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Building a green city

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Green legacy of the third Golden Age

Biodiversity and climate proofing

Green building blocks for urban biotopes


Different types of green vegetation in Amsterdam. Around 10% of the city’s surface area is made up of green space. 62% of green acreage consists of grass. Strikingly, less than 1% consists of herb vegetation. Source: 1Amsterdam Heel & Schoon 2017

grass 62%

Centre New West East West North South Southeast % of total green acreage

wooden vegetation 30%


Amsterdam’s urban green structure. The map shows the current supply of green space in Amsterdam, excluding trees, green roofs and neighbourhood green space. Map: Bart de Vries city park allotment park/school work garden sports park cemetery wild vegetation/walk and wander area corridor

wild vegetation and water banks 7%

herb vegetation 1%

1 The Marie Heinekenplein is a popular square in the busy Pijp district. The square was transformed in 2016 into a greener urban space with grass areas and water fountains. Photo: Geertje Wijten

ecological structure city fringe polder other urban green spaces farmland other

Authors Wouter van der Veur Geertje Wijten

The Amsterdammer’s garden

Credits Plan Amsterdam is published by the City of Amsterdam, giving information about physical planning projects and developments in the city and the metropolitan region of Amsterdam. The magazine appears five times per year, of which two issues are in English. Editorial team Stella Marcé, Alice Driesen Design Beukers Scholma, Haarlem Main cover image ZuidPlus Photography see the captions Maps and illustrations City of Amsterdam, unless otherwise stated Translation Frank van Lieshout Lithography and printing OBT Opmeer, The Hague This publication has been prepared with the greatest possible care. The City of Amsterdam cannot, however, accept any liability for the correctness and completeness of the information it contains. In the event of credits for visual materials being incorrect or if you have any other questions, please contact the editors: planamsterdam@amsterdam.nl or tel. +31(0)20 2551550. A free subscription can be requested by sending an e-mail to: planamsterdam@amsterdam.nl. Volume 23, no. 3, November2017 This magazine can also be downloaded: www.amsterdam.nl/planamsterdam


Amsterdam residents are increasingly visiting green spaces in their neighbourhoods to relax, enjoy nature, play, exercise or meet with friends. Weather permitting, you can even spot more and more people working outdoors, on their laptops, sitting on a bench in the park or on the pavement surrounded bij green walls and trees. Green spaces provide an attractive environment which, as well as many other benefits, offers peace and tranquility. That alone is of great value in an increasingly crowded city. No wonder that fast growing cities around the world are looking for contemporary, creative solutions to add more green space to the urban environment. Some cities, such as Vienna, have adopted quantitative norms to set the required square metres of green space and the minimum distance to green amenities. Would such norms also work in Amsterdam? Is there enough room for more green space in a densifying city? The first article of this issue of Plan Amsterdam discusses Amsterdam’s green space strategy and makes it clear why it’s important to focus on the quality of our existing green space. By improving the quality of this green space more Amsterdam residents and visitors will be able to enjoy it.

The need to protect and cherish our green space often starts with small-scale projects in local neighbourhoods. Frequently it’s the local people and businesses who take the initiative to add small green spaces such as green walls or pocket parks. In the second article of this issue you can read about the various guises these small green spaces can take and the positive effects they have on the liveability of our neighbourhoods. We have also invited experts in the fields of climate proofing and biodiversity to share some of their knowledge and experience. Lecturer-researcher Lisette Klok spent two summers studying the cooling effect of green space during hot spells in the city and shares some of her remarkable results with us. Viewing the city as a rocky landscape, landscape architect Maike van Stiphout creates urban designs which allow more biodiversity. There is so much to say and to learn about green space, so much more than you will find in this issue of Plan Amsterdam, that we would also like to invite you to read the City of Amsterdam’s Green Agenda 2015-2018. You will find an English summary of this publication on www.amsterdam.nl/groen. The editors

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1 Since Amsterdam’s first Golden Age the city has nurtured its tradition to plant trees along all major roads and canals. Photo: Alphons Nieuwenhuis

2 Relative development of green space, trees and residents in Amsterdam (1931 = 100). In eighty years the number of trees and green spaces has risen significantly compared to the population. Chart: Bart de Vries

The dip between 1981 and 1991 can be explained by the use of a different method to calculate land use from 1989 onwards

residents urban green spaces street trees

Green legacy of the third Golden Age by Wouter van der Veur w.van.der.veur@amsterdam.nl

Amsterdam is growing at a phenomenal pace. So fast that people are already speaking of the city’s third Golden Age. Still, to truly build this third Golden Age, the city will need to use this growth to create a better place for its people. Green infrastructure will play a crucial role in achieving this. Can we make sure we will have enough parks and green areas for Amsterdam’s 1 million plus population in 2034? Will the city have enough quality green space to be attractive, healthy and climate resilient?

The importance and value of green spaces in the city is a no-brainer. Stacks of international publications have demonstrated the multiple benefits of going green. Parks, landscapes, street trees and green roofs, walls, school courts and play areas all contribute in various ways to creating a pleasant and liveable city. In many ways this also applies to the city’s waterways. We know that green spaces can encourage social encounter, sport and fitness. We also know that they contribute considerably to the absorption of rain water and the prevention of flooding, as well as benefitting the city’s biodiversity. Moreover, in recent decades many research papers have pointed out the positive effects green spaces have on the health of city dwellers, for instance by having a dampening effect on temperatures. In urban environments which lack green areas, higher temperatures in summer can result in people having difficulties concentrating, lower work productivity, an increase in illnesses and higher mortality rates among the elderly. But the most important health benefit of green space is reduced stress levels. In a densifying


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city with increased levels of crowding, green space has become indispensable.

