Houten, a suburb built for people on foot and bike

(All images courtesy of Community Design Group, LLC)

About a year ago I traveled to several cities in the Netherlands. One of the cities i visited was Houten, a suburb of Utrecht which was planned in the 1960s around bicycles and transit.

Between 1980 and the 1990s the city's population went from 4,000 to over 30,000 people. By 2007, the city's population had exceeded 45,000 people.

Houten provides a remarkable example of an alternative type of suburban development. The city is centered around its railroad station (undergoing expansion when I visited), which is immediately flanked by the city's civic center (city hall and library) and commercial areas. The main road leading to the train station and running between city hall, the library and the commercial areas and higher density housing is a pedestrian and bicycle-only road. This is not to say that there are no cars - they are plenty visible in the city - but that the main and most convenient access to the places people go in the city are by bicycle and on foot, and when motorized and non-motorized modes mix, the non-motorized modes have clear priority.

There are also many other interesting things to notice: scale and distribution of schools and nurseries (small and ubiquitous), neighborhood parks, scale of housing development, integration of multi-family housing with commercial space, orientation of commercial spaces toward bike and pedestrian ways, scale and variety of stores in commercial district, quality and visibility of public space, and the great number of seniors who ride bicycles for transportation in the city (please see this study for more information on use of bicycles for transportation by Dutch seniors)

If you're planning a trip to learn about Dutch planning practices, or if you want an example of what a suburb planned around different priorities might look like, I highly recommend a visit.

More information

You can find a not greatly informative Wikipedia article on Houten here >


Old or new model?

Would you say this is a successful garden city model? Or is it a suburban model that has incorporated peds and bicyclists as the priority?


@Matt: as someone who was born in Houten (1971) I can tell you it's the latter and this particular model (and versions thereof) has been copied by many other towns in NL over the last two decades.

@Antonio: you need to replace 'Utrecht' with 'Houten' at the very beginning of the 3rd paragraph. Good article!

thank you for catching that

hello Amsterdamize, thank you for catching that - I missed the error before publishing!


For anyone who's interested, in Dec 2008 I posted about Houten, which has a slideshow with pictures of bicycle infrastructure in the even newer parts of town.

the pictures of this town

the pictures of this town remind me a lot of Davis, CA.
It seems though, that a small urban circulator, like a streetcar line, could be very successful.