"Everything done for us, without us, is done against us."

-Citizens of Rotterdam Zuid 


Rotterdam is a maritime city, home to the largest port in Europe and one of the largest ports in the world. It was bombarded during WWII, and was redeveloped in a way that differentiates it from every other city in the Netherlands. Today, Rotterdam’s public realm feels akin to a city-building lab, filled with life-size urban science experiments. Residents, businesses, planners and architects have created an environment where anything, it seems, is possible. The outcomes of Rotterdam’s urban planning journey are a testament to the city’s innovative and industrious working-class roots.

A short history of urban planning in Rotterdam


Rotterdam was bombarded on May 14, 1940, during WWII. Most of the historic downtown core, 260 hectares in total, marked today by the fire boundary, was destroyed. While the basic fabric of some of the arterial roads, like Coolsingel and Hoogestraat, was maintained, the devastation was immense. Nearly 100 hectares of streets, 25,000 dwellings, 2,350 shops, 2,000 businesses, 1,450 offices and 725 public facilities were destroyed.


The development of modern-day Rotterdam was facilitated by the expropriation of two thirds of the land in the city centre, 12,000 parcels in total, providing the city with the ability to reconfigure the urban fabric.  


Today, the vast majority of the buildings and the street network in the city centre are less than 80 years old, with the exception of some buildings and monuments, including City Hall (Stadhuis), the old post office (Post Rotterdam - used today as an event space), Saint Lawrence Church (Sint Laurenskerk) and the White House National Heritage Site (White Huis skyscraper).


Reconstruction of the city centre began immediately after the war (you can find a timeline of some of the key milestones here). These efforts were based on the city’s reconstruction plans - first the Witteveen Plan of 1941, which was never fully realized, then C. Van Traa’s Basic Plan of 1946.


Some of the key features of the Basic Plan included:

  • Achieving openness and grandeur - the plan provided for roughly 15,000 fewer dwellings than previously existed in the city centre, and a reduced the floor area available for commercial and retail uses by about 150,000 square meters

  • Providing residents with “a window to the river” - achieved by extending and realigning Coolsingel boulevard and opening up access to waterfront views along the Maas River

  • Facilitating the efficient flow of traffic - achieved through the introduction of grid features within the road network

  • Separating land uses - achieved through the introduction of a zoning framework which set out rules for functions and uses within the city centre. The result was the separation of industrial, business and residential and land uses

The urban development projects featured in the Rotterdam City Guide tell a story about downtown revitalization in the downtown core. Central to the city’s efforts has been a focus on developing clean, safe and high-quality public spaces that attract people to the city centre. In recent years, plans have focused on developing Rotterdam as a city lounge by developing public spaces that are safe and foster social interaction.

rotterdam Stats


  • Population of Rotterdam: 635,389

  • Population of the Rotterdam Metropolitan Area (a legal entity made up of 23 municipalities):  2,200,000

  • Population of the Randstad (an urban conurbation made up of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht): 7,100,000

  • Population density: 3,043 people/km2

  • Roughly 90% of the city lies below sea level

  • Hundreds of millions of tons of cargo pass through the Port of Rotterdam every year


Rotterdam Central Station is an important and iconic mobility hub in South Holland with connections to local pedestrian and cycling routes, the metro, trams and buses, and national and international rail. The station opened in 2012, replacing an old and undersized station that stood in its place from 1957-2007.

The old station had what residents described as an unsafe and unwelcoming atmosphere. The new station has been designed to reverse this. It is airy and spacious, having been sized to accommodate an anticipated 320,000 daily riders by 2025 - up from about 100,000 today - and is approachable, particularly from the standpoint of pedestrians and cyclists.

One notable feature of the station is the contrast of the north and south entrances, which have been been well-integrated into the surrounding neighbourhoods. On the south side of the station, you'll find the larger and more iconic entrance. This leads to the commercial and business district in the city centre. The north entrance fronts onto the Blijdorp neighbourhood, a residential area, and has been deliberately designed to be more modest in scale.

The opening of Rotterdam Central has sent an important message to Rotterdam residents and visitors: the city is truly committed to creating safe and inviting public spaces that connect people to the heart of Rotterdam.


As you exit Rotterdam Central, you will step out into Stationsplein, a vibrant, car-free, public space and the gateway to the city centre.

The city’s commitment to pedestrians and cyclists is apparent from the moment you leave the station. Here you'll find the entrance to a 5,000 stall underground bike parking garage, accessible via a bike escalator, and plenty of benches, grass and spaces for people to spend time.

Prior to the redevelopment of Rotterdam Central Station, this vibrant public space was a road and drop-off point. Stationsplein has been completely reimagined, and has been an important project contributing to the city’s vision of establishing Rotterdam as a city lounge.

Stationsplein opened in 2014.


