What makes a sustainable city? Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam has not always been the bike paradise as it is today. Almost the entire city center had fallen into disrepair because of the damages made during the second world war. After the war the society was changing and large parts of the city were restructured. There was an increasing demand for office buildings and automobiles. Small streets and markets were converted into new roads and parking lots. Many inner city areas have suffered a decline in resources as business and people moved away.
Because of the urban sprawl the population decreased from 800.000 to 600.000 people. Amsterdam became a city for cars. Cars, scooters and other vehicles roll along the roads and turned the city into a polluted area with unhealthy smog and lots of traffic jams. Amsterdam needed to tackle these many daily trips made by car.
Today, the electric car is often seen as the solution to lower CO2 levels in cities.
Unfortunately, the consumer adoption rate has been low. In Amsterdam they try to make a difference. Ten thousand unique users are making use of the charging infrastructure. This is still the beginning of the transition for a cleaner and smarter mobility in the city. In the future Amsterdam is planning to create a dense network of fast charging stations. Moreover, these new stations will prevent from overcharging in order to reduce energy waste. It will get more convenient for private users to drive in an electric car. Additionally, the council has encouraged taxi companies to go electric.
This could be a possible solution for a more sustainable future. The mobility in and around Amsterdam anticipates on technological innovations. In order to increase smart mobility and sustainability, the city has to focus on improvement of air quality, safety, quality of life and accessibility. But, should the discussion of making Amsterdam climate-proof be about making the city better for cars, or should it be about making the city better for people?
The municipal authorities of Amsterdam investigate in a variety of projects to make the city more sustainable. They try to find solutions by experimenting with urban development projects in order to positively influence the expansion of the city and well-being of its citizens. Thereby, they focus on four different transition paths: circular economy, renewable energy, air quality and building a climate-proof city. Examples of these four approaches will be discussed.
Amsterdam is moving. The city has a creative dynamic, caused by the diversity of its citizens. The population is diverse while the city has an historical identity. The ethos of the city is the link between this diversity and density. One of Amsterdam's roots is a collaborative economy. Multiple institutions, businesses and the local government work together towards a shared goal and contribute to a positive ethos of the city. People are concerned with economic stability. The municipality of Amsterdam plays a direct role in ensuring continuity for the 'Amsterdammers'. The city acknowledges the collaborative economy as an important aspect of a more circular economy.
'Buiksloterham' is a good example of a development project that is experimenting with a circular economy. This neighborhood in Amsterdam was released to a group of developers, citizens, public organizations and entrepreneurs who were given the freedom to explore and develop their ideas regarding sustainability. This transformed 'Buiksloterham' from an undeveloped polluted area into a vibrant and innovative neighborhood. The network of actors responsible for this project form a local community that aims for a complete circular economy. The project shows what a sustainable city need in order to obtain maximum use for minimum resources. Collaboration led to new experiments with urban development. The group of actors learned from each other by simply creating things together. The 'trial
process was one of the most important instruments in this urban development project. The 'Buiksloterham' case demonstrates that the concept of a city is an ideal and does have a meaning in practice.
Amsterdam is growing. More people, more tourists and more entrepreneurs are moving around in the city. As the amount of citizens increases and the size of the city expands, there is a need for more public spaces, homes, food production and waste recycling firms. To be a sustainable city, Amsterdam should focus on organization and stability of their economy and environment. A sustainable city would enhance the well-being of its citizens to enable them to meet their own needs, without damaging the world. Therefore, the city should be a place that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. The question is: how to create patterns of human dwelling that are socially and ecological sustainable?
The urban expansion of the city is moving in all directions. In the south-east of Amsterdam, the ‘Bijlmerbajes', a prison complex, became a center of new urban development. Property developer AM Real Estate will lead a redevelopment project, in which OMA has made plans for the prison to transform it into a green environment with approximately 1350 dwellings. A key element in this plan is to reuse most of the building materials of the current prison. Due to new techniques construction firms can reuse cement and concrete to build new houses. The cell doors of the old prison become panels for the pedestrian bridges and prison bars are going to be reconstructed and reshaped as balcony balustrades. The strategy for building the new district is to reuse 98 percent of the building materials. In addition, the project is aiming to supply the households with renewable energy, mostly through solar panels. To power supply multiple facilities, the city needs new energy technologies which are cost-effective. OMA's plan is to install wind turbines in the roof elements of the buildings to generate electricity. Besides that, the organic waste from the local area will be transformed into renewable energy. All these innovative investments contribute to a 100% energy-neutral living environment. A beneficial effect of implementing these new energy technologies is that it causes less environmental problems on long-term compared to the use of other energy sources. Moreover, the effect on human life will be recognizable. The district is going to be a safe area with green gardens and space for recreation. A large part of the environment will be car-free to reduce CO2 emissions and create more space for people to walk and cycle.
Amsterdam continues to invest in more car-free zones in the center of the city. The city is demanding for a more people friendly place to live. They try to smoothing out the conflicts between cyclists, car drivers and pedestrian by reorganizing roads and squares. People argue about the huge traffic jams and unsafe busy roads. What would it actually take to make the streets back into a lively community street again? Streets should no longer be spaces to pass through, but spaces to enjoy and to be.
