Central Amsterdam has a population of 790 110 (2012), while the larger metropolitan area is home to 2 485 103 people. The city lies below sea level, and its territory ranges from the Dutch river deltas to nature conservation areas reliant on delicate water ecosystems; these represent a significant part of the cultural and natural heritage of the city. Water-related hazards are therefore taken in consideration by the city administration. The city has also faced a rapid densification of the city centre and the growth of tourism. Improving the attractiveness of the city and enhancing the quality of life and the accessibility of green spaces are therefore among the main priorities.
The 2010 city-region plan ‘Structural Vision: Amsterdam 2040’, managed by the Department of Physical Planning, set the investment and project ambitions for the period 2010-2040. The strategy seeks to fulfil the vision of a creative and varied city, with an integrated public transport network, high quality urban planning, and investment in recreational green spaces, water and renewable energies. Water-related hazards, such as floods and storm surges, are managed at all levels - city, regional and national. The ‘Agenda Groen 2015-2018’ (Green Agenda 2015-2018) includes specific ‘Nature Based Solutions’ as part of the Structural Vision.
Amsterdam hosts a variety of green-space initiatives, ranging from community parks to city-wide projects to bring about a considerable increase of green spaces.
City parks are used for all kinds of recreation: walking, sports, work, enjoyment of nature, etc. Pressure on the parks is steadily increasing, on account of the increasing numbers of visitors. Many parks are situated on sub-optimal soils. In combination with changing temperatures and precipitation, this means there is an urgent need to find structural solutions to make the city parks future proof.
Recently, the general recreational value of parks has increased in terms of accessibility and facilities. The protection and enhancement of biodiversity is also an important objective of green-space planning, but the Structural Vision is less clear as to how this objective is to be achieved.
Greening the city
Green areas play an important role in making the city climate proof. Green roofs and green walls affect the urban climate as well as the climate inside buildings. At the moment, Amsterdam has more than 150 000 m2 of green roofs. Before the end of 2018 it aims to add another 50 000 m2.
Amsterdam Rainproof is investing in a series of measures to green the city, involving car parks, tramways, railways, front gardens, etc. Planting of trees is also encouraged as they help to cool a city's climate.
Amsterdam wants to develop more green areas close to where people live. The ‘Stichting Postzegelparken’ is a foundation that establishes tiny (‘postage-stamp-sized’) parks on wasteland which are maintained by local people and organisations. Urban farming initiatives are also bringing green areas into local neighbourhoods.
Planning for biodiversity must take the spatial requirements of species into consideration by providing sufficient, connected areas of habitat for them.
The Annual Delta Programme is intended to ensure that flood risk management and freshwater supply remain sustainable and robust beyond 2050, setting new flood protection and spatial adaptation standards and securing freshwater for cities and agriculture. A dike system has always been used to reclaim and then protect land, and in recent years this has provided an opportunity to implement NBS together with a smart spatial layout (soft approach).
The Delta Programme has shown how soft engineering structures are more reliable in coastal management than (grey) hard infrastructure. Soft-engineering coastal protection solutions involve a mix of beach nourishment, dune replenishment, and the planting of vegetation to stabilise the newly replenished beach and dune. The Netherlands is now going through a process of ‘de-polderisation’, a calculated retreat giving land back to the water.
Amsterdam’s Green Agenda includes plans for the implementation of Nature Based Solutions in the period 2015-2018. This is resulting today in a rapid expansion of such solutions throughout the city. The impact was already visible at the end of 2016 (Monitoring Green Agenda, approval by City Council in 2017): two green corridors created, three natural play grounds laid out, 6 441 m2 of additional green roofs, six additional postage-stamp-sized parks, six green schoolyards, six city parks renovated, and 35 (out of 80) identified ecological problems solved.
Planting trees is encouraged, so as to cool the city climate. Under trees, the average temperature is up to 15°C lower on warm days (RAMSES, 2016).
Investments in flood protection and water security have received broad local support. Protection against flooding in urban deltas will be improved thanks to the actions proposed in the Delta Programme. The Netherlands participates successfully in various international programmes. There is increased awareness of and political support for water diplomacy and climate change adaptation. Action as part of the Delta Programme will shift in future from grey to green infrastructure (including nature restoration), making increasing use of Nature Based Solutions.