Green cities Across the world there are numerous successful, growing cities which have invested significant sums in ‘greening’ their city centres and built-up residential areas. They do this to make their cities more attractive and to make them healthier and more pleasant environments to live in. It will also help to attract people and businesses to their cities and give them a competitive edge on rival cities. Seen from this perspective, investing in green spaces means investing in the economy and a sustainable future. Amsterdam is one of these cities, and especially recently the city has invested significantly larger sums in green infrastructure than before (see Agenda Groen / Green Agenda 2015-2018). Amsterdam distinguishes itself from other world cities by providing excellent living conditions and retaining its human scale. The city’s wealth of parks, trees and valu-









0 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 2011 2015 2030 2040

able landscapes in terms of cultural heritage play an important role in this. Chart 2 shows the relative growth of green infrastructure in the city since 1931 in comparison to the growth of the population. However, our tradition in planning of green infrastructure goes back further. Since the 16th century every period of growth in the city has been accompanied by planned investment in green spaces, so every period has left its own green heritage to future generations. Planting trees along the canals The city’s first Golden Age (from 1588 until roughly 1700) is best known for the development of the canal district. The planning design shows a commitment to creating an optimal living environment with residential terraced blocks and large formal gardens which the owners were not allowed to build on. In the canal district, the green aspect is particularly manifest in the large-scale planting of trees for “sweet air, ornament and pleasantry�. Amsterdam was the first city in the >


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3 There are numerous examples of cities which have added green space to their dense urban centres using innovative methods. This motorway which used to cut right across the centre of Seoul has been transformed into the popular linear Cheonggyecheon River Park. Photo: Emily Orpin, Flickr


4 The Dakpark Vierhavenstrip is a park on top of a shopping boulevard (formerly a railway yard) in Rotterdam, 9 metres high, 85 metres wide and 1 kilometre long. Design: Buro Sant en Co, photo: Stijn Brakkee



5 The Park Connector Network in Singapore connects the city’s parks and green areas into a continuous 360 kilometre long network of hiking and cycling routes. Photo: Steel Wool, Flickr

6 Chicago’s Millennium Park measures 24.5 acres and has been built on land previously occupied by rail yards. Photo: calamity sal, Flickr



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‘The most important health benefit of green space is reduced stress levels.’

world to plant trees on a large scale and in a systematic fashion along its main roads and canals. The city’s first Golden Age marks the start of Amsterdam’s tradition as a City of Trees. It is estimated that Amsterdam has around 1 million trees, one for each resident. In comparison, Paris has one tree for every five of its residents. Construction of city parks Between 1870 and 1930 Amsterdam had its second Golden Age. The rapid population growth along with new developments in public health were for a large part instrumental in the construction of new green amenities. Walking parks became an essential part of new residential developments. The first of these parks was Vondelpark (1865), followed by Sarphatipark (1885), Westerpark (1890) and Oosterpark (1891). These city parks were initially intended for the wealthy, but in the course of time they became the common gardens for Amsterdam people from all walks of life. Green and blue structures Although the period of the AUP (Algemeen Uit­breidingsplan, General Expansion Plan) has not gone into the history books as a Golden Age, the city did record a population growth of ninety thousand between 1935 and 1969. For the first time in the history of urban planning, green and blue spaces were used on a large scale to structure the city. The planners were aware that building all these houses needed to go hand in hand with developing a green infrastructure. As a part of this, new city parks were created, including Sloterpark, Beatrixpark, Flevopark, Rembrandtpark, Erasmuspark, Martin Luther Kingpark, Vliegenbos, Volewijkspark (which later became part of Noorderpark) and the 2,500 acre Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest). Another green legacy bequeathed on the city by the AUP are the green ‘wedges’ of rural land penetrating into the city. The AUP developments extend radially into the country side surrounding Amsterdam, like fingers attached to the palm of a hand. Consequently, the surrounding green landscapes are wedged in between these AUP developments. From anywhere in the city these green landscapes are within a fifteen minute bike ride. The green wedges will not be affected by current


Plan Amsterdam

plans for densification and they will play an increasingly important role in providing green amenities for Amsterdam’s growing population.

Focus on quality Once again, Amsterdam is challenged to build enough homes to match the great demand for new housing. And once again we can make sure that this growth is accompanied by green initiatives. There is a big difference with the previous periods of growth though. The city is growing faster than ever before, but we have agreed that we will only build inside the existing city boundaries, protecting the valuable green areas surrounding the city. By 2025 fifty thousand new homes will be added to the housing stock in the existing urban area, leading to an estimated rise in population of approximately eighteen percent. If we were to match this growth in population with the corresponding acres of green, we would have to add almost 1400 acres of green spaces, which is as much as twelve Vondelparks! What’s more, this is not taking into account the millions of visitors from out of town who also want to use the city’s parks. As there is simply not enough space for twelve Vondelparks within the existing boundaries, this green challenge is largely a matter of quality rather than quantity. This means making the existing green areas in the city and the surrounding countryside more attractive and better suited for people to collectively use and experience them, to meet, play sports and get fit as well as to learn and experience nature. And it means ensuring these green spaces contribute to biodiversity and help the city become more climate resilient. This is not to say that we cannot find any space for new green areas. The inspiring examples on page 6 and 7 show that even a densifying city can develop substantial acres of new green spaces. Amsterdam could use its creativity to add a number of 21st century style alternatives to the Vondelpark, such as linear parks running along the banks of the IJ or the river Amstel, or public parks on top of existing or new buildings. Plenty of variety and a robust structure Amsterdam aims to be a city where all residents feel at home and get the opportunity to develop themselves. >

7 To keep pace with the population growth, the

city would need to add 1380 acres of green space by 2025, comparable to 12 Vondelparks. There is not enough space within the current boundaries to achieve this. Artist’s impression: Bart de Vries

neighbourhoods which will be significantly densified by 2025 (more than 1,000 homes added per square kilometre) existing city parks size comparable to one Vondelpark

8 This artist’s impression of a new design for the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal shows how one can add green space in a dense, built-up city centre. Artist’s impression: Valentine Lepoivre

7 8

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by Ed Buijs, Paul van Hoek and Marja van Nieuwkoop

