Rich Cities with Poor People : Waterfront Regeneration in the Netherlands and Scotland

B.M. Doucet

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


In cities throughout the world, old industrial waterfront land is being redeveloped into luxury housing, offices, tourist attractions, cultural amenities and shopping centres. These developments are geared towards attracting high-income residents, tourists and investors to the city. Because they are iconic and aim to be a catalyst for further development, they are often referred to as flagship project. Two waterfront redevelopment projects: the Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and Glasgow Harbour in Scotland, are examples of flagships. Leith, a gentrifying neighbourhood, is also an example of where this type of activity has occurred. But who profits from these developments? Gaining more insight into this question is the central focus of this research. This has been done by using two different approaches. The first is to examine the positions that different actors play in the projects (local governments, private developers, housing associations, etc) and how that influences the types of goals which are formulated. It was clear that the two projects examined had different goals which were dependent on the composition of actors involved. In Rotterdam the municipality plays a large role and this led to the inclusion of social goals aimed at bringing the benefits of the Kop van Zuid to a wider social and spatial reach. Glasgow Harbour is a private sector development where the main aim is profit. The municipality plays a much more minor role and its powers are also more limited. This attention towards social return is an example where the composition of actors leads to different goals and outcomes; however, the goal of creating or stimulating a high-end development to attract or keep affluent residents in the city (often seen as gentrification) is one which transcends both projects. So despite some of the social goals in the Kop van Zuid, both projects are largely aimed at a higher-income segment of the population. What is clear is that by examining developments from the perspective of their goals and positions of actors, we can better understand what gets built and what does not. A second way in which we can evaluate who profits from these types of developments is to gain insight into the perceptions which ordinary residents have towards them. This was partially done through a survey in Rotterdam, which found that residents across the city were more positive than expected. However residents living further away were generally less proud of the Kop van Zuid and lower income residents were more critical of its aims. What was surprising was that residents in a low-income neighbourhood adjacent to the development believed it made a major improvement in their lives. This is because the Kop van Zuid has brought some tangible benefits, such as new amenities and better transport to the area. In Edinburgh, residents of a gentrifying waterfront neighbourhood were interviewed and asked about their perceptions towards the changes in their community. Again, the responses were much more nuanced: while there were concerns about housing and affordability, residents liked the improved services and reputation of the neighbourhood. This research has shown that while large waterfront projects will not solve all the major problems of the city, they can, if done correctly, bring certain small quality of life improvements to a wider spectrum of the population. This takes a political will to follow through on these goals, and the vision to build what is necessary for the inhabitants of the city, rather than projects which only a narrow segment of the population will benefit from.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • van Kempen, R., Primary supervisor
  • van Weesep, J., Co-supervisor, External person
Award date6 Apr 2010
Print ISBNs978-90-6809-434-3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2010


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