Homes for All #3: Rotterdam with Nathalie de Vries

Homes for All is a video series commissioned by Stadsleven in which correspondents from all over the world report on the housing market in their city. In this episode Nathalie de Vries, architect and co-founder of the renowned architecture studio MVRDV, talks about how the sudden popularity of Rotterdam makes it necessary for the city not only to build extra housing, but also to make sure the city stays livable.

Blog written by Willemijn Oosterhof

Rotterdam is booming…because of Amsterdam

The housing market in Rotterdam is booming. Whereas Rotterdam used to be relatively affordable compared to the other large cities in the Netherlands, the housing prices are rising quickly. Especially for lower incomes it has become hard to find an affordable home as the prices rise and the housing supply shrinks. It is nearly impossible to find a house under 200.000 euro, writes Priscilla de Putter about her search for a house on the Rotterdam blog Vers Beton.

One of the reasons for this housing ‘madness’ is that many people from elsewhere are coming to Rotterdam in the hopes of finding their (affordable) dream house. Moreover, of the four large cities in the Netherlands, Rotterdam is the only one that has a positive internal migration (more people from the Netherlands moved into the city, than out) according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Many of whom are people from Amsterdam. As Sanne van Manen, architect and projectleader at MVRDV, jokingly says in the video: “I always went to these open houses with a friend. When we approached it we saw these OV-bikes in front of the door [the bikesharing system at Dutch train stations, WO]. Then we would sigh and say: ah, Amsterdammers.”

It is not surprising that residents of Amsterdam decide to move to Rotterdam: according to the CBS the average selling price of a house in Amsterdam is almost double (400.000 euro) that in Rotterdam (225.000 euro). With the high speed train you can travel back and forth in just 40 minutes.

Change of image

However, the lower housing prices might not be the only reason why outsiders suddenly seem attracted by Rotterdam. The city has undergone a real change of image from a ‘rough’ industrial city into the place to be, ánd to live. Thanks to hip cafes and good coffee places it has become attractive for young urban professionals and families.

Moreover, the marketing strategies of the municipal marketing bureau Rotterdam Partners have put Rotterdam on the map of the hip and happening. And with good results: it gained international attention of the Lonely Planet mentioning it in the top 10 must-see cities in the world, but also of the Huffington Post and the New York Times. This changed image of Rotterdam and influx of residents from Amsterdam put pressure on the housing market in Rotterdam.

Chances for Rotterdams housing market

One way to create more housing is by building high residential towers – Nathalie de Vries talks about these in the video. These tall towers are really changing the skyline of Rotterdam. Aside from that, the former harbor also presents opportunities to expand the city. Historically, Rotterdam is a harbor city. Now, it’s transforming some of these harbors into living areas. For example, Merwe-Vierhavens, the former fruit harbor which is located only 15 minutes from the central station, is being transformed into a livable neighborhood. In this huge project, attention is paid to circularity and sustainability. Construction is scheduled to start in 2025.

The pressure cooker of the rising demand for housing has also created opportunities for new experimental forms of living. One of these is the Market hall, designed by MVRDV, which was built in 2014. It combines the function of market hall with housing, leisure and parking. The marketplace – with food shops, restaurants and a supermarket – is covered by an apartment building and beneath it lies an underground parking garage. This combination is unique in the world and has received a lot of international attention – which in turn helped improve the city’s international image.

MVRDV’s Market hall


Gentrification as a tool to attract the well-educated

In many Dutch neighborhoods, the ‘bakfiets’, the ‘carrier cycle’, has become the symbol of gentrification, as it is mostly used by well-educated yuppies. But the city council of Rotterdam has been using gentrification intentionally as a tool in creating so-called ‘bakfietswijken’, i.e. neighborhoods with lots of children and therefore lots of carrier cycles, to upgrade the local economy. The local economy was formerly based on industry, for example the harbor. Now, Rotterdam wants to attract well-educated people to the city. Because even though the housing market in Rotterdam is ‘booming’, the economy of Rotterdam could still use a push. The unemployment rates are still very high and the jobseekers are mostly low-skilled.

However, attracting more highly skilled people to the city has consequences for the local lower skilled residents. Because if the housing prices rise, where are these residents going to live? Will they will be pushed out of the city to the suburbs where there still are affordable homes, like in London or Amsterdam? And what will happen to Rotterdam’s raw and industrial appeal?

Want to know more?

  • You can find other episodes of our Homes for All video series here.
  • In the live talkshow on September 28thWij Willen Wonen’ we’ll discuss the overheated housing market in big cities, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and will look at alternative solutions.