This is the 26th edition of the Utrecht Monitor. We’re looking back across the broad on 2022 and the first quarter of 2023. There is a growing consensus both in the Netherlands and worldwide that a focus on economic growth alone is no longer sufficient. The ‘broad prosperity’ concept fits better because it includes a look at quality of life (health, personal well-being, good education) and the environment in which people live (social cohesion, environment, safety). The Utrecht Monitor 2023 examines all these aspects of broad prosperity and provides up-to-date insight into this concept for the city.
The Utrecht Monitor shows that Utrecht is performing relatively well in many aspects of broad prosperity. We see this reflected, among other things, in a high score on perceived health and a healthy lifestyle, a relatively high and stable level of trust in institutions, declining public nuisance figures, a decreasing amount of waste per resident, an increasing number of roofs with solar panels and a stable concentration of nitrogen dioxides. The economy is growing, and unemployment remains low. Thanks to national and local support measures, the decrease in purchasing power for low-income households is (still) limited in 2023.
This puts Utrecht high in the ranking of Dutch municipalities in the Regionale Monitor Brede Welvaart (Regional Monitor for Broad Prosperity). This monitoring by CBS (Statistics Netherlands) shows that in the Netherlands, high broad prosperity ‘now’ is increasingly accompanied by a negative effect on future generations (broad prosperity ‘later’). This includes trends in income and sustainability, for example. In Utrecht, we see a share of households in long-term poverty is not decreasing in line with the overall poverty rate. The number of Utrecht residents facing energy poverty is rising but is still below the national average. The high load on the energy network in the city and region has a negative impact on efforts to make existing homes and businesses more sustainable. A recent poll of the Utrecht Bewonerspanel (Residents’ Panel, 6,000 Utrecht residents) shows that the panel members are currently most concerned about is the climate.
The acute refugee crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, among others, has now developed into a complex, permanent challenge. With additional issues of refugee reception, education, care, integration and housing. The burden of housing status holders in Utrecht is considerably higher in the first half of 2023 than in previous years.
Finally, we see that behind many lists where Utrecht ranks well as a city hides a divided city. The differences between neighbourhoods and groups are barely diminishing and, in some cases, even increasing. We see the greatest vulnerability among Utrecht residents who struggle to make ends meet, grow up in low-income families and have only primary or lower secondary education. This also applies to Utrecht residents in single-parent families and one-person households, Utrecht residents over 65 with a non-western migration background and residents with multiple serious problems. A vulnerability that is concentrated in neighbourhoods that lie in a strip across Utrecht, running roughly from north to south; almost all neighbourhoods in Overvecht and Zuidwest, but also some in other parts of the city. Read more about this in the report Scheidslijnen in Utrecht (Dividing lines in Utrecht).
Population and administration
Utrecht has continued to grow to almost 368,000 residents. The growth of 6,242 residents in 2022 is the strongest since 2014. A quarter of the growth is due to the arrival of Ukrainians. The city is also growing because, with its young population, more children are born than people die. One in every six Utrecht residents moves every year, with half leaving the city. Nevertheless, Utrecht residents generally feel a strong attachment to the city. Over 100,000 more residents are expected to arrive in the city by 2040.
In the Netherlands, trust in institutions such as the Dutch parliament, police and judges has been under pressure for several years. Institutional trust in Utrecht is high compared with other municipalities. In Utrecht, as nationally, there is also more trust in local than in national politics. At the same time, the number of complaints filed with the municipality is increasing and more often declared well-founded. As in previous years, just under 1,000 Woo requests were made (Open Government Act, formerly Wob).
After the 2022 municipal elections, a record number of 15 parties will be on the council. Five parties form the coalition. Turnout was lower than in 2018 but significantly higher than the national average. However, turnout in the last Provincial Council elections in the municipality of Utrecht was higher than the previous elections in 2019.
