Tag Archives: urban development

Local initiatives will lead to a climate proof Leiden

I have been living in the city of Leiden for three years now and fell in love with the canals, the old streets and buildings and the little parks here and there. This beautiful scenery will however not last very long. The streets are subsiding, the city centre is heating up and water related problems are occuring. And these problems will only become more intense since the climate is changing due to global warming. There will be more tropical days, meaning that the heatstress problem will become dangerous to weaker people, such as small children and the elderly. Next to more tropical days, there will also be more heavy rainfall. Currently, with all the stone and little green in cities the amounts of water get to large and streets and buildings will flood, giving large damage costs. So, it is necessary that Leiden becomes climate adaptive.

This climate adaptation can be done by the munincipality who will force rules on the citizens to change. That however will be very hard and will not make the munincipality popular amongst their citizens. It is probably a better idea to have the initiatives come from the locals themselves. The munincipality can then help the citizens with expertise and subsidies.

There are already some local initiaves in the Netherlands that show great effort from within the local community. One of them is Amsterdam Rainproof, an initiative to decrease the water problems due to heavy rain in the city centre of Amsterdam.  For instance, people can put rain barrels in their garden to collect the water. And the project encourages the citizens to add more green to their gardens so the ground and the plants can hold on to the water longer. More information can be found on their website. https://www.rainproof.nl/

Another local initiative is Operatie Steenbreek, it literally tries to break the stones in the city of Leiden. So, replacing stones by plants, the same kind of idea as Amsterdam Rainproof. Because, plants don’t only hold water but also lower the temperature of an area. This is important since we will have more tropical days and the heatstress will cause great problems. In the current situation, people still have a lot of stone in the gardens or balconies. If everyone would more their houses and direct environment greener, then the water and heat problems will drastically decrease.

This video below explains Operatie Steenbreek.

These are just two examples of local initiatives in communities to battle the problems that arise because of climate change. It shows that little changes can eventually solve a large problem. These kind of bottom up actions lead to more awareness amongst the citizen. This is a very important aspect in climate adaptation. The more people that think and act on possible solutions the faster we can solve the big issues. Because heatstress and water issues are serious problems that must be solved before they become a threat to our health.


The city as goldmine of both materials and knowledge

What’s wrong?

Today, production and consumption of goods in all corners around the world is more extensive than any time before.1 The problem is that our global economy has always been a linear system. We extract raw materials, transform it into something useable and then, after a relatively short lifetime, turn it into waste. But what if I told you that we no longer have to extract raw materials from Mother Earth and have the opportunity to turn our waste into a resource? Intrigued yet?

That sounds better!

Fortunately, businesses are innovating a new industrial paradigm: closing loops. The driving force behind this? Our economy is approaching a tipping point where the old take-make-waste business model is a dead end. Finished, finito and no longer lucrative. Businesses are forced to rethink their products, as the global population is growing and urbanizing and resources are not infinite.

What do cities have to do with this?

Taking into account that cities accommodate a vast amount of the people that design, create and use these products that are eventually thrown away, I argue that cities cover a great part of the solution to make these products available for reuse. Half a century ago, urbanist Jane Jacobs already exclaimed that “cities are the mines of the future”. This approach of urban mining is seen as a way to recycle metals from city waste like buildings, infrastructure and devices.2 The resource stock that has been mined from underground into the human society now has a chance of circularity. Let’s see what’s in this for Leiden!

“As a city of knowledge and innovation, Leiden should be a frontrunner when it comes to sustainability” – Leiden Duurzaam 2030

Abuse the city’s students!

Life in Leiden is highly influenced by the relatively large number of students, as most of them live and study in de city.3 I have always believed that students can offer great help in society’s contemporary problems when it’s in their field of expertise. Because, as cheesy as it may sound, today’s students are tomorrow’s future. And other than that, it is both cost effective and awesome for municipalities or companies to collaborate with a university or a particular group of students.  When you ask students to get the job done you don’t have to hire an over-priced consultant and you are guaranteed that quality will be delivered, as these students will be advised by the country’s best-educated people: their professors.

Can you get back to the point?

Linking the latter story to urban mining in Leiden, there are a couple of things that can be done. Since students are the future’s leaders, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and engineers, it’s clever to get them to work together from a systems perspective. We are still counting on technological advancements, pollution-control technologies and public awareness when it comes to determining what forms of urban stocks exist, when these urban stocks will become available for reuse and how these can be reused.

N.B. I would like to remind the municipality and/or companies not to forget to reward these students with an excessive amount of ECTS.


