Town Planning Review

‘Organic’ approaches to planning as densification strategy? The challenge of legal contextualisation in Buiksloterham, Amsterdam

Town Planning Review (2020), 91, (3), 283–303.


Urban development in the Netherlands has been dominated by a master-planning approach in combination with a proactive land policy, but has recently witnessed the emergence of a new type of flexible planning, which is increasingly used as a densification strategy. The Buiksloterham area in Amsterdam is a pioneering case study of a more flexible approach to planning in the Netherlands, commonly known as organic transformation, combining formal and informal instruments in an innovative way. The case study demonstrates the tension between the planners’ desire for maximum flexibility in terms of land uses to enable mixed-use and organic development, and the legal certainty required by planning law (via the legally binding land-use plan), demanding exact predictions of future impacts to safeguard environmental norms. How can planning steer densification and enable mixed-use development, while at the same time accommodating the self-organising potential of society in an increasingly dynamic and unpredictable world? Using the concept of ‘legal contextualisation’, the paper argues that densification through organic approaches is possible with the current legislation but is not a panacea given the challenge of safeguarding environmental norms under conditions of uncertainty about the actual development.

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Author details

Dembski, Sebastian