Metropolitan landscape: the emerald zone Densification decreases the available public space for each Amsterdam resident, adding to the importance of maintaining the city’s links with the surrounding countryside. But these surrounding areas themselves will come under pressure as well, as densification will lead to their increased recreational use. Amsterdam’s rising population will increasingly make more use of the surrounding countryside. According to calculations, visits to the metro­ politan region will have increased with 35% by 2040, partly also because of Amsterdam’s policy to spread tourism. More people also means more traffic and an increased need for improved rail and road connections. Because of densification, some large sports and music events will not be suitable to be held in the city anymore and will need to find a new venue outside of the city proper. And as a result of Amsterdam’s new norms to provide space for sport and fitness, hundreds of acres of extra space will need to be found. On top of all this, increasingly large-scale farming is putting more

pressure on the recreative and ecological aspects of these green spaces just outside of the city. Green gems For the city to remain attractive for its residents, businesses and tourists, it needs to provide a wide range of high quality green space. The green areas where people can meet up will be mostly situated within the city proper. For people to experience space, peace and quiet, a rural environment and Dutch cultural heritage, as well as to recover from emotional or physical stress or to enjoy outdoor life and nature, we will need green space outside of the city. The more built up the city is, the greener and more accessible the surrounding metropolitan landscape should be. Amsterdam is already surrounded by a number of ‘green gems’ such as the nature areas in Waterland and the Amstelscheg. In addition, there are a number of potential green gems such as the Marker and IJ Lakes area. Together these could form an emerald zone which combines with the green spaces in the city to contribute to a fantastic quality of life.

The city’s green public spaces are typically places where people can go and meet each other. This is mainly because of the large variety of activities these spaces can accommodate, such as play, sport, music, eating and drinking, working, sunbathing or just relaxing and enjoying nature. A diverse range of green spaces is best suited to accommodate the needs and wishes of all age groups, cultures and lifestyles. It’s important to manage these spaces in a way which agrees with these needs and wishes. Whereas the busy Vondelpark needs intensive management, other green spaces call for a more relaxed approach, focused on biodiversity for instance. The aim is to have a variety of quality green spaces. This focus on quality means we need to take good care of the green spaces we have. The Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 designates a Main Green Structure, comprising the minimum amount of green spaces Amsterdam wants to provide. The city’s growth offers a great opportunity to add some missing links to this Main Green Structure, creating a continuous network

Challenges Although Amsterdam is in an excellent position to achieve this high standard of living for its residents, there are a number of difficult challenges to negotiate: 1 developing a diverse and meaningful green space outside of the city, complementing the green space in the city; 2 managing in a responsible manner the changes in the landscape which are irreversible, including growing urbanisation, soil compacting and ecological decline; 3 significantly improving the landscape’s accessibility; 4 building a future proof landscape which will last for the long term. In order to meet these challenges, Amsterdam will have to work with other stakeholders on a regional level. This is because large parts of the countryside, recreational areas, nature areas and farmlands concerned are situated in the region outside of the Amsterdam municipal borders.

of green and blue spaces. This network would serve as a solid foundation for future urban development, increased biodiversity and various forms of active leisure possibilities. In the Amsterdam long-term bicycle plan 2017-2022 the Green Network is introduced, a grid of comfortable cycling routes surrounded by a pleasant environment, taking cyclists away from car traffic as much as possible. It would make perfect sense to combine the infrastructure and green challenges, and ‘green’ these cycling routes with more trees, flowers and plants. Combining these two challenges would mean investment in the quality of green spaces on all levels, including residential areas, city parks, land surrounding the city and the connections between green areas. For instance in Rembrandtpark, which more and more people are discovering and which is expected to attract many new users with thousands of new homes being built in the direct vicinity. >


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9 Inspirational map displaying a potential future Main Green Structure, comprising a continuous network of green and blue spaces. Artist’s impression: Bart de Vries

10 Artist’s impression of the Hamerkwartier park in Amsterdam Noord, with a view across the IJ towards Central Station. Artist’s impression: Liza van Alphen, Jerryt Krombeen

9 10

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Two great examples of new initiatives in urban gardening, at a neighbourhood garden on Afrikanerplein in the Transvaalbuurt district (a) and in the Egoli district (Southeast) (b). Photos: Suzanne Blanchard (a) and Maarten Brante (b)


12 The renewed, publicly accessible square just outside Artis Zoo has been turned into a lively and attractive place to visit by adding catering, museums and studios at the park’s fringes. Photo: Edwin van Eis

13 The Knowledge Mile Park is a project which has local residents, students, businesses, hotels, museums and community and city council organisations all working together to green the area between IJ­ tunnel and Amstel railway station. Artist’s impression: Jan Willem Nes


Accessible public green spaces As well as looking after the quality of green spaces, we must also make sure that as many people as possible can enjoy them, in the city as well as in the surrounding areas. This is why Amsterdam plans to open up semipublic green areas such as sport parks, allotment gardens and cemeteries, and to make them more accessible to the general public. Amsterdam has around eight thousand allotments spread across forty allotment parks, totalling 1250 acres or ten Vondelparks. These allotments were originally set up to grow fruit and vegetables, but most of them have been changed into recreational parks where people spend their leisure time. Gardening and growing crops has become of secondary importance. But they are of great value to the city’s community networks, biodiversity and climate resilience. The challenge is to retain these values while at the same time giving new purpose to the original idea of gardening and growing crops. This calls for a new type of collective allotment gardening. Changing the way we approach the green city This new reality means the council needs to change its way of working and its financial strategy. In recent decades we have increasingly adopted a small-scale project-based approach, managing projects on plot level. The advantages of such an approach is that projects are easier to realise. The downside is that individual projects are not considered in the light of a larger whole and

necessary investments in green spaces which fall outside of the project’s scope are difficult to realise. In this respect, we would be well advised to learn from our own history. The AUP provided plans for new residential districts concurrent with plans for the urban green infrastructure. If we want to ensure quality of life in our city, we need to scale up our green amenities and work with residents and businesses to invest in an urban green infrastructure that transcends individual neighbourhoods. This kind of approach calls for an ambitious urban vision on green spaces, one that allows plenty of room for bottom-up initiatives emerging from the city itself. After all, Amsterdammers know very well what they want. The current activities in the so-called Knowledge Mile between the IJ tunnel and the Amstel rail station could serve as a source of inspiration. Diverse parties have joined forces to green this area and turn it into the longest and highest park in Amsterdam, the Knowledge Mile Park. How will we be looking back on this current period in fifty years’ time? Will we have succeeded in steering the city’s growth and densification in such a way that we have created a more pleasant city and increased people’s quality of life? What will be the green heritage of Amsterdam’s third Golden Age? Here’s a taster of what’s to come: green city biotopes and metropolitan parks. >