Mauritsweg is a lush and lovely boulevard extending from Central Station, and connected to many cultural hubs including Theatre Square, Witte de Withstraat and Museumplein. The street is lined with a canal, green tracks and public art.

You'll notice green tracks along Mauritsweg. Green tracks have been implemented across the city as part of Rotterdam's adaptation strategy, which positions the city as a "sponge" for water. Green tracks serve to capture and store rainwater and delay water drainage. Green tracks can also achieve benefits like mitigating the urban heat island effect, reducing track noise and improving air quality.

On Mauritsweg you will also find Paulskerk, a church originally established in the 1960s, and redeveloped in 2013. The church, and in particular Reverend Hans Visser, played a central role in advocating for the care of drug addicts in Rotterdam’s city centre in the 1980s and 1990s through the establishment of a safe injection site. The initiative was known as Project Zero, and happened to have facilities near the old central station due to its close proximity. While Project Zero ended in the 1990s, the church continues to be a safe haven for asylum seekers, homeless people and drug addicts.

Read more here:
-Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy: http://bit.ly/2q9Mf4U
-Paulskerk: http://bit.ly/2IutuRl


Theatre Square is the cultural heartbeat of Rotterdam.

Before WWII, the area known today as Theatre Square was a dense, mixed-use neighbourhood with a street layout described as a "maze" and "claustrophobic."

The WWII bombardments led to a complete reconfiguration of the neighbourhood. The basic skeleton of the square was established in Van Traa’s 1946 “Basic Plan”, but the Square was left untouched, arguably abandoned, for about 40 years.

Discussions about reimagining the space began in the mid 1980s, when the city expressed its intent to revitalize the once blighted area into the cultural heartbeat of Rotterdam. The wished to create a space rivalling Coolsingel boulevard.

A proposal put forward by architect Adriaan Geuze was accepted in the 1990s and the site opened to the public in 1996. The result was a square that provided lots of open public space, and lined with a combination of affordable and luxury housing, theatres, shops, hotels and restaurants. Programming in the square, like pop-up parks and open-air entertainment, continues to attract people from across the city.

Explore more here:
-Architecture Guide - Schouwburgplein: http://bit.ly/2pYPTOO


Coolsingel is a lively urban boulevard that runs through the heart of Rotterdam. Many monumental buildings line Coolsingel, including City Hall and the old Post Office.

This street has been a platform for civic engagement, a stage for recreation, and continues to be an important transportation thoroughfare for thousands of daily cyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and motorists.

You can access Coolsingel in one of many ways. No matter which way you choose, be sure to notice the transportation network as you leave the station. Some features that may stand out are the red colour of the bike lanes (something you will see across the Netherlands to distinguish the bike lanes from the sidewalks and roadways), and the continuous network of bike lanes lining the streets.

As of 2016, Rotterdam had 600 kilometers of bike lanes. Today, about 23% of trips under 5 kilometers are made by bike. This next stop - Coolsingel - aims to play a contributing role in improving cycling infrastructure even more, in an effort to increase cycling trips by 10% in the city centre.

To accomplish this, Coolsingel is undergoing a major redevelopment. Over the next 3 years (2018-2020), over 58 million euro will be invested to redesign the street.

The plan calls for the preservation of the separated tram tracks in the middle of the boulevard. The outer edges of the street will be restructured to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. The bike path on the west side of the boulevard will be expanded to an astonishing 4.5 metres to accommodate bike traffic in both directions. Traffic lanes will be reduced to one lane in both the north and south directions, with the goal of diverting 10,000 cars, of the current 22,000, away from the boulevard every day.


City Hall (Stadhuis) and the old post office are some of the only buildings that survived the WWII bombardment. Revitalization efforts along Coolsingel will strive to accentuate these grand monuments.

Read more here:
-Coolsingel Project Site: http://bit.ly/2E7eAh7
-Rotterdam Urban Traffic Plan: http://bit.ly/2pUZ97z
-Rotterdam Cycling Plan: http://bit.ly/2GrS0lw
-Coolsingel Information Centre: http://bit.ly/2Imf85r (http://bit.ly/2Imf85r 


The Lijnbaan is Europe's oldest pedestrian-only (car-free) shopping promenade in Europe. It is the result of one of the first revitalization projects put in place in Rotterdam following the bombardment of the city centre. It opened to the public in 1953.

The original plan for the Lijnbaan, commissioned by the City of Rotterdam and put forward by Van den Broek and Bakema, was met with a tremendous amount of resistance, mainly because the area was desolate at the time of the plan’s proposal. At the time, Coolsingel boulevard marked the perceived edge of Rotterdam’s city centre. The neighbourhood to the east of the boulevard was isolated, and many businesses feared that their operations wouldn’t succeed.

The fears of residents and businesses quickly subsided after the Lijnbaan opened. The shopping district has stood the test of time and continues to be held up as a successful model for pedestrian shopping districts around the world.

