Amsterdam: A Master Plan for a Smart City

Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard exploring how major destinations are using smart design to meet the needs of rapid urbanization.


Amsterdam is experiencing a population boom due to its draw as a progressive and central urban hub in the European knowledge economy. According to the Amsterdam City Council, as many as 150,000 inhabitants are expected to migrate into the city between now and 2040. This can place great burdens on a city—economically, physically and socially—if city planners don’t develop an all-encompassing city master plan to prepare for that influx of new people.

Central Amsterdam is already busting at the seams due to its tight geographic footprint rimming the city’s famous canals. Adding to the population surge, according to MasterCard’s 2015 Global Destination Cities Index, Amsterdam welcomes the fifth highest number of international passengers in Europe to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

In order for Amsterdam to expand intelligently, the Amsterdam City Council developed the comprehensive new Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 city master plan, integrating innovative urban design and neighborhood rejuvenation strategies, myriad smart technology systems, and more advanced mobility options for residents and visitors. The overarching goal is to densify existing communities and build new suburban business, commercial and residential districts that maximize space as efficiently as possible within the A10 ring road encircling the city.

In the space between the urban core and the ring road, Amsterdam is populating huge swaths of post-industrial riverfront real estate and the outlying Amsterdam Noord and Zuidas districts to create a new “Metropolitan Amsterdam Area” and the smart city master plan of the future.


Densifying, Redeveloping and Repurposing Space

Redeveloping underserved urban areas into bustling multi-use, live-work “innovation districts” is common today in cities around the world, but it has never been attempted on such a large scale as Amsterdam is planning. The results from the Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 megaproject will serve as a model for cities of all sizes, in terms of advanced planning for rapid urban growth. Additionally, the abundance of new modern architecture is elevating the Dutch capital into the pantheon of global design cities, which is a powerful asset to attract knowledge industry professionals and corporations looking to relocate their offices.

The master plan outlines seven “Spatial Tasks” designed to accommodate the city’s population growth and improve the city’s overall user experience. The number one spatial task is “Densify.” A total of 70,000 new dwellings are proposed between now and 2040, along with required infrastructure including schools, retail and sports facilities, so from a street level perspective there’s a high priority focusing on efficient land use and multi-purpose building construction.

One way to maximize land use, the city is redeveloping business districts into mixed-use residential/commercial communities, such as Amsterdam’s sprawling Port-City. By 2030, the waterfront facility will have as many as 19,000 new residential dwellings and businesses integrated into the commercial maritime activities.

From an overarching citywide perspective, all of the many different municipalities within the ring road presently exist mostly as self-contained autonomous communities, including the historic core, so it’s a challenge for both locals and visitors to travel among them. The Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 master plan ties the individual townships together to create the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

To do that, the City Council is investing in infrastructure along the major connecting arteries such as Bilderdijkstraat and Beethovenstraat. The 2040 plan reads: “The social atmosphere in the major streets will be further improved by increasing the quality and diversity of the shops and food services and by refurbishing edifices and street-level frontages.”


The Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 plan also calls for:

  • More public green spaces to better connect adjacent communities
  • The redevelopment of the IJ Waterway bisecting the city
  • The continued growth of the Zuidas business district south of central Amsterdam near Schiphol Airport
  • Two different urban design options to potentially host the 2028 Summer Olympics

In Zuidas, top architects are building the smart city of the future. Rem Koolhaas is designing the new Amsterdam RAI Hotel, which consists of giant cubes staggered around a vertical access, near the curvy new RAI Convention Centre expansion. Nearby, The Rock, The Edge and other amazing new architecture is positioning Zuidas as a magnet for design-savvy professionals.

Likewise in the Amsterdam Noord district, located north of the main waterway, the new EYE Film Institute and Kraanspoor Building are spurring the rise of Noord into a creative hotspot. If Amsterdam can expand its metropolitan footprint like this while beautifying the cityscape and connecting all of it together, it will become a global beacon for smart, stylish and sustainable urban growth.