1 J. Li (2015) Wastes Could be Resources and Cities Could be Mines. 

2 P. Brunner (2011) Urban Mining A Contribution to Reindustrializing the City.

3 http://www.prospectivestudents.leiden.edu/studying-in-holland/university-town-leiden.html

After us a garden


Après nous le déluge’ was alledgedly said by Madame de Pompadour a French aristocrat from the 18th century and mistress to King Louis XV of France. ‘Après nous la deluge’ or ‘after us, the deluge’ roughly means ‘I do not care what happens after we are gone’. However, I am glad to say that a lot has changed since that statement was made, but a different threat looms over us.

By now the majority of the population is aware of climate change and cares about the state in which we leave the world to future generations. Furthermore, we ensured that chances of heavy flooding are as slim as the chance of experiencing a guillotine induced death. But there is a different water-based threat to suburban life and it arrives in the form of heavy rain fall. Spells of rain will become short and severe, instead of long-lasting and drizzly, this is caused by climate change. Therefore, we need to make sure that our inner-city drainage can handle a lot of water in a short period of time.

I personally live on the outskirts of Leiden in a neighbourhood with a lot of space for plants and trees to grow. After the rain, I can see puddles but after a night or a part of the day I notice that all the water is gone. When travelling to the city centre the predominantly green environment changes into brownish manmade surroundings with more Apple-stores than apple trees, and more Lush-soap shops than lush vegetation. After a spell of rain, you can still see puddles for a long time. Heavy rainfall already causes problems in certain parts of the city, where rainwater can reach over the thresholds of waters and flood into people’s homes. It seems to me quite an inconvenience when a whole neighbourhood collectively shudders and frantically reaches for the hosing-bucket at the sight of a low hanging dark cloud!

Clearly a solution is needed for the watery threat from above, rather sooner than later I would like to add. I personally think that where possible green spaces must be created. So-called raingardens or Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) can be offer a pretty solution to an ugly problem. Raingardens aide in the capture of water in a natural manner, and making plants and flowers grow and bloom creating small bits of green or parks. Plants and flower store water in their roots, but their roots also bind the soil protecting against soil subsistence. Raingardens make the underground struggle against excess water visible and part of our day-to-day lives. The presence of nature in the form of flowers and plants also have an effect on the psychological wellbeing of people. A certain quote from Ladybird Johnson comes to mind when writing about raingardens ‘Where flowers bloom, so does hope’. For the inhabitants of regularly flooded neighbourhoods this might be the hope of permanently keeping their feet dry. Let us leave a garden for future generations to enjoy!

Awareness is created by explaining what  raingardens do, but the benefits are mostly noticeable by the absence of flooding after heavy rainfall. If you are interested in raingardens or other forms of Sustainable urban drainage systems I would recommend reading the following articles.



The end is nigh! The end is nigh!..

The more I learn about climate change, the more I feel like walking the streets, wearing a sign that says:”The ending of times cometh. Repent!” I want to ring doorbells to ask people if they heard about our Lord and Savior; Geo-engineering. I want to spread pamphlets that show failed harvests, forest fires and drowned polar bears.

But this is the 21st century. So I will do what everyone with an opinion does these days:                     put it on-line.

Even though climate change has become a fact instead of a believe, we still need to preach the gospel of the greenhouse effect and the effect it has on our lives.

Thereby preventing further damage to the planet and start protecting ourselves against the consequences. Because a change in climate means a change in local weather. For the Netherlands this means that the temperature will increase a few degrees and that we’ll have problems with water. (Because the Netherlands will always have problems with water.)

First, the intensity of rainfalls will increase, overflowing the rivers, sewers and eventually your basements and ground floors with heavily polluted water.

After the rain come long periods of drought. A drought that causes a shortage in clean drinking water and dry land. All local nature that is not well adjusted to dryer circumstances will have a hard time surviving. Depending on the soil, buildings have a higher risk of collapsing due to the sinking of dry ground and rotting wooden fundaments.

…So let’s build an arc.

As the surface of the earth becomes increasingly covered in stone and concrete, water has nowhere to go but to the sewage. There rainwater mixes with waste water and will need to be purified. It also has the potential to exceed the sewers capacity, causing flooding.

There are many ways to collect as much water as possible before it reaches the sewer.      So, here are some Doomsday-Prepping-tips to deal with this liquid inconvenience.

By growing plants instead of stones in your backyard you increase the amount of water that the ground can hold. Green roofs also store water and work great as house isolation. (Saving both the environment and your wallet!)rain-garden-how-to

Rain barrels and ponds can collect a large amount of rainwater.even-better

Hydroblocks do that as well, but they have the advantage of being underground and slowly releasing the water.hydroblock

Where flood prevention only works if it is done communally, water storage has an immediate personal benefit. As the dry period begins, there will now be a large amount of collected water available. The greenery will maintain itself and local wildlife for a period that increases with size and create a more pleasant local climate. All collected water can for example be used for washing machines and toilets and around the house when tap water becomes scarcer and more expensive.

