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Deventer: the romanticized Dutch planning process

Deventer is a fascinating book – both informative and exciting, written in an intelligent and vivid tone. Matthew Stadler is an American journalist, discovering and describing the Dutch urban landscape and its complex planning practices. He follows a planning process in Deventer, where an innovative real-estate project takes place, including a cross-disciplinary team of architects, business experts, financiers, artist and planners. From the very start Matthew follows this colourful team, where plans are made, visions are drawn, setbacks have to be surmounted and victories have to be celebrated.

Matthew Stadler is a very sharp observer, making the characters in his book, all being non-fictive persons, without exception fascinating and inspiring people, each in their own way. To name a few, Rem Koolhaas, Matthijs Bouwman and Bart Aproot are thoroughly followed, and sharp observations are made on for instance CIAM movement, Corbusier, Dutch modernism and Vinex neighbourhoods. Deventer tells the story of a complex and dynamic design process, but also the story of the Dutch way of spatial planning and architecture, with all its driving forces and historic layers. Next to these informative and inspiring issues within the broad field of spatial planning, seen by an outsider, you also get to know the writer and his objects of writing. Personal observations and emotions are intelligently interwoven with sharp professional statements and reflections of both the author and the other characters.

Throughout the book, sometimes I got the feeling that the Dutch planning process is described in a slightly romanticized way. Matthew is often impressed by the whole process, for instance the clever way the architect manages to be a bridge between managers, real estate developers and the municipality. Moreover, he highly values the pureness and historic vibe of Deventer and other Dutch cities, something merely lacking in his home country. But his frank and appreciative tone never become too much.

The planning process described in the book is the main storyline. This process, and also many other projects and processes encountered by the author, are described as highly complex but also controllable. Matthijs Bouw, the main architect within the planning process, prefers to work with open processes, collaboration and letting go. I found it very interesting to read about a process like this, where many roles are played, many storylines are written and both success stories and failures pass by. Never knowing where the story will end, but some people with a strong vision, that’s what Matthew Stadler found in Deventer, and that’s what he wrote down in this special, uncommon book on Dutch planning and design.

Deventer Matthew Stadler 010 uitgevers, Rotterdam (2013) ISBN 978-90-6450-749-6 Engelstalig Prijs €19,50 256 p.

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