The Netherlands is facing a pivotal challenge with an enormous housing shortage, resulting in stressed housing markets in cities and large towns. A situation that can only deteriorate based on a growing population, decreased households and increasing urbanisation. By 2040 the Netherlands will require a million new homes, with majority to be built in the “Randstad” (urban area within Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague). With a prediction of a one million rise in population for Amsterdam alone by 2035 -1- according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Where will this growing population live? City spaces are limited and have a high cost of living. Greenfield sites surrounding cities are protected to reduce urban sprawl and maintain and protect natural environments. How we build is to be innovated and re-invented with many projects shut down (many temporarily) as a consequence of the “Programma aanpak stikstof” (PAS) verdict on nitrogen.

Complex issues

There are numerous complex issues to face, such as climate adaptation, city health and safety, circular economy, CO2 emission reduction, smart mobility, and digitisation. Which smart solutions can transport people from A to B? How do we preserve an ecological balance? How can we develop new areas with a focus on maximising sustainability? How can we provide safe and inclusive spaces that encourage people to meet face-to-face in this digital age? How do we handle extreme weather conditions?

Inspiring best practice: the ‘Maankwartier’ in Heerlen

Optimising railway station locations, around and above, is an opportunity to tackle these challenges head on with smart and effective solutions. An example of this is the Maankwartier in Heerlen, the Netherlands. The Maankwartier includes a railway station, shops, bars, a hotel, offices, and homes. It showcases innovative techniques for optimising railway station spaces through building up. It also provides a key connection between both the northern and southern areas of Heerlen, offering safe, accessible and attractive alternatives to travel from one section of the city to the other. Often inhabitants and visitors are forced to cross the railways elsewhere by means of tunnels or bridges at a distance from the station, which can be both inconvenient and hinder city connectivity.

Conflicting demands

The question whether the area around the railway station should be a “staYtion” (where people like to spend time) or a place where as many people as possible are able to move from A to B, is a balancing act with conflicting demands. The movement of large numbers of travellers requires a different use of space compared to a square or a park used for leisure time and activities. A transport function requires efficiency that enables smart, fast and comfortable travelling. For instance, it is essential that people intuitively know their way, with clear signage, and that there is enough space for large volumes of people to move from one place to another. Also, there should be comfortable spaces and facilities for those waiting for connections. Yet the “stay function” requires a “staYtion”, a square where the worlds of travellers and inhabitants of a city meet. If the space above and around the station is used for housing, the station square or park will be visited by inhabitants regularly for leisure and sports, and social activities. In the case of conflicting demands between the stay function and the transport function, the answer is multifunctional use of space – creative solutions to maximise space utilisation.

Creating new space

The available space can achieve multiple goals: biodiversity, movement of people and connectivity, resistance to extreme weather conditions (heat, drought, flooding), as well as the use of green roofs to prevent heat stress. All these needs, dreams and demands come together in one location. How is this managed?

In this paper we will investigate whether the battle for scarcity of space can be solved by creating new spaces: above and around the railway station. Step by step, the Dutch are getting used to the idea that it is possible to live, spend leisure time or generate energy on top of infrastructure – for instance, the A2 motorway in Maastricht with its double-decker tunnel. Why not use railway space as well? Of course, every town or city has its own needs, demands and particular circumstances that cannot be represented in one common blueprint. Designs should be tailor-made. This is why this white paper does not only contain our views and showcases, but also facts and numbers that might help you recognise opportunities as well as limitations.