Opinion: no zoning plan

POSTED: 07/6/14 6:54 PM

St. Maarten is struggling with its zoning plans. That has been going on for years and there is no end in sight. While our government is deeply ensconced in drawing up all those little rules its citizenry will have to abide by, the new town of Almere, 30 kilometers outside of Amsterdam, is pushing urban planning to the next level. We’re not saying this is something Minister Lake ought to embrace tomorrow, but it is at least a concept worth thinking about.

Oosterwold is a 43 square kilometers piece of agricultural land in the Flevoland polder between Almere and, more to the east, Zeewolde. This is the place where citizens get the opportunity to shape their own destiny. The municipality remains responsible for building the main roads in this area, but the rest is up to the people who choose to go and live there. The first ten candidates have already signed a letter of intent – a familiar phrase in St. Maarten – with the municipality. Next year, the first denizens expect to move into their new home in Oosterwold.

What is so special about this area that has space for 15,000 homes? Simple (ah well, depending how you look at it): this is a no-zoning area. The inhabitants will determine themselves what their environment is going to look like. They choose the spot where they want to build their home, they construct the roads that connect their homes to the main arteries, they take care of their own energy supply and sewage system. There is no urban planning at all.

Almere is no stranger to urban planning experiments. After all, it is a newtown. But still, the city got used to design new neighborhoods down to the most minute details. Oosterwold is the other extreme.

This does not mean that there are no conditions at all. Almere demands that the area remains predominantly green, so adventurous homeowners are only allowed to build on 20 percent of their lots, though they could negotiate with their neighbors and agree that one builds a bit more, and the other a bit less.

The future Oosterwold-inhabitants must build at least on one side of their lot a road that connects to an existing road. The inhabitants make mutual agreements about these developments under the supervision of an area-director of the municipality. This is either going to be a great experience for all, or it is going to lead to endless fights and lawsuits between warring neighbors.

However – to drag Socrates into this matter – like the unexamined life is not worth living, the unexamined experiment is not worth the paper it is written on.

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