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14 Schematic representation of a city biotope, a green neighbourhood providing optimal value for people, plants and animals alike. Source: Plan for a green Zuidas Illustration: Kim Kool

15 The Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany,

is an exemplary metropolitan park. It is built on the grounds of a disused steel works. Photo: Wouter van der Veur

16 The Amsterdam Forest is an early example of a metropolitan park, providing amenities for culture, sports and recreation for the whole region. Photo: Ed Blaas


All Amsterdam neighbourhoods will be turned into green city biotopes The strong population growth within Amsterdam’s boundaries means we need to focus on high quality green spaces closer to people’s homes. Quality of life, climate resilience and biodiversity also give us every reason to look for more nature-based solutions for new as well as existing city neighbourhoods. Landscape architect Ton Muller coined the word ‘city biotopes’ to refer to these green neighbourhoods where people, plants and animals are all given maximum weight. The opportunities and possibilities to realise these green biotopes are plenty, as you can read on page 18 of this issue. It is estimated that Amsterdam has around twelve square kilometres of flat roof space. If we can turn four percent of this available space into green spaces and make these publicly accessible, we will have added a whole new Vondelpark to the city. The good news is that we are actually on course. The target we set in the Green Agenda 2015-2018 to add fifty thousand square metres of green roof space will be met easily. And we now have the opportunity to get it right from the start when we build new residential areas in the years to come. This is why we are working on a set of new green rules and norms to help project leaders, designers, developers and architects to optimise the greening of future buildings and neighbourhoods.

Metropolitan parks The growing population, workforce and visitors will lead to busier public spaces, and Amsterdam is facing the difficult task to spread the pressure on these. The city’s green areas will not be able to continue


Plan Amsterdam

providing in all outdoor recreational needs. Amsterdam people will increasingly turn to the areas surrounding the city, where there is still plenty of space to visit an event, grow vegetables, play sports, set up a barbecue or just enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. Especially the green space closest to the city, i.e. the rural ‘wedges’ which cut deep into the city, is ideally suited to add a new type of park to Amsterdam’s collection of green spaces: the metropolitan park. Larger than a city park, the metropolitan park is characterised by combining rural and urban functions. Whereas the green buffer zones surrounding Amsterdam were originally conceived to counter the encroaching urbanisation, the metropolitan park is designed to be a part of the city. This type of park will need to be attractive for both Amsterdam people and people living in the region, and its programme will need to be varied yet always matching with the identity and scale of the landscape. Built around the remains of a steel plant which closed in 1985, the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in the German Ruhr area is a splendid example of a successful metropolitan park. The landscapes surrounding Amsterdam, including Nieuwe Meer, Waterland, Amstelland and Diemerscheg, Spaarnwoude and Twiske, offer opportunities for the city to design contemporary metropolitan parks in collaboration with the relevant municipalities, provincial, leisure and water authorities, land owners and other stakeholders. Such parks would contribute significantly to the quality and economy of these green areas. It will not be an easy task, but it would be a worthy legacy for the third Golden Age to leave behind!

17 The ‘Plan for a Green Zuidas’ outlines measures to realise optimal greening across the whole district, adding green space to the public space. Photo: Ton Muller

by Ton Muller

Building a green Zuidas district Amsterdam has the ambition to turn its most dense metropolitan district, the Zuidas, into a lively urban area for living and working, with green spaces contributing significantly to a high quality of life. The construction of a tunnel for the A10 Ring Road will deliver a rich green landscape which will assimilate the infrastructure, with green spaces on the car tunnels and the roofs of Amsterdam Zuid rail station’s platforms, in the heart of the Zuidas district.

future values). With little public or green space available, the new lay-out of the Zuidas district will be designed with surgical precision and include both the public and private space. The plan’s main focus is on a comprehensive design for the (green) public space. All the issues which are important for the development of the densely built Zuidas are taken into account in this green public space, including the area’s use, climate, drainage and biodiversity.

More than just colour But Amsterdam’s ambition extends beyond the central zone of the Zuidas, and beyond merely planting a few trees. The city wants to green the whole of the Zuidas district with a variety of trees, shrubs, herbs, climbing plants as well as various different forms of green spaces, such as green squares, pocket parks, green roofs and patio gardens.

The plan provides a framework for the design of the green public space, including targets and concrete measures. It will serve as a link between the city’s comprehensive green strategies such as the Green Agenda and actual designs of specific areas. The plan looks at all types of green space in the area, including metropolitan landscapes, city green space, neighbourhood green space, the greening of specific plots and the connecting networks of green and blue spaces.

A growing city needs to invest in green spaces Densification increases the need for usable and meaningful green spaces. They can be given meaning by according them clear, socially significant roles and values (use, experience and


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Defining feature As well as the design, the plan also looks at the process of how we can plan, develop and maintain a future green Zuidas. A range of measures have

been taken to steer this process. These include the appointment of a green advisor, an ecological specialist and a green supervisor, as well as collaborating with grid operators, communication with local residents and businesses, including green space in the building envelope and taking into account management funds. These measures should help realise the ambition to give the Zuidas district a green boost. The plan for a green Zuidas makes green space into a defining feature of this dense, mixed metropolitan business and residential area.




‘Cities are like rocky landscapes’ Words: Stella Marcé Photo: Alphons Nieuwenhuis

Maike van Stiphout Managing Director DS Landscape Architects and Head of Landscape Architecture at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture.

