The Randstad is a vast megalopolis in the Netherlands. It is made up of the four largest cities in the country; Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, Utrecht, and their surrounding environs. It also encompasses the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Port of Rotterdam. A population of about 8.2 million people makes the Randstad one of the largest metropolitans in Europe comparable in population to the San Francisco Bay and the Milan Metropolitan. It is also considered one of the richest cities in Europe with a Gross Metropolitan Product of €262,839,000. The boundaries of the Randstad have not been officially defined. In addition to the four cities, some definitions may include the cities of Hoorn, Lelystad, and Alkmaar. Federal planners and local authorities expect the city to cover the Hoorn and Alkmaar region as well as Flevoland by 2040.
Geography of the Randstad
The Randstad is divided into two large metropolitans; Noordvleugel and Zuidvleugel. Noordvleugel (North Wing) Metropolitan consists of Utrecht, Haarlem, Ijmuiden, Gooi, Almere, and Amsterdam, which also serves as the heart of the metropolitan. Noordvleugel has a population of about 3.6 million people but Utrecht with a population of about 1 million can either be excluded or included depending on the extent of definition. The city is located much farther from the rest and is more monocentric owing to its long history with Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Zuidvleugel (South Wing) Metropolitan consist of the Hague, Rotterdam, and the smaller cities of Leiden and Dordrecht. The metropolitan has a population of 3.5 million people and has the potential to be the knowledge center of the Randstad.
The Dutch argue that there is a cultural divide between the Randstad and the rest of the Netherlands in relation to the media and politics. Both the media and the government have their headquarters within the Randstad, but the region is not an accurate representation of the cultural identity of the country. Although the landscape and the cities in the megalopolis share commonalities, there are also significant differences. In broad terms, the North Wing is politically progressive while the South Wing is more conservative.
The best transport infrastructure in the Netherlands is found in the Randstad. In fact, the Netherlands is considered to have some of the best infrastructure in the world. Railways, trams, subways, and motorways connect the cities and towns while cycling corridors provide a safe route to and from the towns. The highways of the megalopolis carry some of the heaviest traffic in Europe. A decade ago the roads were either four or six lanes, but most have since been expanded to eight or ten lanes.
The Randstad has experienced political and social tension over the past decade due to the lack of clear boundaries between the major cities and the towns in between. The smaller towns are much cleaner, safer, and more hospitable, and therefore house most of the people who work in the cities, while the cities offer better facilities such as hospitals, entertainment, and job opportunities. The cities are growing and expanding at a rate that threatens to engulf the towns in the near future.