How has internationalization influenced High Streets in Amsterdam over the past 15 years?

Moving to The Netherlands in 2017, one of the most noticeable aspects of Dutch cities that I encountered was the density, diversity, and scale of street level retail. This was quite different from my hometown in Canada, and quite quickly grabbed my attention. Whilst enrolled in a Master of Science, Urban and Regional Planning program in Amsterdam, I pursued the topic of high street retail as the topic of my thesis project. The goal of this research was to investigate contemporary urban economic development, through development in the retail sector. No better place to do this than in Amsterdam, a bustling city with a back drop of waterways and brick façades.

Streets were selected based on levels of commercial activity, diversity of retailers, and projected degree of overall change in the last fifteen years. This period was outlined to assess variations in urban areas as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis and following recession.  I researched changes in Beethovenstraat, Gelderlandplein, Haarlemmerstraat, Kalverstraat and adjacent streets, Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat, and Utrechtsestraat. Additionally, sector professionals from Dutch cities were also interviewed for context and industry expertise.

Internationalization is indirectly evident in this research through the study of the expansion of the multinational chain retailing. The rise of internationalization at first glance appears easy to observe, however; it is difficult to discern individual chain classification, and to quantitatively determine its influence. In this case, qualitative case studies remain important in order to fully understand changing consumption patterns and firm response.

There were several conclusions from this research that varied across Amsterdam, but contained overlapping themes:

  • Almost all areas have shifted to a majority share of chain retail outlets in this time period, with the historic core containing the highest saturation. Kalverstraat, incurred this shift prior to 2004, and produced a spillover effect to adjacent streets such as Damrak, due to a focus of investment on risk-averse assets following the downturn.
  • Comparing the changes between Beethovenstraat and Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat show how the street’s identity can also propel changes. During this same time period of study, multinational retail firms themselves scaled exponentially in some cases, and therefore accelerated urban change. P.C. Hoofstraat has become a key location for flagship retailing due to this scaling, which has resulted in a shifted social function of the street.
  • With the entry of firms such as Hudson’s Bay Company coinciding with the closure of domestic retailers such as Vroom & Dreesmann, the infiltration of international retailers seemed to have prominently advanced in the post-crisis decade. This replacement is much more complex as evidenced by the expansion of Action coinciding with retreat by Blokker group, which are both themselves multinational retailers. These two movements also highlight how market segments responded differently during this era, echoing socioeconomic polarization.
  • Lastly, the rise of e-commerce and multi-channel retailing is an element that is playing role throughout each of the conclusions above. This movement will interact with retail areas differently, depending on their core functions, identity and surrounding form of urban development.

Studying how high street retail has changed in the past 15 years in Amsterdam hints at how the city itself has changed. Applying the spatial dimension to the operations of local and multinational businesses can help to more accurately explain socioeconomic changes, that were initially instigated by market-responsive approaches.

Thank you to Locatus for providing access to a comprehensive dataset and support in an introduction to retail real estate. Several other data sources were also used for this study, and more information can be made available on request.  I plan to use the skills and experience in this study to further understand real estate and economic processes in Canadian cities, and other parts of the world.

Mariam Hussain

Mariam Hussain is an Urban Planner from Calgary, who is currently practicing professionally as a researcher in Amsterdam. Her motivations for research involve examining both public and private sides of the development sector, in order to better inform urban planning practice. For any questions on the research conducted in the study, please reach out to Mariam via LinkedIn.