“How can we create more biodiversity in a densifying city? How do we build nature inclusive designs, i.e. developments that have more nature than before? With the crisis subsided and urbanisation growing, this has become a hot topic. Earlier in my career I used to do a lot of work in the development of suburbs and new housing within the existing landscape. Now I use this experience, for instance about the laws on the Flora and Fauna Act, in my work in the city. I also frequently take inspiration from abroad. Together with an architect I collect and share expertise and examples of nature inclusive developments around the world, which we publish on the nextcity.nl website. New living environment Nature is no longer the exclusive domain of ecologists. These days, designers, architects, developers and builders need to be aware of the impact they have on every living thing in the environment. Suppose we want to take down a tree. This will change the habitat of people and animals. If we then want to construct a new building on this site, we have the opportunity to add more nature than before. With the building, we can create a new living environment for so-called building-dwelling species such as bats, sparrows and swifts. We – designers, city planners, landscape architects, housing developers – need to take this responsibility, because we build constructions that will last for a hundred years! The city as a rocky landscape Just as we like to have a supermarket around the corner, animals also like to be close to their food. This means that the space is just as important for them as the buildings. I look at a city the way I look at a rocky landscape. Take the Sloterdijk area for instance, a built-up area right between the Westerpark and the Bretten zone. Together with architects I designed a plan to connect these areas. We explored which animal species we would like to attract. It turned out that the area houses some nightingales, an iconic and much-loved bird. So I asked the Dutch society for the protection of birds what nightingales need to survive, and used this information to set up a programme with requirements, including favourite nesting sites, their preferred density of shrubbery, the height of their habitat and where they find their food. With this knowledge all new designs for Sloterdijk can be made to meet the needs of the nightingale and any other species we would like to thrive in this area.


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1 Design for a building complex at Sloterdijk. Targeted measures in relation to the buildings’ morphology, architecture, green space and management have made the complex a suitable habitat for a wide variety of animal species.The design was created in partnership with Heijmans Vastgoed, NL Architects. Donna van Milligen Bielke, Chris Collaris, Space Encounters, DS Landscape Architects and Dakdokters. Illustration: DS Landscape Architects

The bigger picture Discussing sustainability, people often refer to technical innovations such as solar panels, green roofs, etc. For me, it is the bigger picture that matters. How do we want to live together, not just with people, but also with plants and animals? In the construction industry this can raise some eyebrows, but at the same time I have noticed in recent years that nature is back on the agenda. Especially city dwellers are looking to get into contact with nature. They are starting to realise that nature can add value to their lives in many different ways, as inspiration, to relax, for their health and even in a financial way. To continue living our lives on this planet, we will really need to start thinking about how to promote biodiversity and nature inclusive development.�


layered landscapes

tower as a porous rock

Bretten vegetation

city life

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1 Offering a large variety of plants and trees, the Beethoven city garden is a lovely place to visit for local residents and people working in the area. Natural cycling and hiking routes reinforce the recreational experience. Photo: Kees Winkelman

2 A familiar sight in the centre of Amsterdam: local people creating lush pavement gardens. Photo: Edwin van Eis

Green building blocks for urban biotopes by Geertje Wijten g.wijten@amsterdam.nl

If you leave the busy cycling routes in the centre of Amsterdam, you will find the most amazing green spaces, even in very narrow streets. These green sanctuaries offer peace and quiet, and are often realised by local residents. Combined with municipal policies to increase emphasis on green infrastructure and nature in urban design and policy, an urban nature is emerging that in turn inspires the design of newly built neighbourhoods.

Green space is not a static object. It comes in many shapes and forms. It is alive, it changes with the seasons, it stimulates our senses and evokes emotions. Green space has social, economical and physical value, and its role can change in different contexts. This article focuses on green spaces in the city’s streets and neighbourhoods, which are often referred to as urban nature or neighbourhood green space. These green spaces are small-scale and contribute to a pleasant living environment for local residents. They do not include city parks or the larger green areas just outside the city, but comprise the small green spaces which include plants growing against walls, on squares, along trees and on roofs.

Benefits of neighbourhood green These local, small-scale green spaces are often essential for people to enjoy their lives in the city and they offer a range of positive effects: 1 Community: Green spaces have little social impact per se, but if you look at the way these spaces are used and how they fit in with urban structures, they do. The experience of a pleasant living environment can be enhanced by greening the grey infrastructure. Initiatives to green the neighbourhood can lead to


Plan Amsterdam

more social encounter, create a tighter knit community and foster a feeling of ownership of the public space. 2 Biodiversity: Urban nature designed for humans often also benefits animals, providing them with food and shelter. Increasingly, green space is designed and managed with an ecological aim, to enhance the living environment of city animals. Ecologically designed green space looks natural and spontaneous, and it houses a wealth of indigenous plant and animal species. Indigenous plants are of great value to biodiversity, as animals recognise them as a source of food. 3 Recreational and aesthetic purposes: Amsterdammers venture out more and engage in a larger variety of activities than they used to. Amsterdam City Council’s Great Green Research document, published in 2013, recorded an increase in the use of neighbourhood green space. We enjoy it while sitting out on the pavement chatting with our neighbours, on a bench working on our laptops or playing in a square. This type of green space is especially important to locals who are less mobile, such as families, elderly people or people with low education. These people are >



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3 The Spiegeltuin (Mirror Garden) in the Slotervaart area is a temporary cultural and educational green zone, initiated and created by local people. Photo: Geertje Wijten

4 More and more of Amsterdam’s roofs are turned into garden areas which can absorb rain water and are insect friendly, like this roof on top of an office building in the Zuidas district. Photo: Alphons Nieuwenhuis



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5 Green, climate proof places encourage children to play, learn and explore. This is why Amsterdam is investing in the redesign of publicly accessible schoolyards, such as at De Ster in city district of Zuidoost. Photo: Edwin van Eis

‘Green space is alive, it stimulates our senses and evokes emotions.’




