Green ambitions of mayor Mareke van Dornenck: “I want to use the existing space extensively”

Alderman Marieke van Dornenck in Nelson Mandela Park: “I am trying to prevent the beauty or health of the city from collapsing.”Jacob van Fleet statue

Is it because of summer vacation? Or is it also a secret that the project is located in Zuidoost, an area that usually gets publicity just in case of bad news? You wonder when you first see the latest addition to Amsterdam. A giant green area connecting Nelson Mandela Park, Gasperdam and Jane. This is a new city park currently being built on top of the Gaasperdammertunnel. You know that at that moment dozens of cars are accelerating on a roller coaster right under your feet, but above the ground it is calm.

Minister van Nieuwenhuizen inaugurated the Gasperdammerton Tunnel, the longest land tunnel in the Netherlands, in November last year. Alderman Marieke van Dornenck (Spatial planning) looks from a watchtower at the rustle of herbs and shrubs that have already been planted. Nor does she know why the massive new rooftop park elsewhere in Amsterdam hasn’t received much attention. “We’ve worked really hard on it and we’re very happy that it’s semi-open,” she says. The question is whether we want to keep this plain completely green, or whether we want to build some lots of homes around it. In any case, in just a few years, because the inhabitants of this neighborhood have lived next to a huge construction site for a long time and deserve a rest. ”

The tunnel and especially the park at the top are examples of how the municipality wants to create new building land or new nature often in the future, without the city expanding further and further into the county. Within the current city limits, there are many sites suitable for these types of changes, according to Environmental Vision 2050.

This document is not a law, but according to the director of GroenLinks, it serves as a guide to how you want Amsterdam to grow over the next 30 years. “The housing shortage is high, so it is understandable that the focus at Stopera was primarily on ‘popping the blocks,’ and building as much as possible,” says an alderman. “But then you risk losing the beauty or health of the city. I try to avoid that.”

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At the top of the vantage point at Nelson Mandela Park, Van Dornenck points to the green plain on which the A9 has changed hands. Strict environmental and noise standards apply to motorways, such as the A2 and A10 sections, or four-lane motorways, such as Lelylaan and Gooisweg. They prevent housing construction and greening. “By making main roads smaller, fewer lanes, and less speed, a large amount of space is created for you to do something with, without having to fill in existing green spaces,” she says.

Narrow a four-lane road

In Environmental Vision 2050, a number of basic choices are made, so that projects such as highway coverage become logical choices. First of all, the city’s projected growth—an additional quarter of a million residents and 200,000 more jobs in 2050—must take place within current limits. Therefore, there are no rural northern Phoenix neighborhoods or Diemerbus, van Dornenck says. Another starting point is the radical greening of the city. Remove stone and concrete where possible, including in nature, parks, and biodiversity.

Van Dornenck stops by bike via Zuidoost in Hondsrugweg, where offices are converted into more than 5,000 homes. “To make more green space possible, we will narrow this four-lane road into two lanes. This is an option we want to achieve more and more in the coming decades. The developers of the project have agreed to create a new park between these buildings; they see this as making their homes more desirable” .

Amsterdam is known among planners for its pegs — the spurs of greenery that stretch deep into the built-up area, according to a plan by city builder Cornelis van Esteren. Environmental Vision 2050 asks the question of why highways exist on the edges of these pickets, as barriers between homes and green spaces. Think of the great intersection of the A10 and A2 ring road, at Garden park Amstelglorie. The A4 spur between the A9 and A10 is also a boundary of the asphalt, which separates Nieuw-West from Oeverlanden and Amsterdamse Bos. Or the A2 after the A9, which runs as a wall between Amstel and Zuidoost.

The formula for changing those areas is simple on paper. Convert the commercial complexes along these highways into mixed residential/business areas. This results in much higher yields from land, which the municipality can use to cover or lower the level of central sections of highways in the area, so that more green space or building space is created. It sounds simple, but it requires years of consultation with the Rijkswaterstaat, the highway manager, and the land owners.

green connection

By the way, the highway is combated as a barrier in more places. As in the Zuidasdok project, which is currently at a standstill, but where the A10 will eventually have to be covered at the height of the business district, Zuidas becomes a single entity. Also near Amstelveen, the A9 motorway will be deepened near the old village. Or think of the car tunnel in Houthavens, which runs above ground as a green connection with the Spaarndammerbuurt.

“A city without highways is not possible and we don’t want it, but if you dare to ask yourself why so much space has been allocated to the car, suddenly many possibilities arise,” says the local councilman. “It takes discipline not to rebuild all the space that these kinds of transitions provide.”

A little further out in Zuidoost, next to Gooisweg, Van Doorninck puts her bike against a seat. It refers to the body of the dam on which the double road was built in 1971 through the area. Plans to downgrade the city’s highway to a regular street are becoming more serious, although landscape architects debate whether the dam body should be removed. “It turns out there are 3,500 oaks around this road. If we leave that bulkhead in place now, but make it a two-lane road and public transit lanes or fast bike paths, for example, the functionality will change, but we will keep it green.”

A similar change would be possible for Lelylaan in Slotervaart, or Cornelis Douwesweg in the north. An additional advantage is that service roads adjacent to these roads also become unnecessary and can turn into green spaces.

Environmental Vision 2050 was approved by the city council in July, but only after paying more attention to the city’s economy. Commercial complexes are needed, but the way in which they have been built in recent decades is under discussion.

Traditionally, industrial areas have been given a lot of space, because companies that manufacture or repair something simply need it. In order to keep the rent affordable, these buildings are often built from simple materials, usually only on the ground floor, and are inexpensive. That is why industrial areas are created on a much larger scale than residential areas.

Workspace stacking

But there isn’t much space in Amsterdam anymore. On the Keienbergweg in the Amstel III business corridor, Van Doorninck points out the builders, fashion and shipping companies that are now located there in low-rise buildings. In Environmental Vision 2050, the area is defined as a testing ground where project developers will test a new building form: commercial buildings with more floors, so that more square meters of business space is created on the same floor area.

By stacking the workspace, with different types of businesses on the same plot, a large area can be obtained. Plumbers and body shops on the ground floor, painters and advertising firms with their carts on the second floor. Moreover, there are several floors with offices and possibly apartments at the top. “The costs of building such a stacked commercial building are several times higher, but the space it provides can be used for homes, which really generates money. I want to use the space in the city more intensively.”

At the K-buurt, Van Doorninck finally stopped off for the bike tour through Zuidoost. New building plans here led to a “sharing strike” by locals in 2018, who felt their impact was too small. When the old plan was dropped and the area and residents began working together again, there seemed to be room for additional homes.

Van Dorninck: “So there is no participation, but in co-creation. In the end, five hundred more homes will be built here than we imagined, because the neighborhood considers it a priority. People are not against change unless they have something to say about it.”