Every year, increasing numbers of people visit Amsterdam’s parks, which shows how necessary it is both to renovate the parks that already exist and to create new ones. The increased availability of green areas in the city makes urban green spaces more accessible for the people of Amsterdam, giving them recreational opportunities and the chance to meet others from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, thus improving their sense of identity, belonging and community. City parks can act as green and/or blue corridors, ensuring greater connectivity between existing green areas. This is having a direct impact on local ecological restoration, and increasing biodiversity, and at the same time diverts recreational uses away from sensitive biodiversity areas. Green in the city improves air quality and reduces heat stress (e.g. through evapotranspiration), resulting in healthier residents. The vegetation of the city parks sequesters carbon, giving the city greater carbon storage capacity.
Greening the city
Amsterdam Rainproof is investing in a series of measures to green the city, involving car parks, tramways, railways, front gardens, etc. This not only increases the availability of green areas but also enhances water retention capacity, thus reducing runoff and improving flood regulation. All of this is reducing the costs associated with flood risk. Water retention is also helping to reduce temperatures in the city, because of the cooling effect of evapotranspiration.
The creation of green and blue corridors ensures greater connectivity between members of the public and green spaces in the city, but, together with local ecological restoration activities, it also improves ecological connectivity, so conserving and thus increasing biodiversity.
Planting trees is encouraged because they are able to cool the city climate and sequester carbon.
Amsterdam is developing more green areas close to residents. Urban farming initiatives, and the establishment of tiny parks on wasteland, which are maintained by local people and organisations, are bringing green areas into local neighbourhoods. Those green areas are helping reduce the flood risk by improving water retention (increased infiltration). These small local initiatives can help create green and blue corridors in the city, ensuring greater connectivity. This is having a positive effect on biodiversity and local nature restoration efforts.
The multitude of small neighbourhood initiatives is also having a positive effect on carbon sequestration, resulting in increased carbon storage capacity. The positive effects can also be seen in the reduced temperatures (reduced heat stress) resulting from the cooling effect of increased evapotranspiration, and in cleaner air. By providing green areas close to local people, Amsterdam is able to enhance biodiversity and community engagement. Providing access to recreational opportunities diverts people away from sensitive biodiversity areas.
Providing species with the necessary habitat requirements means giving them sufficient, connected areas of habitat. The creation of green corridors is ensuring a greater connectivity between areas with high value nature, leading to greater landscape connectivity. At the same time, those corridors have additional benefits, including increased evapotranspiration, reduced heat stress, increased carbon storage capacity (carbon sequestration), increased infiltration and cleaner air. The creation of green corridors in the city is also an opportunity for local ecological restoration. The additional green space can also be used for recreation, sport and leisure activities, thus improving health. Building cycle paths helps reduce the use of public transport, which in turn reduces energy consumption.
While the main aim of the Deltaplan is flood risk reduction, the measures taken have a direct impact on water retention capacity and an indirect impact on the costs relating to sewage system loads. Increased infiltration has a positive effect on the restoration of ecosystems. The measures taken lead to better flood regulation. The Deltaplan is shifting toward greater use of Nature Based Solutions to create green and blue corridors that result in a more connected landscape. Such solutions also create additional high value nature, with increased carbon storage capacity as a secondary benefit. On account of increased evapotranspiration, those newly created habitats also reduce heat stress. The creation of high value nature also has a positive effect on health and improves air quality.
Amsterdam’s Green Agenda is a policy document focusing on Nature Based Solutions. Action is underpinned by a broad research base, including scientific support from several EU-funded research projects, such as Green Surge, Climate-ADAPT, and Sea Change (FP7), and from EU Interreg projects (PERFECT). Amsterdam is collaborating closely with other cities in the Netherlands (G4: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague), and in Europe through the Eurocities network. Research results and plans of action have been incorporated into a variety of policy plans, including the city-region plan ‘Structural Vision: Amsterdam 2040’ (2010), Amsterdam’s Green Agenda (2015), and Waterproof Amsterdam (2013).
