Urban Transformation | WeMaCo On the move

Quality of life in Amsterdam: Field report (2/2) – How sustainability can make the city more beautiful

After part 1 of this report looked at spatial design and mobility in Amsterdam, we now look more generally at the quality of life in the city.

This is not a comprehensive analysis of Amsterdam’s urban policy and sustainability strategy, but a brief impression from a personal perspective with an urban development angle.

Room layout can be improved, public transport apparently runs well

As already described in the first part of the report on Amsterdam, the spatial distribution in the city (downtown and Noord) continues to be very car-oriented – both in terms of streets and parking space. In comparison to other European cities, no particular role model effect can be seen here. In the cities of Ghent and Leuven in neighboring Belgium, on the other hand, city centers are now largely car-free.

On top of that, Amsterdam then has a larger amount of bike infrastructure than can be found in other cities, which is positive (we explained possible improvements in the first post). To cross to Amsterdam Noord, there is free ferry service for cyclists and pedestrians, while the metro and cars have a tunnel under water. Commuting by ferry – which is very crowded, especially at peak times – is also an interesting experience. According to our local host, the ferries are used a lot throughout the year. Some of the ferries leave every five minutes, like the one shown in the picture, which stops right at the main station. Other lines run every ten or twenty minutes during the day – the intervals are similar to a bus or tram.

Bicycle ferry in Amsterdam
Short wait, then onto the mid-full ferry

Overall, based on our experience, the public transport service seemed good. Trains also connect the various Dutch cities with each other and with other European cities. Accordingly, this is a good and sustainable alternative to using a car. In the Netherlands there are also many bicycle commuters, i.e. the bicycles are either safely stored at the station in the large parking stations or, if necessary, taken onto the train.

Green food and green environment increase the quality of life

The supply of plant-based dining options in restaurants is similar to many other European (major) cities. Even purely vegan cafés and restaurants can now be found almost everywhere. This makes the low/no-animal-product diet much easier. For us, it has a lot to do with quality of life when it’s not a hassle to find good options that keep everyone in the group happy and healthily full.

Amsterdam also has a few beautiful parks that invite you to linger. A large part of the paths is asphalted, which on the one hand is helpful for means of transport with tyres (pushchairs, wheelchairs, bicycles, etc.), but on the other hand is not optimal for the joints of pedestrians and joggers and also with regard to sealing. A mixture of different floor coverings would be one option, the use of coverings that fulfil several functions at the same time would be another. Unfortunately, when we were there, a storm wreaked havoc and knocked down even very large trees. This is force majeure, but on the other hand it offers the chance to replant and take protective measures for the future – keyword: climate adaptation.

The many waterways in the city partly pose a challenge in terms of transport and navigation, but together with the green spaces they can be very helpful, especially in times of climate change, to cool the city and thus ensure a higher quality of stay.

International showcase project Schoonschip: How to combine quality of life and sustainability

Partly a little hidden or less obvious, there are also great model projects for liveable, sustainable urban quarters in Amsterdam, e.g. the Schoonschip. Here, several families have built a floating settlement of individual wooden houses with solar panels, with external support from the Space&Matter design studio, among others. The project is dedicated to a particularly ecological construction method; for example, the construction also contains its own areas for planting, and at the same time it is also about the social interaction of the residents. We would like to see such projects become more widespread and use the experience gained to become even better. Therefore, we support municipalities by showing them such examples and putting them into practice, and we inspire people through our network, blog articles and the newsletter.

In addition to creating a beautiful, healthy, ecological environment for everyone, we also find the creation of a neighbourhood community exemplary in this example. More information about the project and aerial photos can be found on the Schoonschip website.

Quality of life - Schoonschip settlement
Quality of life and sustainability combined in the model settlement Schoonschip

In general, there seems to be a lot of construction going on in Amsterdam – as in many other cities – which is evident from the cranes that have been erected. Yet Europe is considered by experts to be largely built. I.e. there are enough buildings where people could live, it’s just that many people want to move to conurbations, which leads to vacancies in smaller or less attractive towns and villages. In addition, the living space per capita is becoming larger and larger. If existing housing were better distributed, there would be no need to build more.

By better, we mean that each person has a fair amount of square metres per capita without more land being sealed and more construction going on. Space can be saved if many appliances and rooms are used jointly by residential communities of all kinds and there are private retreat areas alongside them. In addition, office buildings, for example, can be reallocated in use. This is because the use of old buildings in particular is ecologically better in most places than a new building, even if the latter follows ecological building principles.

We therefore see the transformation in the building sector primarily in the renovation of the old buildings and the conversion to multifunctional use as well as a new communal living culture. We will continue to work on this in the future and would like to take all stakeholders on a process of rethinking.

Conventional new concrete buildings
At the same time, conventional climate-damaging construction continues

What we can learn from these examples

This short travel report is intended to show how people can gain an initial overview of what is already going well in a city in terms of sustainability and quality of life and where there is still potential. This can be taken back to your own city as inspiration: What are we perhaps already doing better? What can we learn from others? And where may we still look for solutions together?

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