If it were up to party leader Frans Timmermans (Groenlinks-PvdA), the new government would soon bring in a new citizen “within a hundred days.”Green deal, with an important part of a plan to make villages and cities significantly greener. In presenting his party’s final election manifesto last weekend, Timmermans presented this as one of his spearheads. There is clearly a need to accelerate the green transition in the Netherlands, and greener cities and towns form an important piece of this puzzle. But regarding this topic in particular, it is important to be wary of too many administrative plans and opinions imposed from above. This could actually thwart the growing urban greening movement already underway.
A lot has happened in this area in many cities in recent years: inner cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam are becoming car-free and/or greener step by step. In recent years, green residential areas have been added in Wageningen, Rhenen and Utrecht that are considered “nature-inclusive” or even “symbiotic” in design: with much more room for green space and biodiversity, and less space for cars.
Successful greening requires money and a shared vision for the Netherlands’ spatial planning – more money and vision than now. In this sense, Timmermans’ ambition is interesting. But greening experiments show that in addition to vision and budget, something else is needed: support and participation.
There are all kinds of recent examples showing that the greening of cities and villages is primarily about revitalizing and facilitating the initiatives and participation of residents. For example, the municipality of The Hague has had good experiences combating heat islands in the city by giving residents space to submit plans for more green space, water and maintenance. The first “edible residential area” in the Netherlands, Rijnvliet in Utrecht, was also the idea of the residents. Citizen initiatives, such as Operation Steenbrick or NK Tegelwippen, have succeeded in greening more areas of Dutch sidewalks and parks than any council member or prime ministerial candidate could.
Imposing too much from the top, Timmermans saidGreen deal‘ may suggest, and it can also be counterproductive. An example of what hyperfocus is top downSolutions that can lead to this, is what happens with the term “15-minute city”. These are cities where all important amenities can be reached within 15 minutes on foot. This was originally an idea adopted by the mayors of Paris, for example, to shape the redesign and greening of public spaces. Nice idea, but searching for the phrase “15 minute city” now results in a lot of plot nonsense.
The 15-minute City Hijack featurette shows that there’s a sinister plan afoot by a sinister elite to kick freedom-loving citizens out of their cars. Officials don’t always have to take into account what emerges from the sewers of the Internet — but it’s a sign that thinking too prescriptively about greening is quickly creating a resistance movement of its own. This would be a waste.
More nature in the city, less car space and more space for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport: these are important plans that can accelerate the green transition in the Netherlands. But the government should primarily encourage and facilitate initiatives, not dictate them.
“Total coffee specialist. Hardcore reader. Incurable music scholar. Web guru. Freelance troublemaker. Problem solver. Travel trailblazer.”