Utrechtse singel

Utrecht Monitor (English)


In this 27th edition of the Utrecht Monitor, we look back at 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. We do so in its entirety and based on the concept of wellbeing (brede welvaart), which determines the quality of society not only by the state of the economy but also by the state of nature, the environment and society. This concerns work, income, health, opportunities to participate in society, the living environment, safety, greenery and biodiversity. Through the lens of wellbeing, we see a city that still has a good starting position on many factors that determine wellbeing. But there are also concerns: we see several negative developments, some of which we have not seen to this extent before. Some of these developments are also visible in the rest of the country (negative state of mind and low trust in the future and government) and some seem more specific to Utrecht (more residents experience nuisance, more residents are negative about the future of their neighbourhood).

The paragraphs below outlines the positive and negative developments in the city and substantiate the above conclusion. You can find a link to a summary of the four themes of the Utrecht Monitor in the navigation bar on the left (available in Dutch only).

Analysis Utrecht Monitor 2024

Utrecht remains a city with high wellbeing

For a city, Utrecht again scores high on wellbeing in 2023, according to CBS (Statistics Netherlands) figures. Despite the current turbulent times, the most recent Inwonersenquête (Resident Survey, autumn 2023) shows that most Utrecht residents are happy (81%) and satisfied with their lives (86%). Percentages that have been stable for years. Many Utrecht residents also feel healthy (74%). Social cohesion in the city is stable. Utrecht ranks number 1 in the Netherlands as a municipality regarding trust in institutions (government, police, judges). Many Utrecht residents feel at home in their neighbourhood and have trust in their fellow citizens (around 70% for years). There are also positive developments in terms of economy, work and income: the city and region have a strong economic structure and are number 1 in Europe in terms of regional competitiveness. Utrecht experienced strong job growth last year, the largest in the past 10 years. The number of jobs is growing faster than the labour force. Unemployment is low (4.0%).

The city is growing rapidly, more opportunities for first-time home buyers and renters

Utrecht grew by 6,390 inhabitants last year to a population of 374,374 on 1 January 2024. The biggest growth since 2009. Due to a historically low birth rate, births contributed less to growth than in the past (balance birth – death: 1,974). Nationwide, the number of births is dropping sharply. Domestic relocations are also not a determining factor (both 25,000 settlers and leavers). Foreign migration (balance of 4,600) is currently driving growth. These are largely knowledge workers, other migrant workers and foreign students. A sizeable housing construction programme should accommodate the growth. Despite some major problems, notably a shortage of affordable housing, we also see positive developments in the Utrecht housing market. The supply of mid-market rent housing is rising, rents are rising less than elsewhere, and an increasing share of the homes sold is going to first-time buyers. And despite a dip in completed new-build houses, construction of many new houses started last year and the outlook for new construction in 2024/25 is favourable.

Energy consumption and CO2 emissions decrease, renewable energy increases

We also see positive trends when it comes to the environment. Energy consumption decreased  (- 4%; 2022) more sharply than in previous years. CO2 emissions also decreased (- 5%; 2022). Whereas only 13% of Utrecht's roofs had solar panels in 2019, this has now risen to 36%. Almost one in three homes in the city is now natural gas-free.

However, several negative developments are putting pressure on wellbeing

There are also concerns. We see several negative developments, including several trend breaks. In terms of the economy, growth in the Netherlands came to a virtual standstill last year (+0.1%). The province of Utrecht experienced a slightly higher growth of 1%. A tight labour market ('very tight' in Utrecht), grid congestion, low investment in research & development, high real estate prices and lack of space put pressure on the investment climate. On the income front: while we see an increase in household purchasing power, we also see more Utrecht households on welfare benefits (9,341 at the beginning of 2024; +1.4%). The number of households in poverty remains stable (around 22,000), but every year, more Utrecht households are long-term dependent on a low income. We see inequality in the share of income spent on housing costs: 22% among homeowners and 38% among renters (2021).

Grid congestion threatens the housing market, many Residents’ Panel members experience climate stress

The Utrecht housing market continues to struggle with long waiting times for social housing (11 years). After dropping in late 2022 and early 2023, we now see prices of owner-occupied property rising again. The housing stock grew slower last year (+1,724 homes) than in previous years (+3,000). When it comes to future housing construction, grid congestion demands attention; the electricity grid cannot handle the high electricity demand. If no action is taken, Utrecht homes will be unable to be connected as of 2026. In terms of climate, heat stress poses a specific risk: many residents do not have sufficient cooling near their homes. According to the Bewonerspanel Utrecht (Utrecht Residents' Panel, 7.000 Utrecht residents), the climate is the most stressful social problem in early 2024.

Poorer health, low confidence, discrimination and loneliness

We particularly see negative trends in social themes. In 2022, 77% of adult Utrecht residents said they were in good health, clearly lower than in 2020 and the pre-covid years. Trust in the government is also declining in Utrecht: in autumn 2023, 38% of Utrecht residents trusted the national government and 53% trusted the local government. The elderly and those with a low income in particular have low trust. As a neighbourhood, Vleuten-De Meern has low trust. The share of residents who have low trust in the future of the Netherlands rose from 27% in 2019 to 43% in 2023. Trust in the future of their city and neighbourhood is also dropping. One in five Utrecht residents feel discriminated against (19%). More citizens feel extremely lonely (15%) and/or disadvantaged (11%).

High inequality and increasing health disparities

Together with these developments, there is inequality in the city. Particularly the ability to make ends meet translates into large differences. Among Utrecht residents who can make ends meet, 88% generally feel happy and 80% feel healthy. Among those who are battling, this is 52% and 54% respectively, with a growing difference when it concerns health. Residents of Overvecht, a neighbourhood where many people battle to make ends meet, have a life expectancy in good health that is 13.4 years shorter than residents of the Noordoost neighbourhood, where many people are well-off. Differences arise at an early age: in Overvecht and Zuidwest, for instance, one-and-a-half to two times as many children die around birth. We see more obesity as early as the age of two among children of parents with no education, or with primary or secondary education.

The situation of young people is a cause for concern

Among adolescents and young adults, several problems converge, and figures develop unfavourably. The number of Dutch youths with mental health problems increased again by the end of 2023, after stabilising in 2022. Over one in three young people have mental health problems, and one in six say they think about suicide sometimes or often. By mid-2022, more than one in five Utrecht young adults was extremely lonely. RIVM saw no decrease nationwide by the end of 2023. Substance use (2022) among Utrecht youths is high: one in three is a heavy drinker, and one in five uses hard drugs. Twice as many youths as adults are currently unemployed (9.3%).

Living environment also under pressure: more nuisance and sense of insecurity

There are also negative developments concerning the living environment. Although total crime in Utrecht grew less fast in 2023 (+5%) than in 2022, several types of crime rose remarkable. Pickpocketing in particular increased (+75%), with almost all incidents taking place in the city centre. Utrecht residents experience more nuisance in the city: police reports rose 20% last year. The increase in nuisance caused by homeless people is remarkable (+39%). The feeling of insecurity (in the neighbourhood) rose for the first time in 15 years. More and more Utrecht residents feel intimidated in the street. The number of residents bothered by noise other than traffic noise is increasing (24% in 2023). And finally, the percentage of Utrecht residents often bothered by litter and waste on the street is also increasing.

Publicatiedatum: 24-04-2024