There are two planning features worth noting.

The first is the separated traffic network for freight deliveries, which is tucked away from pedestrians and located behind the shops on service roads. These roads have a secondary function of providing a road network for residents living in the area.

The second, is the manner in which high-density housing has been integrated into the district. The shops of two and three storeys (the design of which was inspired by war-time emergency stores) were deliberately planned at a small scale and separated from the adjacent housing blocks lined with buildings of 3, 10 and 13 storeys. The major housing blocks have open and accessible parquettes, which also mark a departure from the trends of closed residential blocks common across the Netherlands at that time.


The Beurstraverse provides an underground pedestrian connection to Hoogstraat, on the west side of Coolsingel, where the pedestrian shopping area has been expanded in recent years.

Explore more here:
-Dutch Architecture Guide: http://bit.ly/2pVk4Xb and http://bit.ly/2Gpy4j4
-Lijnbaan Cultural-Historical Value Statement (in Dutch only): 

http://bit.ly/2GnM29j and http://bit.ly/2GnM29j


Binnenrotte is a large, public, pedestrian square in Rotterdam’s city-centre.

The site lies precisely where Rotterdam formed, on land where the Rotte River used to flow, and subsequently where an elevated railway was erected, and then demolished. The burial of the railway below ground left a large, open expanse in the city centre. A plan was put forward to fill the lands in with dense developments punctuated with small public squares, but the idea did not come to fruition. A new plan was put forward and is reflected in the Binnenrotte seen today. The area was left open for pedestrians, and contains minimal commercial activity along the perimeter.

Binnenrotte is the site of a large, public market, with over 500 stalls, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.


Markthal is an iconic mixed-use public market and residential building in the Blaak area. It is one of the newest buildings in the precinct (completed in 2014). The market is a beloved tourist attraction and has been a catalyst for urban renewal in the downtown core. The building has 228 apartments overlooking the market and the surrounding area.

The area surrounding Markthal is of relatively low density given its prime downtown location. This is due to a stipulation in the Laurenskwatier which states that 60% of land in the area should be dedicated to public or semi-public space. In recent years, the city has set out to improve the quality of public space surrounding the market, and make way for new residential developments and attractions.

Markthal lies precisely where Rotterdam was formed, on land that was formerly the Rotter River.

Explore more:
-Laurenskwartier Zoning Plan: http://bit.ly/2H1HBhg
-Architecture Guide - Markthal: http://bit.ly/2GMrt5J


The Cube Houses (known formally as Blaakse Bos or Blaakse Forest) have become emblematic of Rotterdam’s city centre. The bright, yellow houses in the sky have been attracting people to the core since they were constructed in the 1980s.

The houses are located adjacent to the White House on the Spaansekade (or “Spanish Quay”).

You will notice several residential buildings lining the quay. Each building is architecturally distinct, but they have all been designed by architect Piet Bloom. The houses were intentionally designed to look as though they were developed by different people so to create the impression that the area around the Old Port was a new and vibrant neighbourhood.

The houses are a reflection of a broader urban renewal strategy put in place by Rotterdam’s city council in mid 1970s centered on unlocking residential development in the urban core. At the time, council was seeking to reverse the policies set out in the post-war Basic Plan, which sought to limit and isolate housing development in the core.

The city commissioned architect Piet Blom to design housing in the Blaak area under several conditions. First, that developments provide high-density housing, second, that they provide a pedestrian connection over the Blaak (a busy highway-like thoroughfare), and third, that they allow for other uses like retail and restaurants.

The result was the development of the Cube Houses, the “Pencil Building” and a housing complex along the “Spanish Quay”, providing 250 mostly affordable residences.

The Cube Houses, by far the most popular complex from a tourist standpoint, are reflective of Piet Blom’s 'urban roof' concept. The project optimizes public space while satisfying the city’s high-density and mixed-use requirements. The majority of the cubes are homes, and the remainder are made up of a museum, hostel and the Exodus Cube - a home focused on reintegrating ex-prisoners into society. Many of the retail spaces at the base of the houses have been repurposed as offices and work studios due to lower-than-anticipated pedestrian traffic.

Explore more here:
-Architecture Guide :Cube Houses: http://bit.ly/2pRg1w8
-Blaakover Construction: http://bit.ly/2pVKlEZ
--Cube Houses Info :http://bit.ly/2J6UhUS


Witte de Withstraat is a lively and bustling “art axis” lined with brick housing, shops, cafes and restaurants. The street provides connections to both the Old Port (Oude Haven) and the Museum district (Museumplein).

In the 1970s, Witte de Withstraat was plagued with crime, drugs and illegal gambling. A grassroots movement, led by artists in the late 1990s, resulted in the transformation of the street into the cultural hub it is today. A foundation, Stichting Kuntas Rotterdam (Art Axis Foundation), was established in 1998 to act as the promotional body for the street’s cultural regeneration.

