through the roof. As far as rules go, obviously the government has to lay down certain basic quality of parameters. Real estate and urban planning developments have to benefit the city long-term, and the criteria help to weigh the odds that they actually will. That said, I do feel it would help to replace this maze of restrictions with a limited set of clear, ironclad requirements. It would make the development process a whole lot easier to navigate.”

Densification is also part of the mission to make Zuidas as open as possible, correct?

“Absolutely. There’s a view of Zuidas as being some kind of insular fortress. But the district is so much richer and more varied than 10 Coverstory that. It’s seen as a kind of stronghold of big business. Buildings here can come across as being very sealed off. Things could be much more open, which is needed to link Zuidas to the city and make it a more mixed and vibrant district. There is still huge potential in areas like VU where a mixed use citycampus can arise, or the RAI, which will become a more diverse and urban destination over time. These are crucial links that, if we do it right, can give Zuidas a lot more oxygen. Working on a piece of the city like this is always fun. There is always stuff happening, and I see tremendous potential to transform Zuidas from a fortress into a forum.”

In this issue we shine a light on sustainability. Is Zuidas sustainable enough, in your view?

“Sustainability has many layers. With the recent decision of financing Zuidasdok, national and local governments opt for a futureproof urban development. Zuidasdok is a true catalyst, transforming Zuidas and its surroundings over time into a more vibrant cityscape. Considering public space, Zuidas will change overtime into a more adaptive, green and more vibrant public space, with more room for pedestrians, street vendors, terraces, greenery and water. This is not only for the benefit of humankind, but also pertains to safekeeping issues like increasing biodiversity and making Zuidas more adaptable to climate change. Sustainability should be regarded not only in quantitative, but also its quantitative, but also in its social and qualitative aspects.. Zuidas in that sense is not yet sustainable enough. It takes decades to build a sustainable ecosystem. But hey, that’s a great thing to work on together!”

What is the City planning for the years ahead?

“I am a strong believer in intensive collaboration and using that to pull all local stakeholders together. So, we will be doing lots of research on how to achieve win-wins for all sides involved. I also think that by being open to possibilities you achieve far more than people may expect, and that there’s always a golden mean. For example, by building more dense or going upward, but also by giving back to the neighbourhood by creating a small park or a nice cultural or recreational function. And you have to realize that these things are just part of being a city – that there’s nothing wrong with a little friction from time to time. Without that, it wouldn’t feel like a city. But one thing’s for sure: Zuidas has to celebrate its big city international character and flavor it with local Amsterdam culture. Both in the dayand nighttime.”