Nowadays, 68% of trips through Amsterdam are on foot or by bike. The city may be the world's busiest cycle paradise. In rush-hour cyclists are forced to stop at every junction because there are too many bikes, scooters, cars and pedestrian on the streets. This is really frustrating, especially for the 'Amsterdammers' themselves. They have grown up learned how to ride a bike and just navigate blind through the small streets, all helmet-free. They ride their bicycle as if they own the street. Tourists are unfamiliar with this biking behavior, what causes many problems.
Implementing car-free zones in the city seems to be a solution to support bikers and reduce traffic congestion. Roads and squares will make space for bicycle lanes, parking lots and other open spaces for people to move around. Moreover, safer pedestrian and cycle routs leads to a new 'green' market. Business and companies in the bike industry will experience a fast growth of transportation. To meet the new demands of the citizens the municipality need to come up with new innovative solutions. That innovation may take the form of covered bike lanes allowing business people to cycle to work in the rain without ruining their suits. Or new signs to show tourists where to find safe cycling streets.
One of the car-free zones in Amsterdam that is under construction right now, is the 'Leidseplein'. The aim of the transformation is to reduce traffic disruption. More bikes translate to less automobiles. This takes up the value of the street. The investment is not only generating safer pedestrian and cycle paths, but adopting these car-free zones is efficiently increasing the property value of the city.
On the other hand, more bikes means that the issue of cycle parking rises. A part of the reorganization of the ‘Leidseplein' is to build a big parking lot for bikes under the 'KleineGartmanplantsone'. This is not the only project for biking facilities. By 2030, the city is building a huge parking space for in excess of 30.000 bikes near the central station. Including underwater parking beneath the 'Il' waterfront and more on floating islands.
The 'Il' is an area in the east of Amsterdam consisting of eight islands. The municipality authorities used this unique location as a test for floating homes. The entire community of floating households offers a solution to multiple problems concerning global warming. As a result of climate change the sea level is rising. There will be less space for people to live, produce their food and recycle their waste. Therefore, the urban development project of the ‘IJburg' enables an intelligent impact on the future flood risk and stimulates the ecological quality of the IJmeer'. A challenge for the developers of this project is to improve the natural ecosystem by taking the surrounding landscape into account. The shorelines are designed to deal with the tension created by the water movement caused by different weather circumstances. In the north of the islands dikes with trees are built along the bank and in the south the shoreline consists of the bay to beaches or gardens. Slight bends in the yielding coastline draw the gaze to the horizon. The whole city seems to rise up out of the water.
The Netherlands has a long history with building and living on water. The 'IJburg' is a leading edge of urban planning. It integrates the experience of the city and combines it with nature. A high density of buildings fits with Amsterdam's strong urban culture. The proposal of floating houses offers a new opportunity for urban expansion in the future. The houseboats can change and adapt to future conditions since they plug on to the main supply of water, electricity and heat via floating jetties. They can always be detached, moved and plugged elsewhere if needed.
The entire area has an advanced rainwater system and scores well on the reduction of greenhouse gases. Due to a combination of high insulation standards and re-use of cooling water from nearby electricity plant for the heating of homes. The 'ljburg' is aiming to achieve full climate neutrality by using more thermal storage, better insulation and solar energy. It strives to only use renewable energy to supply the households of power.
A social component is crucial in a sustainable future. IJburg' accommodates many types of housing. A sustainable city provides housing and opportunities for people from all classes of society. There was a growing desire among 'Amsterdammers' to develop their own homes, individually or collectively. That is why 'Iburg' reserved a lot of room for small-scale private initiatives, resulting in a rich variety of architectural styles. The housing caters to all income groups of the population. At least 30% of the dwellings are social housing and inexpensive to rent. There is also room for people who have an average income and high income. Respectively, about 40% and another 30% of the homes will appeal to those people. Along the main streets the spaces are not only used for living, but offer the possibility of setting up a business, a shop or an office in the future. This encourages the organic growth of social and commercial initiatives rooted in the area and organized by the citizens themselves.
All these examples of urban development projects show that Amsterdam is changing towards a more sustainable city. First people need to see the value of the transition and then they will ask for it. Although, the experimental urban development rises, it is very important that the specific nature and surrounding is taken into account. What works in one area, does not necessarily work in another. As shown by the differences between the four projects. The challenge for the future will be to scale up these projects to a scale that can make true impact on the efficiency of the entire city.
Rapid urbanization is a leading trend in the city. The importance of the experimental projects is caused by socially, environmentally and economic aspects. At the same time, these urban plans offer enormous opportunities for Amsterdam and its citizens. A welldesigned, compact, dense and connected city is tied to more sustainable living patterns. The concentration of intellectual, social and economic activity makes the city a source of innovation and diffusion of sustainable practice. By the activity of people, cities can offer the ability to support sustainable investments to make a difference in the immense challenges posed by climate change.
Amsterdam decided to be a city for cars. Until it realized it made a mistake. And then, it decided to be a city for people.