This theme is concerned with the governance of metropolitan regions in the context of the increasing complexity and fragmentation of spatial relationships. It investigates the role of spatial planning and regional design in managing regions, especially the Randstad.

Regional planning and design – at least in the Netherlands – is caught in a seemingly paradoxical situation: on the one hand spatial planning loses political influence, whereas on the other hand the availability, abundance and quality of urban and regional design methods is increasing. At the same time it is at the regional level where many territorial issues come together. In the Netherlands this is especially the case in the Randstad which forms our key research area.

This situation arises in a wider spatial development context that is changing fundamentally. New patterns of interaction and movement are emerging from locational choices made by people and enterprises. The result is increasing spatial fragmentation. Also, there is increased complexity in the spatial pattern of activities and their relationships at various spatial scales with new forms of clustering in patterns of networked regions. Sustainable accessibility is however under enormous pressure as the result of a lack of integration between transport networks and between these networks and the urban fabric. These developments create enormous challenges for politics and planning and the governance of territories.

Classic forms of government based upon clear-cut divisions in terms of administrative levels, policy sectors and the public and private domains are less relevant. One outcome is a rapid accumulation of consultation, coordination and partnership structures. Another outcome is the emergence of more flexible forms of governance working around traditional arrangements and formal jurisdictions which do not coincide with actual spatial relationships and levels of functional integration. The result is a complex pattern of overlapping governance regions characterized by fuzzy territorial boundaries and interrelationships between public and private actors, combined with an increasing influence of the European Union through environmental and territorial cohesion policies. And although some examples of these new governance arrangements seem promising there are concerns about their effectiveness as well as their accountability and legitimacy.

The investigation of these developments follows three lines:

the role and political position of spatial planning amongst other policies including the changing conditions for deliberative spatial policy making under the influence of EU policy and legislative frameworks;

the emergence of new ‘metropolitan regions’ and the potential for integrative policy making in the territorial domain, with a particular emphasis on sustainable accessibility;

the role of regional design tools, instruments and methods.

Our principal research question is:

To what extent can urban and regional planning and design methods serve as a catalyst for territorial transformation in general and transit oriented development in particular?

Track record

The track record of the theme group is based on a combination of past and ongoing projects and the expertise of key team members.

The Europeanisation of (regional) spatial planning has been a focus of research for  some time. Wil Zonneveld, Bas Waterhout, Andreas Faludi, Vincent Nadin and Dominic Stead have all published on this subject. It is supported through post-doc and PhD candidate research together with a number of contract research projects and high level publications.

The legacy of the chair of Niek de Boer is important in relation to ‘integrated policy making’ in the Randstad. What would make the Randstad or alternatively its ‘wings’ relevant spatial entities. (New) forms of regional policy integration making use of such concepts as ‘soft spaces’ and ‘multilevel governance’  have been taken up in papers by Bas Waterhout, Dominic Stead and Wil Zonneveld.

There is a strong record of work on networked regions through the work of Paul Drewe (scenario methodologies), Joost Schrijnen (Randstad as a design arena and transit oriented development), Maurits de Hoog (regional and supra-regional design) and Ina Klaasen (research by design).

There is also a relationship with the chair ‘Design and politics’ (Wouter Vanstiphout) where future research activities will focus on democratic legitimisation in design and planning and the changing relationship between citizen and government in design and planning.

Recent projects include:

ESPON RISE which is identifying and exchanging best practices in developing regional integrated strategies and policy making in Europe.

ESPON TANGO examining the governance of territorial development in Europe.

Several projects (ESPON as well as projects commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) on the territorial impact of European directives and policies.

The following publications give insight in the topics covered by the theme:

–        Balz, V. & Schrijnen, J. (2009) From Concepts to Projects: Stedenbaan, The Netherlands. In: Curtis, C., Renne J., Bertolini, L. (ed.) Transit Oriented Development.Making it Happen. Farnham: Ashgate.

–        Jong, J. de & Spaans, M. (2009) Trade-offs at a regional level in spatial planning: Two case studies as a source of inspiration. Land Use Policy, 26(2), 368-379.

–        Stead, D. & Waterhout, B. (2008). Learning from the application of the ESDP: influences on European territorial governance. DISP, 2008/44(1), 21-34.

–        Zonneveld, W.A.M. (2010). Governing a Complex Delta. In: Delta Urbanism. The Netherlands (pp. 100-113). Chicago/Washington: APA Planners Press.

PhD research

Recent Promotions

–        The Institutionalisation of European Spatial Planning, Amsterdam/Delft: IOS Press/Delft University Press, Bas Waterhout (2008)

Current PhD candidates

–        Polycentricity and energy transition: dimensions of discourse on multiscalar urban systems, Verena Balz

–        Re-use of military facilities, Malkit Soshan

–        Mobility patterns of students groups in greater Valparaiso, M. Soto

–        Spatial Planning Concepts for Effective Planning, Jan Vogelij

–        Territories-In-Between: A European Cross Case Study on the Planning of Areas Between Urban and Rural, Alexander Wandl (also theme 3)

Key research projects

The theme group are pursuing two key projects:

The Randstad Reader: the preparation of a definitive textbook on the Randstad to be published by Routledge in association with the Regional Studies Association: and

Transit oriented development and network integration, facilitated in part through NWO sponsored research on the ‘sustainable accessibility of the Randstad’.

Research agenda

The three lines of research mentioned in section 1 serve as the primary guidance for the recruitment of PhD candidates. Examples of specific research topics include:

An ex durante evaluation of the change of governance philosophy in Dutch planning in a number of areas particularly sensitive towards changes, such as buffer zones and national landscapes, potentially in partnership with IPO and provinces.

In depth research in policy integration in one of the Randstad wings/MIRT areas as a follow up of the ESPON RISE project, compared with a similar (spatially; governance structure) metropolitan region elsewhere, potentially in cooperation with the metropolitan regions Amsterdam or Rotterdam-The Hague.


The research theme underpins domain courses within the Faculty of Technology, Policy and management’s SEPAM programme (System Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management) at the bachelor and master’s levels. Two courses are provided: the role of spatial concepts in planning and integrated regional development. The theme is also related to the Urbanism Complex Cities Studio and other parts of the MSc programme such as Analysis & Design of Urban Form and Spatial Strategies for the Global Metropolis.