How Amsterdam Is Connecting All of Its Moving Parts

The “metropolization” of Amsterdam connecting different urban districts together requires an entire rethinking of the city’s walking, biking and public transportation routes, and a shift in mindset among local and visitors to adopt these new smart systems. Therefore, part of the Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 master plan emphasizes the need to develop more public transportation routes, more public parks and more bicycle lanes to dissuade automobile traffic as much as possible.

The report reads: “At the moment a number of important links in the regional public transport system are lacking. Through to 2040, the necessary ‘network-wide leap’ must be achieved.” That includes building a network of new car/train transfer points for people to access the rail system more easily throughout the city.

This is especially true for the surging residential and commercial development in Zuidas and Amsterdam-Southeast, which are located between the urban center and airport.

“Amsterdam’s southern flank is a succession of massive projects,” explains the 2040 plan, all of which is anchored by the expansion of Schiphol Airport. In the heart of Zuidas, the new Station-Zuid train station under development is going to be the second largest rail transport hub in the city, linking all of Amsterdam’s neighborhoods with each other, the rest of The Netherlands and much of Western Europe.

Meanwhile, private companies are developing dozens of new mobility initiatives. Yeller, for example, is a new app with chat functionality that helps visitors meet other visitors to share a cab. WeGo is a peer-to-peer car sharing platform where non-car owners can rent cars from car owners in their neighborhood. And Mobypark is a sharing parking app platform that displays all available parking places in real time, so cars emit less exhaust because drivers aren’t aimlessly roaming the streets.

It is expected that green electricity generated by windmills, solar panels and biomass power stations will power 60% to 90% of all car travel in Amsterdam by 2040. Also by then, only quiet, electric boats will be allowed to ply the canals, which aligns with the master plan’s mission to combine both old world European charm and future smart technology.

Rethinking Urban User Experience: The Amsterdam Smart City Project

The “Amsterdam Smart City” project is one of the most innovative and comprehensive city-wide sustainability platforms in existence, which defines the spirit of co-creation between private and public sectors imperative for any smart city.

If the Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 plan represents the “hardware” development of the burgeoning metropolis, the Amsterdam Smart City project is its intellectual “software.” Also formulated by the Amsterdam City Council, the Smart City initiative is a collaboration of over 100 local municipalities, businesses, residents and academic institutions partnering on more than 75 smart city projects to date.

Organized into five verticals—including mobility, economics, residential living, social wellbeing and placemaking—the projects are designed to seamlessly integrate with each other to create the most efficient urban user experience possible. The smart city projects range from the world’s first 3D-printed canal house to the redevelopment of the industrial Buiksloterham neighborhood in Amsterdam Noord.

Another example, the new City-Zen pilot program includes the development of sustainability-themed virtual gaming networks and neighborhood-sharing networks where residents can trade surplus green energy with each other.

Through 2016, the Amsterdam Smart City ecosystem is running a project called the “iBeacon and IoT (Internet of Things) Living Lab.” It features a series of live installations and several beacon networks connected along a 1.5-mile urban street path. The sensors are wired to test and experiment innovations in designing public wayfinding, developing popular tourist routes, promoting hyper-local points of interest, and augmenting existing apps with additional proximity data.

The Amsterdam Smart City initiative also crowdsources data from the local community through its “Smart Citizen” project. Residents can purchase low-cost sensors to share air pollution and noise levels with the city’s open data program. Because citizens are directly engaged in that knowledge sharing with the city and more aware of sustainability challenges, that’s inspiring more residents to ride their bikes and public transportation versus driving cars. In Amsterdam, a big part of developing a smart city is engaging smart citizens in the process to make such an innovative city master plan a reality.

Watch our video on How Amsterdam is Building the City of the Future here.


Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard, exploring how major destinations are preparing for the new age of urban mobility. From connected infrastructure to smart technologies, this series explores how global cities are creating seamless and personalized experiences for visitors and residents. 

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