The Ecological Vision is the main guideline for enhancing a green network at municipal level. The municipal council adopted a motion requiring an Ecological Vision to be drawn up, elaborating on the municipal Ecological Structure that complements the Main Provincial Ecological Structure and represents the ‘biodiversity dimension’ of the Structural Vision. The Amsterdam Department of Physical Planning is responsible for the Ecological Vision.
- The AMS Climadaptool project (a project of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions) developed a smartphone app which people can use to see what the local urban climate is like in their immediate environment, and what they can do to improve it.
- The Netherlands has a long tradition of protecting its land from the sea and from the rivers, its water management boards (Waterschappen) being the oldest governing bodies in the country.
- The city of Amsterdam provided a budget of 20 million euro for the Green Agenda 2015-2018. The public, not-for-profit organisations, companies and authorities had to invest money themselves to be able to obtain a subsidy. This co-financing approach was very successful, with in total more than 55 million euro being invested in a greener Amsterdam.
- In 2016, Amsterdam completed two green corridors, three natural playgrounds, 6 441 m2 of green roofs, six potage-stamp-sized parks, and six green schoolyards, and five city parks were renovated.
- i-Tree: a state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software suite from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service that provides urban and rural forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools. A Dutch consortium involving 13 cities is introducing it in the Netherlands, enabling users to estimate the value of trees as a function of heat reduction.
- Delta Project is a foundation with an average annual budget of 1.2 billion euro up to 2028. At the national level, the annual budget for coastline management is 40 million euro for 12 million m3 sand per year. Per km, these costs are comparable to those of motorway maintenance.
The municipality of Amsterdam encourages the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. During the drafting phase of the Structural Vision, meetings and discussions were held with numerous stakeholder groups. Members of the public had the opportunity to comment, including through an internet-based response platform. On a local scale, for example, local people can participate in decision-making about the types of plants to be planted in particular green spaces. ‘Stichting Postzegelparken’ establishes tiny parks on wasteland, and they are maintained by local people and organisations.
Amsterdam received the European Capital of Innovation award in 2016, in recognition of its holistic approach to innovation in governance, the economy, social inclusion, and quality of life. Citizen involvement and digital social innovation are key facets of this bottom-up approach, which is based on smart growth, start-ups, and livability.
Most of the projects have limited potential to generate economic opportunities and green jobs. However, on account of the large number of projects in the city, the number of economic opportunities and green jobs created can be seen as significant (a few dozen jobs created, no economic figures available). Some initiatives also influence the wider economic system beyond the city boundaries, via positive spillover effects and outward replication.
One indirect effect is increased social interaction, including the involvement of large numbers of local people of minority-ethnic origins; this gives them a greater sense of identity and a feeling of belonging in the community. This social interaction often leads to better integration in the community and greater job opportunities.
- Developing and implementing new ideas is fascinating but not enough attention is given to subsequent management, something which is necessary but quite often time-consuming and costly.
- The practical knowledge needed to implement nature-based solutions in cities (e.g. an understanding of soil conditions) is often not present.
- The relationship between the city, with its integrated view, and the local community, with a single bright idea, is not always easy.
Amsterdam hosts a variety of green space initiatives, ranging from community parks to city-wide projects seeking to considerably increase the amount of green space and green rooftops. These projects are often funded by the government, either directly or through citizen foundations or other non-governmental organisations.
The city has a long-term Energy Strategy for the years up to 2040. In 2011, it set up a € 75 million fund, the Amsterdam Investment Fund, to support projects in the fields of climate, sustainability and air quality.
The Green Agenda (City of Amsterdam, 2015), which forms part of the Structural Vision: Amsterdam 2040, states that € 20 million will be invested in green projects in the period 2015-2018 through Green Funds. The Agenda focuses on City parks, Climate and biodiversity, and Connections and Accessibility, setting some ambitious specific targets, such as 15 new green play areas, 50 000 m2 of green roof installations, 20 new postage-stamp-sized (or ‘pocket’) parks and solutions for 80 ecological bottlenecks.
