Houten has approached their transportation network with an ostensibly single-minded focus on the use of the bicycle for transportation. Their infrastructure has been built from the ground up to not require automobiles, providing efficient cycling routes to the retail, residential, and office space placed strategically throughout the city. It features long, uninterrupted cycle paths, numerous greenspaces, and excellent rail connectivity. The organization of the city disincentivizes travel by car, and motor vehicles are told to yield to bicycles at all but the major intersections of the ring road. The manufactured density creates an urban atmosphere conducive to cycling even as Houten is surrounded by farmland. And though a similar environment could be constructed in the US, I don’t think it should be.
Houten is an admirable showcase of the potential of sustainable urban design, but it is just that: a showcase. As a city, it is uninspired in its artificiality, an inorganic creation designed not by the natural shaping of the people it shelters, but by the machinations of architects and planners interested only in pursuing a brand of sustainability. A city should offer character, the gradual development of an attitude and atmosphere embedded in its air - and in this regard, Houten is no better than the thousands of suburban autocentric developments anathema to modern city planners. There is no doubt that Houten’s residents lead safer, healthier, and more environmentally-friendly lives, but their surroundings are devoid of soul, offering only a carefully-controlled existence devoid of the serendipity we crave. A city cannot pursue only one facet of livability and expect it to prop the others up, and Houten has sacrificed a great deal in its pursuit of sustainable transportation.
I believe that cities like Utrecht and the Hague are far better case studies in sustainable transportation than Houten. They are cities first and sustainable in a close second, offering the variety and charm of an urban experience while simultaneously incorporating the designs with which Houten was built. And though I appreciate the nobility of Houten’s goal, I cannot advocate for anything but the replication of their ideas and their goals in cities that offer much more than Houten can.