The ‘Cauliflower neighborhood’ and the ‘Woonerf’

During the 1970’s, The Netherlands saw the rise of a specific town planning concept called a ‘cauliflower neighborhood’ (in Dutch: ‘bloemkoolwijk‘).

These cauliflower neighborhoods are characterised by a maze-like grouping of little courtyards or cul-de-sacs. Seen from up above, these structures resembles organic shapes like that of a tree, or a cauliflower.

Map of a cauliflower neighborhood with the different tyoes of roads highlighted (image source)

The intention was to create enhance intimacy and places where people would easily meet. The neighborhoods can be described as small scale, hospitable, humanistic and rich in flora and water. The roads are meandering and the facades of the houses are often not aligned, giving it a freestyle character.

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Typical street in a cauliflower burrough… on a sunny day (image source)

These cauliflower burroughs are closely associated with the concept of woonerfs.

A woonerf (woon = living, erf = yard/property), sometimes also referred to as a ‘living street‘ or ‘home zone‘ in the UK and ‘complete street’ in the US, is described in Wikipedia as:

a street designed primarily with the interests of pedestrians and cyclists in mind and as a social space where people can meet and where children may also be able to play legally and safely.

These roads are still available for use by motor vehicles, however their design aims to reduce both the speed and dominance of motorised transport. This is often achieved using the shared space approach, with greatly reduced demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians. Vehicle parking may also be restricted to designated bays.

A space planning firm from Florida called Canin wrote a piece on it a while back. They give some more details about how the design of the streets blur the distinction between pedestrian and vehicular space:

Through the absence of sidewalk boundaries, curbs, and distinct lanes, those on foot and bike have equal access to the road as do cars. Speed is limited to “walking speed” (about 4 mph) and the design enforces this through curving roads and the use of public amenities such as playground equipment. Speed-bumps, which don’t add to the pedestrian experience, are not used.

A sign denoting a woonerf (image source)

Today, most cauliflower neighborhoods are not considered popular to live in. As they are not designed around modern day car ownership, the lack of parking space has become an issue. The maze-shaped structure and the lack of distinctive land marks makes it difficult for visitors to orient. The homes are often good in quality, but not considered very attractive.


The intentions behind these concepts are still valid today. When we take what we’ve learned from mistakes in the past, and considering our contemporary (and future) needs, I believe the cauliflower neighborhood and the woonerf are still our best chance in creating living areas that yield all of our social needs.