Since the Green Funds are based on the principle of co-funding, the City Council is actually seeking a total minimum investment of € 30 million in green space, from land development and with contributions from district committees, market players, foundations and private individuals (City of Amsterdam, 2015).
The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions was founded in 2013 to study and create solutions to the challenges of the city through a public-private partnership. The institute is running a number of pilot projects, such as Smart Urban Retrofitting, particulate-matter sequestration by green spaces, and smart energy systems.
Amsterdam is collaborating with neighbouring communities (Amsterdam Metropolitan Region), with the other bigger cities in the Netherlands (The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht), and with major European cities (Eurocities). It participates in several European programmes, including Interreg (PERFECT: the effects of green infrastructure on health), FP7 (Green Surge), and H2020 (Sea Change), and cooperates with the European Environment Agency (Climate-ADAPT). Furthermore, Amsterdam was a finalist for the European Green Capital Award in 2010-11.
Responsibility for funding and maintaining green spaces lies with the district committees. Under the name ‘Green Puccini’, city-wide agreements are made on the qualitative planning and management of green space. The municipality actively seeks collaboration with the business community and the non-governmental sector to build on earlier initiatives and intensify and broaden cooperation to include other green spaces. The Department of Physical Planning is responsible for monitoring the results. A first monitoring report, covering Amsterdam’s Green Agenda, was approved by the City Council at the beginning of 2017.
Amsterdam is involved in several European research projects (Green Surge, Climate-ADAPT, Sea Change). Research results are used to support the measures described in the Green Agenda. There is growing interest in participating in European projects. A special team has been set up within the city administration to enable this.
- Agyemang, C., Van Hooijdonk, C., Wendel-Vos, W., Lindeman, E., Stronks, K., Droomers, M. (2007). The association of neighbourhood psychosocial stressors and self-rated health in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. J. Epidemiol. Commun. H. 61:1042-1049
- Azarakhsh R., Diasa E., Koomen E. (2016). Local impact of tree volume on nocturnal urban heat island: A case study in Amsterdam. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 16 (2016) 50–61
- City of Amsterdam (2014). Best-practices in Amsterdam Metropolitan Region. Amsterdam, 9 July 2014. (http://www.mbpr.pl/user_uploads/image/AKTUALNOSCI/akt%2011072014/Best_Practices_in_Amsterdam_Julian_Jansen.pdf)
- City of Amsterdam (2015). Green Agenda 2015-2018: Investing in the Amsterdammers Gardens. Amsterdam, 30 September 2015. (https://www.amsterdam.nl/bestuur-organisatie/organisatie/ruimte-economie/ruimte-duurzaamheid/making-amsterdam/publications/green-agenda-2015/)
- Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening (2011). Plan Amsterdam – Economically strong and sustainable – Structural Vision: Amsterdam 2040. City of Amsterdam, 32 pp (https://www.amsterdam.nl/wonen-leefomgeving/structuurvisie/structural-vision-am/)
- Havik G., Buizer M. et al. (2015). Amsterdam, the Netherlands - Case Study City Portrait. Part of a GREEN SURGE study on urban green infrastructure planning and governance in 20 European cities. 5 February 2015. (http://greensurge.eu/products/case-studies/Case_Study_Portrait_Amsterdam.pdf)
- RAMSES (2016). Urban adaptation effects on urban climate (deliverable D4.3). RAMSES, 56 pages (http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/metadata/publications/urban-adaptation-effects-on-urban-climate/ramses_2016_urbanadaptationeffectsonurbanclimate.pdf/view)
- Rebmann L., Česnulaitytė I. et al. (2012). Adding value to the city of Amsterdam, a new sustainability strategy for the urban spatial domain. Utrecht University, 69 pages (burospelen.hotglue.me/?libraryPDF.head.142316281522...1)
- Van der Hoek J.P., Struker A., De Danschutter J.E.M. (2015). Amsterdam as a sustainable European metropolis: integration of water, energy and material flows. Urban Water Journal. DOI: 10.1080/1573062X.2015.
Geertje Wijten, Ruimte en Duurzaamheid, Agenda Groen, City of Amsterdam, The Netherlands