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Dr. Wouter Jan Verheul: senior researcher, consultant and academic lecturer in the field of urban governance & leadership, iconic urban projects, area-based transformations, place branding, and placemaking. Driven by bridging gaps between practice and academia. Wrote books and articles about prestigious urban projects, place marketing, entrepreneurialism and public policy. Received the degree of Doctor (Ph.D.) from Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Apart from my work at Delft University of Technology and my consultancy activities, I am programme leader at the executive Master City Developer (Erasmus University / Delft University), chairman of the 'Kring van Adviseurs Gebiedsontwikkeling' (Round Table of Consultants Urban Area Development), member of the editorial board of the Dutch journal 'Bestuurskunde' (Public Administration), and a member of the Placemaking Europe Leaders Network. Furthermore, I regularly give lectures and seminars at professional conferences as well as public events.

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The following themes and topics are examples of my research focus and consultancy portfolio:


  1. Large urban flagship projects

Iconic flagship projects: Since the construction of the Tower of Babylon, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, cities have presented themselves through prestigious and image-building projects. In the last few decades, many new city icons have been developed, such as the Sydney Opera House or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The urban landscape has been transformed into a theme park with an abundant range of architecture. Urban flagships can be strategic because of the opportunities they offer for the development of a city. A flagship project can be a single object, such as buildings, towers, museums, bridges, or an ensemble of iconic objects, such as waterfronts, inner-city developments, railway hubs, and others. These projects are often extensive; they are very complex to develop. This complexity may relate to high building costs or dependence upon other resources, such as the people involved, the land used, or the political effort needed. In particular, when cities are locked in a position of stable or decreasing economic growth, their urban leaders often want to attract more people and businesses and, therefore, flagship projects are developed. For example, new business parks are built to attract new corporations, new railway stations for more travellers, new ports for maritime activities, museums for cultural use, and campuses for students. Therefore, a central question in my research and consultancy activities is: how can city governments and their private partners connect the development of flagship projects (city icons) to catalysing the development of adjacent urban places and districts?

Embedded urban project development: a building can make or break a place, but the reverse is also true. A place can allow a building to come into its own, and the place can detract from the value of a building. For this reason, the relationship between place and building is a frequent topic of discussion, especially when the building in question is visually significant. In practice, the relationship between place and building can vary from harmonious and exciting to disruptive or noncommittal. In my research and consultancy activities, I examine the importance and complexity of the relationship between a building and its surroundings. The key idea is that a ‘sense of place’ is essential and, therefore, argue that image-defining buildings should be embedded in the local setting. 

2.  Urban Area Transformations

More homes in the existing built environment: In the Netherlands, as in many other countries, housing supply fails to meet the rapidly increasing housing demand in already densely urbanised areas, contributing to rising housing prices and possibly gentrification. State and local governments aim to satisfy this demand by densifying urban areas and transforming urban brownfields and vacant office parks into residential areas, thus containing urban sprawl. However, the private actors needed to redevelop these areas operate according to a different institutional logic and discourse: the market. According to this market logic, urban transformation is too expensive, even when partly subsidised. To some extent, sprawl is unavoidable when satisfying housing demand. The two different logics fail to deliver the housing needed. My research and consultancy foci are on building discourse coalitions as a possible way out of this deadlocked debate. At the same time, government actors might also aim to influence the housing market with novel, market-oriented policy instruments. To make this possible, my colleagues and I work on new governance arrangements, mostly in partnership with the private sector. 

Steering dilemmas in urban transformation projects: current urban redevelopment projects must answer many governance and management questions raised by substantive and strategic uncertainty, the complexity of multi-actor networks, and the local place- and context-dependent problems and solutions. In my research, I raise awareness of dilemmas to allow urban professionals to make conscious, well-informed choices in managing urban transformations. Some examples of major dilemmas based on case studies: (1) Active or facilitative government role in initiating redevelopment; (2) Governance by a limited number of actors or through dynamic open networks; (3) Fixed or flexible redevelopment strategy; (4) Public space for the common good or market returns; (5) Using soft or hard planning policy instruments; (6) Project agencies with full or shared mandate; (7) Visionary individuals or shared leadership. Often, dilemmas are portrayed as choices to make for A or B, while practice illustrates that it is often a delicate balance between both. The two sides of the coin are not mutually exclusive; elements from both sides of the coin are needed to allow for resiliency and effective governance.


