at The Berlage : running research studio on shrinking cities

“Oldambt, located in the very Northeast of the Netherlands, is one of the areas in the country with a shrinking population. Formerly the granary of the Netherlands, the area has faced decline since the middle of the twentieth century. Mechanization in agriculture and the downturn of most of the area’s industry caused a drastic shrinking of employment. However, a large part of the local population has remained, strongly attached to region’s culture and landscape, its typical vastness and emptiness. The area is situated next to the Dollard, an estuary of the Waddenzee on the border of The Netherlands and Germany. Caused by storm surges in the late Middle Ages, the estuary flooded a large part of the current Oldambt area. Since the sixteenth century, this land has been gradually taken back from the sea by the creation of polders. The rich clay, of the reclaimed polder lands, formed a fertile soil for the growing of grain, which became the area’s main agricultural activity from the mid eighteenth century. Fast rising grain prices in the second half of the eighteenth century caused great economic prosperity for the farmers. Traces of this prosperous era can still be found today in the typical stately Oldambtster farm. The economic growth attracted a large group of immigrant workers. Due to the big gap in wealth between the farmers and workers, social tension increased. At the end of the nineteenth century socialism found great following among the workers, which was later also the case for communism. Next to agriculture, the region had two important industries: strawboard and potato flower. When both industries declined in the twentieth century and upscaling and mechanization of agriculture further reduced employment, many workers left. Over the years, diverse policies have been proposed and implemented in an attempt to stimulate the economy and attract new inhabitants, with varying success. Two neighborhoods form interesting examples of recent developments in the area.” Last edited on 26 September 2013 by Mick Morssink.