6 The Rainproof initiative aims to work with residents, businesses, knowledge institutes and government authorities to make the city resilient against heavy showers. The infographic shows how we can deal with frequent downpours. Source: Amsterdam Rainproof 1 2 3

It’s raining more often and more heavily. Can your local neighbourhood cope? green/blue roof pavement garden open gutter

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

urban infiltration strips infiltration field grass between the tram rails water permeable paving speed bump grass concrete blocks water square infiltration crates rain water pond rainproof utilities detached downpipe




Plan Amsterdam

7 The Bajes Kwartier area has the ambition to build a neighbourhood where people can live, work and relax in a green, healthy and inspiring environment, which will function as an urban habitat. Artist’s impression: Oma, LoLA and Fabric, commissioned by AM

often dependent on green amenities in the local public space for their ‘green’ recreation. 4 Climate resilience: Climate change is causing more extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and higher temperatures. In an increasingly built-up area these extremes have an even greater effect. More green spaces help to keep homes, streets and squares pleasant despite these changed circumstances. They increase retention and reticulation of rain water and have a cooling effect on high temperatures. 5 Educational and developmental benefits: Especially for young children it is important that they experience nature. A greener living environment, school and childcare facilities can help, offering opportunities for children to learn about nature and experience how they are closely related to it. Green space also encourages physical activity, stimulates creativity and broadens the mind. 6 Health: Green space has a positive effect on our mental and physical health. This is why green spaces in the neighbourhood as well as in healthcare centres, schools and hospitals are so important. Especially socially and economically underprivileged people benefit from a green environment to boost their health, as they have fewer possibilities to unwind, play sports or go out and about.

Beneficial green biotopes The idea of the urban biotope is to turn local neighbourhoods into pleasant environments for people, plants and animals, while at the same time retaining the dense, metropolitan character of these districts. The design should be based on a smart interplay between buildings and the public space. Integrating more green space in these designs and making use of all their benefits, they can, for instance, also be used to help birds and bats to thrive.

carry out the work, greening their houses, offices, streets or squares. In new neighbourhoods there is now the opportunity to do things right from the start. The first signs of this new approach are already visible in the Zuidas district, but also at Sloterdijk and the Bajes Kwartier area. As existing green, low-density neighbourhoods such as Noord, Zuidoost and Nieuw-West will become more dense, their green space will need to be made more attractive, varied and functional. Recent research carried out in the Nieuw-West area (Droog, 2017) shows that local residents think the green space in their area is boring and anonymous. Green initiatives by local residents and businesses could make the public space in the area more lively and colourful.

A need for creative solutions Because of densification and the growing trend of people spending more time in the public space, we will need more green solutions to make or keep neighbourhoods attractive. In a number of Amsterdam neighbourhoods small urban biotopes with inspiring green spaces have emerged, which benefit the living environment in various ways. Not all existing green spaces provide high value. Using creativity and innovation, their value can be increased. Currently, new rules and norms are being established for the design of new neighbourhoods. This offers a great opportunity to create as much smallscale green space as possible in these areas, provided the council, developers, residents and businesses will work together. There are plenty of inspiring examples throughout the city which they can learn from, green spaces which have been initiated by local Amsterdam residents who have been working to green their neighbourhoods for years. They show us the building blocks with which we can green the grey in dense urban areas.

These urban biotopes have already sprung up in some neighbourhoods, often as a joint effort between the council, local residents and businesses. The council usually takes care of the design, management and facilitation of new initiatives; residents and businesses

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8 The building blocks for a green neighbourhood infrastructure and their benefits.

by Geertje Wijten

Green building blocks The city needs multifunctional green space which provide multiple benefits. In recent years, much of this valuable green space has been added to the city’s streets, squares and roofs. Below we will outline the various types of green space, which can be considered as the building blocks for greening existing and new neighbourhoods.


community biodiversity recreation and intervention aesthetics

pocket park, neighbourhood park green play area, nature play park green schoolyard trees

climate education and resilience development


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

• • • • • • green play street • • • • • • sidewalk garden • • • • semi-public or private garden • • • • • green roof • • • • • green wall • • • • green strip



Plan Amsterdam

9 The Ten Kateplein is a residential square in the Oud-West district which has been greened in close collaboration with the local community. Many residential squares in the city are being redeveloped in this way, providing a place for a wide variety of different groups of people. Photo: Luc Sour

10 Part of a parking lot in Amsterdam Noord has been redeveloped as a green play area. The area has a small football field, a cableway, slides, a drinking fountain and play equipment made of natural materials with safety surfaces. Photo: Edwin van Eis

11 How much green infrastructure do Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods currently have?

Squares and fields Pocket parks and neighbourhood parks These attractive small parks have been designed to invite encounter and activity. More and more pocket parks are initiated and (co-)managed by local residents, frequently with the support of the ‘Park om de Hoek’ project, which is part of De Gezonde Stad. Green play areas and nature play parks These are places for children to discover nature, build huts, run about and relax. Amsterdam has a broad variety of these spaces, ranging from play areas with natural materials to nature parks. Green schoolyards Schoolyards designed as areas to play and learn, such as an outdoor classroom with animals, plants and trees. This type of space benefits not only the school children and teachers, but also the local neighbourhood, especially as more and more schoolyards are made (semi-)public and more accessible.

total amount of trees in the city street trees swales and urban infiltration strips neighbourhood and pocket parks nature play areas green schoolyards vegetable gardens sidewalk gardens green roofs


> 1 miljoen ca 300,000 ca 9 ca 150 ca 15 ca 24 ca 130 ca 22,000 ca 220,000



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12 Using infiltration strips and swales means whole streets can be disconnected from the main sewer system. The rainwater will be drained into the swale where it can infiltrate or drain away slowly. Photo: Merlijn Michon

13 Green play streets such as this one at

Da Costastraat are car-free and bicycle-free green spaces which have been developed for (and by) the neighbourhood. Photo: Geertje Wijten

Streets Trees Amsterdam’s estimated 1 million trees benefit the climate, the flora and fauna and local people of course, who can enjoy them every day. Healthy, fully grown trees have the largest impact on the local climate. They provide large areas of shade and with their impressive leaf surface areas they also create evaporation and cooling. Green strips There is still plenty of space for green strips along the city’s streets and waterways. Instead of following a traditional design with shrubs for our public gardens, we are increasingly opting for ecological gardens, a collection of plants in open ground or green infiltration strips to slow down the flow of the water. Initiated by local people, many public gardens have also been turned into neighbourhood, herb or nature gardens. 12

Green play streets In the last decade, a number of streets within the A10 Ring Road have been closed to traffic and turned into green spaces to meet and play. The areas where these ‘livable streets’ have been created also include the Zuidas and the Laan van Spartaan.



