Rotterdam in the 21st century: From ‘sick man’ to ‘capital of cool’

Gijs Custers, Jannes J. Willems*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This City Profile presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on the development of Rotterdam, analysing its transformation from a “sick man” to the “capital of cool” between 1995-current. Our profile integrates insights from five policy domains and presents them as a new framework. First, Rotterdam witnessed the rise of the populist right and established a new safety regime through a zero-tolerance mentality. Second, Rotterdam's superdiversity initially triggered anti-migration sentiments, but has more recently been normalised. Third, state-led gentrification policies have uplifted Rotterdam's status and provided space for middle-class households, thereby restricting access for working-class households. Fourth, the local administration has initiated large-scale urban regeneration projects as new flagships in former port areas and the city centre. Fifth, the city has been using water safety improvements to guide urban development and to create an attractive city. Overall, these developments have contributed to Rotterdam's new, hip image. However, we argue this image is Janus-faced. The populist and repressive form of urban disadvantage management is highly politicised and considered discriminatory, whereas the new flagships and water-led urban development are depoliticised and technocratic. These two sides often operate autonomously from each other, but together they contribute to new divisions in Rotterdam.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105009
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024

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Publisher Copyright: © 2024 The Author(s)


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