Physical living environment
From the summer of 2022, pressure on the owner-occupied housing market eased as interest rates rose and purchase prices fell. Problems in the broader housing market have by no means been eliminated. An average owner-occupied house in Utrecht cost 511,000 euros in 2022. Selling prices rose 57% in four years. Rental prices are rising faster in Utrecht than nationally, and the waiting time for a social rental house remains as high as ever (over 11 years). The housing supply is increasing annually. In 2022, a net of around 3,000 new houses were built in Utrecht, making Utrecht the fastest-building city in the Netherlands. The number of building permits issued increased again in 2022 after a significant drop in 2021. The percentage of social rented housing within the total housing supply remains at 29%.
The coronavirus has had quite an impact on traffic intensity and the use of transport modes in the city. The use of urban public transport (bus, tram) increased in 2022 but is still a quarter lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cyclists in the city, meanwhile, is back to the same level as in 2019. The number of passenger cars per 1,000 residents increased in 2021 and 2022, with the number of electric and hybrid cars increasing the most by far. In line with this, the number of charging points increased by 29%. There was an increase in road casualties in 2022.
The amount of renewable energy in the city is increasing. In 2021, 7.1% of the electricity generated was renewable. This was offset by a small increase in energy use (+0.3%). In 2022, the number of roofs with solar panels increased further to 29%.
In 2021, CO2 emissions were 3.2% higher than in 2020. In contrast, the previous five years saw a 29% decrease in emissions. Nitrogen dioxide concentration remains at the lower level of the pandemic years.
In 2022, Utrecht residents produced 9% less waste per person. Separation of waste is done through Het Nieuwe Inzamelen (The New Collecting) method, which has been introduced in most neighbourhoods, and through post-separation (household waste is separated by machine). The number of resident reports of public nuisance in parks and green spaces decreased in 2022. Conversely, the number of reports on waste and pollution in public spaces increased.
Economy and income
On a macroeconomic level, the city and region are doing well. The economy grew by 4.5% over the whole of 2022 after a 4.9% growth in 2021. Economic growth has been a lot lower since mid-2022. Utrecht has a low (3.8%) and declining unemployment rate. Many sectors show a strong recovery after the COVID-19 years, including culture and tourism. On the other hand, three in 10 entrepreneurs suffer from high energy prices, and there is a large labour shortage in all sectors.
The percentage of Utrecht residents on benefits is dropping. At the same time, we see purchasing power decreasing for many Utrecht residents. Low-income households are hit relatively hard by inflation. This may increase inequality in the city. Poverty figures show a declining trend but lag behind current events. The number of households in long-term poverty is not declining. Figures do not yet show an increase in problematic debts in the city. More people in debt are getting help.
Office and retail vacancy rates dropped slightly in 2022. In the business space market, both supply and take-up were lower in 2022 than in the previous year.
Social living environment
The vast majority of Utrecht residents feel healthy. However, health inequalities in the city are large and start at an early age. Differences are strongly linked to problems with making ends meet, work and housing. Among children, adolescents and young adults, mental health is under pressure.
Most Utrecht residents participate. They go to school or work, participate in culture or sports, have social contacts or are active in their neighbourhood. However, participation is not a given for everyone. Residents with physical or mental disabilities and the elderly participate less often. Education and the ability to make ends meet also play a role.
Almost three-quarters of toddlers with a language or developmental delay attend a preschool, more than in 2021. Learning deficits due to coronavirus measures have not yet been made up, and there is a (nationwide) downward trend in school ratings.
After COVID-19, visitor numbers to cultural institutions are rising sharply but have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. There are large differences in the distance to cultural facilities per neighbourhood. Satisfaction with these neighbourhood cultural facilities varies by neighbourhood and population group. Utrecht sports facilities are feeling the impact of increased energy prices to a greater or lesser extent. 64% of Utrecht residents practise a sport every week, but there are big differences that are education related. Utrecht residents play sports more often than residents of the other G4 cities.
In 2022, total crime in Utrecht increased by 10%. Despite this increase, the number of offences is still below that of 2020 and earlier years. The total number of public nuisance cases recorded by the police fell by 7% in 2022. This number is still higher than in the years before COVID-19. Youth-related public nuisance dropped particularly sharply (34%). Some types of public nuisance are increasing, such as drug and alcohol-related nuisance (+28%) and vagrants (+29%).