Plan Amsterdam

14 This is what the Bellamy neighbourhood area could look like from above. Rooftop Revolution helps residents, organisations and businesses to green their roofs and mediates if this does not benefit the owners of the roof. Artist’s impression: Rooftop Revolution

15 Amsterdammers can help make their own neighbourhoods more beautiful and attractive by creating and tending a sidewalk garden, a community garden, a green wall or a vegetable garden. Photo: Edwin van Eis

16 At the new Circl Pavillion in the Zuidas district, ABN Amro Bank share their expertise in circularity. The building is sustainable and circular and has publicly accessible roof gardens and a green wall. Photo: Geertje Wijten

Buildings Sidewalk gardens As many residents, particularly within the A10 Ring Road, have no balcony or garden, they create beds of plants and/or flowers on the pavements, along the facades of their houses, or tend the bare soil around street trees. You can find these small green gardens in almost every street, adding colour and life to the urban environment in many different ways, ranging from wild permaculture to neatly tended beds of colourful violets. Semi-public and private gardens Across the city, many previously private gardens have been opened up to the general public during the daytime. There are also many private courtyards in the city, which are not always very green or well tended. Greening these courtyards is very important for the city, especially in dense areas where the possibilities to green the streets are limited.


Green roofs More and more of Amsterdam’s roofs are being reclaimed for sustainable use. As well as sedum roofs, nature roofs, water roofs and solar roofs, Amsterdam also has many roof terraces, roof gardens and even vegetable gardens on roofs. Roofs which are visible or accessible are of great added value to local residents. Green walls Many of Amsterdam’s facades are covered with climbing plants which grow up from the soil – either with or without support. They can add colour to the streets and they are attractive for wild bees, butterflies and birds. There is also an increasing number of living walls aka vertical gardens, with plants which are not rooted in the open ground. These are more expensive to plant and grow than climbing plants.


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‘Our research shows that trees are of great value to the city’ Words: Stella Marcé Photo: Alphons Nieuwenhuis

Lisette Klok Lecturer/researcher Climate Resilient Cities and Water Management at Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)

“Many studies have linked extreme heat in cities to higher death rates. Not only does heat impact on our health, it also affects indoor and outdoor liveability, the outdoor environment, water management and our transport and electricity networks. This is why city councils want to do something about it. However, they do not know exactly what they should do and what their goals should be. One of the questions is how to define a heat proof city, for instance that every resident should live within a five-minute walk from a green environment. We don’t have any such guidelines yet. This is why the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) joined forces with five municipal councils, one water authority and another university of applied sciences to study heat and the effects of heat in urban environments. This study has taught us what we can do to offset the effects of heat and has given us a framework to set norms and regulations. Measurements In the summers of 2015 and 2016 we installed two mobile weather stations at various locations in Amsterdam to measure temperatures. The locations included the IJ, the Vondelpark and Dam Square. We were interested in measuring the cooling effects of green and water compared to grey areas with hard surfacing. In addition, we also compared measurements in the shade with temperatures measured in full sun. And we set actual temperatures off against perceived temperatures, as humidity, wind speed and sun radiation also play a part. Finally, we also studied people’s ‘thermal perception’, i.e. how cool, warm, pleasant or unpleasant they found the weather in these places. Cooling shade One of the outcomes of our research is that shade is very important to dampen heat. Its cooling effect turned out to be much greater than that of water. So if you want to green the city, trees are your best bet, because they provide shade. Grass will be less effective, as it does not provide shade and its evaporating qualities are lost once it has withered because of the drought. Tree leaves, on the other hand, will not wither that easily. So our research has shown that trees are of great value to the city and should not be felled without giving it proper consideration. Of course, it is impossible to plant trees everywhere. Shade cast by buildings also works. And if you green the walls, you will also make sure that they will not get hot very quickly.


Plan Amsterdam

1 Results of research into the cooling effects of water, green space and shading by buildings and trees (2015, 2016). The cooling effect of shade turned out to be much higher than that of water. Source: Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

air temperature (Ta) in °C Physiologic Equivalent Temperature (PET) in °C

Investing in green makes sense I am surprised that the cooling effect of trees and buildings is so much greater than that of water. We would like to learn more about the role of water in urban environments. This is why we have set up the REAL COOL research project in partnership with Wageningen University. By the way, one of my colleagues did some calculations and found a striking result, that the benefits of green spaces are much higher than the costs. This means that a climate proof design of our cities is cheaper than a traditional re-design. Investing in green makes sense!”

22 20





–5 –7 water


shading by buildings

shading by trees


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Building a green city Green legacy of the third Golden Age Amsterdam is growing at a phenomenal pace. In a densifying city with increased levels of crowding, green space has become indispensable. Will Amsterdam have enough quality green space to be an attractive, healthy and climate resilient place to live for its 1 million plus residents in 2034?

allotment gardens and cemeteries can be made more accessible to the general public. Other, alternative opportunities include ‘city biotopes,’ green neighbourhoods where people, plants and animals are all given equal weight; and metropolitan parks, which are larger than city parks and are characterised by combining rural and urban roles.

Amsterdam’s wealth of parks, trees and valuable cultural-historical landscapes are the legacy of a long planning tradition. During the city’s first Golden Age (from 1588 until roughly 1700) trees were planted in regular patterns along its main roads and canals. Between 1870 and 1930, during the second Golden Age, the city’s parks were developed. From the launch of the General Expansion Plan in 1935 until 1960, the city recorded a population growth of more than ninety thousand people. Green and blue spaces were used on a large scale to structure the city and new city parks were created. The development of a structure of wedgeshaped green areas cutting deep into the cityscape means that city centre residents are within fifteen minutes’ cycling from the surrounding landscape.