Hydroblocks will slowly release water into the dry ground, preventing the sinking of houses and roads and the rotting of fundaments.

So, be prepared! The end is nigh! (Or, at least, wet feet are.)

Continue reading The end is nigh! The end is nigh!..

The Future of Energy Generation: Sustainable Architecture

When considering utilization of wind or solar energy, the image that most often comes to peoples mind is that of conventional solar panels and wind turbines. Consequently raising the question of assessing the required space for the installation and operation of these solutions.

However, time has moved on and along with it new ways and form-factors have been developed for the implementation of these sustainable energy sources within urban areas. Taking both of these technologies into a new direction, by rethinking the way we build and live. Combining the concept of architecture and sustainable energy, has led to the design of amazing new buildings that generate a significant sur-plus amount of electricity while providing increased living comfort.

On a global scale, several projects have been developed within this philosophy. A prime example of which, is the joint development project between Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta and Norway’s research centre on zero emission buildings. Designing and building a house which produces three times the amount the energy it consumes. It even incudes its own sauna and swimming pool. The designer also states that the addition of an electric car is also ideal by charging the car with the sur-plus produced energy.

Building-Schematics, showcasing the utilized sustainable technologies
Outside view of the house

With the current prognosis that by 2050 66% of world population will be living in urban areas, and the fact that 75% of the current carbon footprint is related to city’s1, concepts like these are no longer to be considered a niche, but actual feasible solutions that we should embrace in order to create a healthier and more sustainable living environment for the future. By integrating sustainable energy production with the concept of housing, cities in contrast have the ability to become inter-connected energy producing hubs.

Related projects on a more grand scale have also been undertaken. Showcasing the extent to which these sustainable solutions are applicable. The Bahrain World-Trade Centre, which was build in 2008 for example, consists of two seperate towers built in aerodynamic accordance  with the regional Persian gulf winds. The design which was inspired by ancient Arabian wind towers, helps to funnel strong winds allong three wind turbines. Annually providing the equivalent amount of energy to sustain 300 households.

By looking at regional conditions and circumstances, specific structural designs can be employed, while implementing matching sustainable solutions to achieve the most energy efficient outcome. Current, alongside new sustainable energy generating technologies will enable the construction of complete city’s which are able to provide in our ever-increasing global energy demand. Thereby not only solving spatial issues regarding the implementation of conventional sustainable energy solutions, but also freeing up an substantial ammount of public space, which in turn can be used for recreational purposes alongside the production of food. Thus also contributing to the improvement of urban living conditions.

By taking on a different view on how a city can function, we can create an environment that works in accordance with our modern day needs. Furthermore, by revaluating the combined concepts of form and function, we have to ability of shaping an enviroment that facilitates in overcoming planetery boundaries and meet in our future energy demands.



More pages on the subject:

Norwegian Ecological House

Insights in the minds behind sustainable City Projects – Interview

Examples Around the World – Modern day development

1. United Nations – World Urbanisation Prospects  https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/publications/files/wup2014-highlights.Pdf

Circular economy? We’ve done that before!

The sun is setting in the west and with it cometh the darkness. The darkness shrouding the whole world. Shrouding it in a thick blanket of smog and emissions. That is unless we take measures against it. By now we are all familiar with the issue of climate change. We have heard the grave consequences climate change can have if we carry along the way we have been doing. We know about the solutions available to humanity to turn the tide on climate change. But it requires a great effort from everyone to change. Change our lifestyles and consumption patterns. Lots of focus is on reducing our consumption intake, but less attention is being spent on the concept of circular economy.

A circular economy not only focuses on the product itself and the production process, but a circular economy focuses on all by-, waste- and others usages a product has. A circular economy aims to use all the resources we have available in the most efficient way. It also aims to recycle all the resources we use. The ultimate aim is to not need any new resources for the product you are going to make. All the resources come from renewable and/or recycled resources. This way of designing our economy will prevent our society from falling back to the dark ages. Or will it?

Looking at medieval and early industrial societies we can find similarities with a circular economy. These societies were mostly based on agriculture as most of the population lived on the countryside. City life was still pretty basic, but what drew people to cities was the promise of money and the crafts. The craftsman worked with very basic tools and materials.


Creating with those tools very basic, but also very sustainable products. Products that where sustainable because they were used until they couldn’t be used no more. The reason is that the products were costly. Getting a coat from a craftsman was expensive. So any holes that appeared on a coat would be patched. The coat wouldn’t be thrown away. Life was of course much simpler back then, but there are some lessons we can learn from those days.