Innovative financing arrangements for urban transformation projects: in current European practices, actors in real estate and urban transformation are highly dependent on one another. Contemporary inner-city transformation projects are particularly challenging in terms of collaboration and financing, as they must address the need for housing as well and new demands in mobility, health, energy, climate adaptation and other challenges. Among other things, such cross-sectoral projects need to allocate funding from multiple public and private sources in a timely fashion, which is a challenge in its own right. Moreover, long-term urban transformation projects require large sums of up-front financing due to high land assembly, site preparation and real estate construction costs. Such financing is usually difficult to obtain. Project proposals face strict conditions from private lenders and investors and limited government funding, value capturing, and legal co-financing possibilities. These and other trends have spurred a quest for innovative financing arrangements for real estate development in many countries. Together with colleagues, I explore and consult on the possibilities of two innovative financing arrangements in particular: revolving funds and area improvement districts. 

3. Placemaking & place branding


Public space development and improvement: The importance of pleasant public spaces in the city cannot be overstated. Good public space gives an area identity. It tells the story of a place, encourages encounters and offers other uses of a place that suit our need at that moment. It contributes to economic prosperity, safety, health and happiness. Creating or improving public space is, therefore, a challenging task for anyone whose work is related to the city, from social workers to property developers, from architects to city marketers. A focus on public space is not a given, however. Too often, public space is neglected by administrators, designers and developers of the built environment. We can therefore ask ourselves: What makes our space public? What makes public space attractive? And how can we ensure that an attractive place endures? My research and consultancy foci on these questions address the possibilities of place-led development and the improvement of existing public spaces. 

Place marketing and branding in a pluriform area: How do you profile a diverse place, such as a whole district, city or region? Based on what story, and under what name? I explore how profiling strategies can be used, considering the different place identities, stakeholders, and interests, in my research and consultancy. Based on case studies and experiences, place marketing and branding is only promising if it does not function as a replacement but as an enhancement of different place brands. 


4. Public leadership & governance


Managerial mania: prestigious urban projects can teach us about a phenomenon I call ‘managerial mania’. According to psychology science, mania is a common symptom of bipolar disorder.  Following the perspective of behavioural public administration, I observe significant characteristics of managerial mania, such as elated behaviour, an exaggerated positive self-image, infectious enthusiasm, selective argumentation, tunnel vision, and an unsubstantiated faith that plans will succeed. As a consequence of managerial mania, prestigious projects are at risk of cost overruns, project fiascos, or underdelivering the expected outcomes promised by politicians or top-level managers. My research explores the phenomenon of managerial mania based on examples of large and controversial urban projects. Furthermore, I describe and analyse the symptoms of managerial mania, its implications, and its mechanisms. As a result, I suggest some means of restraining the most extreme forms of managerial mania. 


Paradoxes and dilemmas in leadership: The questions public leaders, such as mayors, aldermen, and top-level managers, face regarding the fulfilment of their leadership role often reveal dilemmas and paradoxes. A first dilemma involves the creation of a sense of community versus a multiplicity of inclusions and identities. A second concerns the need for strong leadership versus the networked character of society. A third involves the expectation of strong leadership, potentially leading to leaders having a false image of strength. My leadership research demonstrates that public leaders must balance the dilemmas within the boundaries set by the leadership context. 

Selection of English publications in a variety of topics:​

  • Will Big Tech Save Our Cities And Jobs? The Review of the Innovation Complex. In: Journal of Economic and Human Geography. Vol. 112, issue 5. 

  • Interdisciplinary and Expertial Learning in Urban Development Management (with Y. Chen, T. Daamen, E. Heurkens) In: International Journal of Technology and Design Education. Vol. 30, issue 5

  • Civic-led Public Space. Favourable conditions for the management of community gardens (with A. Konst, R. van Melik) In: Town Planning Review 89, Issue 3.

  • Placemaking and the Discourse of the Public Space. In: Laven et al. The City at eye Level. Wageningen: Blauwdruk.

  • Embedded Developments. The Connection between Buildings and a Place. In: Unfinished Icon. Maison d'Artiste. Rotterdam: Nai Publishers.

  • Urban Development Management. Past, Present and Future (with E. van Bueren, Y. Chen, T. Daamen, A. Franzen, E. Heurkens en F. Hobma) In: Arkesteijn, M. et al Dear is Durable. Delft: TU Delft. . 

  • How the Dutch Deal with Demographic Decline (with G.J. Hospers and J. Syssner) In: Exploring the Future of Suburban Neighbourhoods under Conditions of Declining Growth. Dortmund: ILS.

  • The Challenges and Pitfalls of Mayrol Leadership. In: International Quarterly of Public Administration (with L. Schaap) Volume  88, Issue 2.

More info about publications, please visit the Delft University research website of WJ Verheul.


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