Green building blocks for city biotopes Small-scale green space contributes to a pleasant living environment, offering a range of positive effects for our mental and physical health. It encourages children to be more physically active and stimulates creativity. Many people depend on green amenities in the local public space for their ‘green’ leisure and recreation. Initiatives to green the neighbourhood can lead to more social encounter, create a tighter knit community and foster a feeling of ownership of the public space. Ecologically designed green space also houses a wealth of indigenous plant and animal species, adding to biodiversity. And it helps to create a climate resilient city, because it increases retention and reticulation of rain water and has a cooling effect during hot summer spells.

The city is growing faster than ever before, but we have agreed that we will only build within the existing city boundaries, protecting the valuable green areas surrounding the city. Amsterdam is on course to meet the ambition outlined in the 2015-2018 Green Agenda to add fifty thousand square metres of green roof space. However, if we were to match the growth in population with the corresponding acres of green in 2025, we would have to add almost 1400 acres of green spaces. There is simply not enough space for this within the existing boundaries.

The city needs multifunctional green space which provides multiple positive effects. These types of green space include pocket parks, green schoolyards, nature play parks, green strips along the water, green play streets, sidewalk gardens and green roofs and walls.

The aim, therefore, is to have a variety of quality green spaces. Which means we need to take good care of the green spaces we have and provide a varied supply of green space. We need to invest in green spaces on all levels, including residential areas, city parks, land surrounding the city and the connections between green areas. And we need to design creative solutions. Semipublic green amenities such as sport parks,


In a number of Amsterdam neighbourhoods, small-scale urban biotopes with inspiring green space have emerged, often as a joint effort between the council, local residents and businesses. The idea of the urban biotope is to turn local neighbourhoods into pleasant environments for people, plants and animals, while at the same time retaining the dense, metropolitan character of these districts. Currently, new rules and norms are being established for the design of new neighbourhoods. By integrating more green space in the designs of buildings and the public space, and making use of all the benefits this green space can bring, we can help wildlife such as birds and bats to thrive.

Plan Amsterdam

Existing green, low-density neighbourhoods will become more dense. To be able to develop them into urban biotopes, their green space will need to be made more attractive, varied and functional.

Biodiversity and climate proofing Landscape architect Maike van Stiphout creates designs which allow more biodiversity in the urban environment. Maike says: “To continue living our lives on this planet, we will really need to start thinking about how to promote biodiversity and nature inclusive development. If we construct a new building, we have the opportunity to add more nature than before. Together with other architects I designed a plan for the Sloterdijk area, connecting the Westerpark and the Bretten zone. I set up a programme with requirements for the protection of nightingales, including favourite nesting sites, preferred density of shrubbery, and where they find their food. Designers, architects, developers and builders need to be aware of the impact they have on every living thing in the environment. Nature is no longer the exclusive domain of ecologists.” Teacher-researcher Lisette Klok spent two summers researching the cooling effect of green space, including plants and trees, during hot spells in the city. Lisette says: “One of the outcomes of our research is that shade is very important to reduce summer heat. So if you want to green the city, trees are your best bet, because they provide shade. Grass will be less effective. Of course, it is impossible to plant trees everywhere. Shade cast by buildings also works. And if you green the walls, you will also make sure that they will not get hot very quickly. Finally, a striking fact discovered by one of my colleagues is that the benefits of green spaces are much higher than the costs. This means that a climate proof design of our cities is cheaper than a traditional re-design. Investing in green makes sense!”

The Authors

Plan Amsterdam is published by the City of Amsterdam. The magazine can be read online on www.amsterdam.nl/ planamsterdam

– – –

Wouter van der Veur (1972) Chief Planning Officer at City of Amsterdam’s Planning and Sustainability department MSc in Geography from Groningen University Heads up the ‘Quality Boost Green 2025’ project, researching Amsterdam’s green strategy in relation to an estimated 50,000 new homes by 2025 – Led the Green Agenda (2015) and the Public Space Strategy (2017)

– – –

Geertje Wijten (1972) Senior Planner at City of Amsterdam’s Planning and Sustainability department Studied Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Antwerp, Belgium Heads up the Green Agenda, and is a member of the core Amsterdam Rainproof team and the European PERFECT project – Specialises in new developments in urban green space and adaptation to climate change which are relevant to Amsterdam’s policies

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Cityscape 03/17 A city without gas

Air exchange

Solar panels

Heat pumps

Infra red heating

Window insulation

Toilet sensors

Heat recovery beer refrigeration system

LED lighting

Artist Impression: De Groene Grachten

Students turn off the gas Amsterdam uses a lot of natural gas. Around 90% of heating in businesses and homes is generated by gas. Natural gas has a large share in harmful CO2 emissions. What’s more, the Dutch natural gas reserves are running out. Importing gas from abroad would mean higher home energy bills and would also make the country and our city dependent on other countries. L.A.N.X. is the first Dutch student society to turn off the gas on their premises. Their ambition is to become the Netherlands’ most sustainable student society. The green, sustainable plan for the three historic canal houses occupied by L.A.N.X.’ members has been designed and carried out by De Groene Grachten.

The houses, all three listed monuments, generate their own green energy using four heat pumps and solar panels. The residual heat produced by the beer refrigeration system is used to heat the downstairs rooms. The toilets have sensors, which will save the students around two thousand euros on their water bill each year. In addition, the houses have been equipped with LED lighting, infra red heating and window insulation. The central heating boiler system has been dismantled. www.amsterdam.nl/aardgasloos

Profile for Gemeente Amsterdam - Ruimte en Duurzaamheid

Plan Amsterdam 03 2017 'Building a green city'  

Plan Amsterdam is published by the city of Amsterdam, giving information about physical planning and developments.

Plan Amsterdam 03 2017 'Building a green city'  

Plan Amsterdam is published by the city of Amsterdam, giving information about physical planning and developments.