The most important lesson is that people are less reckless with products if they know its value. Economies of scale have made the products we buy very cheap. Currently it is cheaper to buy a new item than to repair it. Every attempt we make to establish a circular economy will have to deal with this reality. People are driven by incentives and the most powerful incentive is economical. So what do we need to do to switch to a circular economy?

First of all it would be wise to value the products we buy more. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to cost more. It does mean however that somewhere in the production chain there needs to be an incentive to stimulate repairing, refurbishing and reusing products. I think this could be best achieved by either charging more for waste or paying people for certain types of waste.

A craftsman at work

Paying people a (low) fee for certain products might sound like a strange idea. It’s strange in the fact that it hasn’t been done before. People will get an incentive to separate their waste, so there is no need for expansive separation facilities. Next to that we can bring back the craftsman/woman back to the city. The craftsman can get the materials for a small fee and create products with it. Ensuring that materials get reused and adding value to the materials.

With a huge student population looking to earn some money along their studies, Leiden would be an ideal proving ground for this idea. The best materials to start this with would be materials that are easy to work with. Materials like clothing and furniture. After food, these are probably the most traded items in a student city. So to make the switch to a circular economy, this would probably be the best move to take us back to the dark ages. Bring the crafts back to Leiden!

Citizen Involvement wanted: without Citizens’ knowledge?

The streets in the city of Leiden, can be quite beautiful, yet one can’t help but notice that most streets you walk down are barren of any natural greenery. A city that naturally has plenty of rainwater to sustain plant life without the use of artificial watering devices, somehow is devoid of lush greenery. How can this be? The all-encompassing tiling that has been laid out all throughout the city has prevented any plant life from forming naturally. Sure, there may be trees here and there, encircled by bricks, yet thriving gardens, and green walkways are far from being seen.

Let’s take a look at one of Leiden’s most ‘green’ streets : “de groenesteeg” (pictured above): even a street that is named the green street, and is well known for being filled with plant-life, fails to have even one full yard of open earth surface. There may be many pots and other plant carriers, placed on top of the tiled surface: but where is the connection to the earth underneath? In Leiden’s Agenda for 2030 sustainability goals, the municipality clearly states that they’d like to push citizen participation in improving biodiversity within the city. In the past year, they have already introduced subsidies to reimburse and financially support residents with un-tiling their front gardens, replacing the tiles with a green, flora filled garden. Measures have already been taken to encourage resident participation in improving biodiversity in the city. But, how effective have these measures been thus far? I decided to get hands-on and investigate how the residents themselves experience the municipalities attempts at increasing biodiversity, by going through the streets of Leiden city, and knocking on residents’ doorbells. The conversations I had with the locals themselves, opened my eyes to quite a number of things regarding this subject. Not only concerning the resident’s awareness of the cities agenda, but also how the residents themselves feel about biodiversity loss, green spaces, and un-tiling their front gardens.


Let’s begin with the most discouraging insight: none of the residents that I interviewed knew that getting rid of the first 20 cm of tiles in front of their house was legal to do,  let alone that there are subsidies available for un-tiling their front gardens.


One woman around 60, living in the Uiterstegracht, stated that she had asked the government about 10 years ago, if she could un-tile the front of her house, to which they refused due to fear of the roots of plants destabilizing the tiles surrounding it. The municipality clearly had a different agenda 10 years ago, and yet nothing seems to have been done to inform citizens of their new views on what is encouraged, allowed, and no longer condemned. This woman clearly wished to un-tile her front garden, but has never done so due to thinking it was an illegal act.  When I informed her of the subsidies now available to encourage the re-greening of tiled areas, she was astonished. “Now I will definitely get the front of my house un-tiled”, she exclaimed, explaining that it not only is more convenient than having pots in front of her house, but also helps with water retention, preventing run-off. This woman was clearly knowledgeable about sustainability topics, and yet she was completely unaware of any of the municipalities endeavors regarding sustainability. And I dare say: that is truly a shame.quote-the-world-is-not-a-problem-the-problem-is-your-unawareness-rajneesh-56-46-62

Indeed, not one of the residents I interviewed were aware of Leiden’s Sustainability Agenda. The good news is that once I informed them of Leiden’s agenda, all voiced their approval of Leiden’s plan to become more sustainable. So indeed, it seems that residents tend to be pro-sustainable actions when it comes to biodiversity and re-greening the city. The problem is, a lack of knowledge, and surprisingly, I have found, a lack of space for parking bikes. The two residents I interviewed who were pro-biodiversity yet would not un-tile the front of their houses even with help from a subsidy, said that it would deter them from being able to park their bikes in front of their house. Thus I think Leiden has overlooked two important aspects in their plan to encourage citizen involvement regarding biodiversity: the need for the citizens’ awareness, and solutions regarding bike parking.  BerlinBikeShop8x6.jpg