Today, the street is lined with over 30 cultural institutions, and popular restaurants, cafes and accommodations.


The Luchtsingel is an elevated pedestrian bridge connecting the neighbourhood surrounding the Hofplein railway viaduct (known as Hofbogen) and the city centre since 2015. It was built with crowd-sourced funds, with the intention of improving downtown access, encouraging economic development, and fostering vibrancy for neighbourhoods situated on the north side of the city centre.

The bridge itself is a vibrant yellow and lined with panels that depict the names of individuals and businesses that contributed to its construction. It provides spectacular views of the Rotterdam skyline, and a striking look at the level of residential density in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

The bridge has played an important role connecting the Hofbogen area and the city centre, particularly following the closure of the rail line in 2009, when the neighbourhood, tucked away and segregated from any through pedestrian traffic, became destined for neglect.

The bridge has breathed new life into the neighbourhood and has played a key role in creating the condition for the neighbourhood to thrive. It has opened up access to the 1.9 kilometer rail line both above and below the tracks. Today you will find the base of the railway lined with shops, and more are on the way. The roof of the station has been opened up as a public space and more plans are in the works to create a linear park, and expand recreational programming along the decommissioned rail line.


The Luchtpark is a rooftop park and garden connected to the Luchtsingel Bridge. The park sits on top of the former Station Hofplein.

Explore more here:
-Luchtsingel Project Site:http://bit.ly/2GZhWpu
-Hofbogen Site: http://bit.ly/2GpWQzB
-The Hofbogen Cultural-Historical Exploration Study, 2007 (PDF In Dutch Only) : http://bit.ly/2H1N480


Watersquare is a dual-purpose rainwater management project and recreation space located in Benthemsquare.  Basketball courts and a skate park double as basins to hold water during periods of heavy rainfall.


Heliport is a housing complex located in the Agniesebuurt neighbourhood in Rotterdam. It was built in 1977 as part of a development competition to revitalize a former helicopter landing pad.

Design principles were established as part of the competition:
-The complex had to have its own identity and character
-The complex had to be made up of single-family homes
-The site had to be designed to maximize direct ground access to homes
-The site could not provide access to motorized vehicles
-The site had to have a strong connection with nature

The result was Heliport, a housing complex made up of 584 single-family homes raised above a canal system fed by the Rotte River.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2QreDeH


Heliport is a housing complex located in the Agniesebuurt neighbourhood in Rotterdam. It was built in 1977 as part of a development competition to revitalize a former helicopter landing pad.

Design principles were established as part of the competition:
-The complex had to have its own identity and character
-The complex had to be made up of single-family homes
-The site had to be designed to maximize direct ground access to homes
-The site could not provide access to motorized vehicles
-The site had to have a strong connection with nature

The result was Heliport, a housing complex made up of 584 single-family homes raised above a canal system fed by the Rotte River.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2QreDeH


Wilhelmina Pier is a former port area that has been revitalized into a high-density neighbourhood. It is located on the south side of the Maas River.

It is referred to by locals as "Little Manhattan" for its cluster of high rises, including De Rotterdam - the tallest building in the Netherlands.

As the Port of Rotterdam continues to expand away from the city and out toward the North Sea, Rotterdam, and cities across the Netherlands, have taken steps to regenerate old port areas.

The Fenix Food Factory is a former warehouse converted to a public market, brewery and public space. In 2020 the site will be closed for redevelopment as the building is converted into a museum on the topic of migration.


Dakpark is a public park located on the roof of a shopping centre. It spans almost one kilometer in length.

Until 1998, the land upon which the park and shopping centre are situated was a rail yard. From 1998, discussions began to re-develop the area to meet the needs of both the surrounding residential area as well as the port area. The decision was a combination of retail and public green space.

This helped to revitalize and bring safe spaces to a once seedy neighbourhood, while at the same time opening up access to a site that once acted as a physical barrier for the community.

The park also plays an important function in storing rainwater and delaying runoff and now serves as a popular recreation spot for the surrounding community.

The shopping centre opened in 2011 and the park in 2013. 

Read more here:
-Dakpark website: http://bit.ly/2pX1e1T




Recommended Reading​

On-the-Ground Guided Tours for Individuals

On-the-Ground Guided Tours for Delegations

  • Coming soon

References: The majority of references are hyperlinked. Non web-based references include:

  • Komossa, Susanne et al (2005). The Atlas of the Dutch Urban Block. THOTH Publishers.

  • GW Rotterdam (October, 1992). Samenvatting Planvorming Binnenrotte-Gebied. Zuid-Holland.

  • Gossens, J. (1995). Public Space: Design, Layout and Management of Public Open Space in Rotterdam. 010 Publishers, Rotterdam.

Year published: 2018

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