Case Study: the cities of Eindhoven and Heerlen in the Netherlands as examples of successful change in local economic development practice.

Many of our cities in Europe as we know them today are to a large extent the result of local industrial economic development strategies and programmes over the last century. Historically the path of economic development in European cities was highly dependent on local and regional economic specialisation (e.g. a function of local natural resources, creative talent / knowledge / skills and production capabilities), enabled by established institutional frameworks (e.g. rule of law, property rights, financial systems etc.).


These patterns however faltered in the 20th century mainly because of the devastation from the wars in Europe as well as the disruption caused by the wholesale adoption of new technologies in transport, energy and communication, together with major demographic shifts associated with a new epoch of urbanisation.


A post-war pro-growth macro-environment took hold especially in Western European countries, featuring sustained investment in new transport and energy infrastructure, urban renewal programmes, the large-scale development of commercial property as well as substantial residential suburban greenfield development.


The effect was an ubiquitous expansion of car-based mobility that, together with wired and wireless communication capabilities, reinforced new development patterns characterised by rapid sprawl and functional segregation of activities all over the city and beyond.


How did these post-war local economic growth patterns impact on the city centre? And how did the financial crisis of 2008 change these patterns? What is emerging as new patterns and how could city centres benefit? To answer these questions this article aims to contribute to a better understanding by drawing lessons from the experiences and practices over the last decades of the cities of Eindhoven and Heerlen, both located in the Netherlands.


This case study was written in January 2017 by Twan De Bruijn and Wessel Badenhorst.


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