This post original appeared on Sustainable Amsterdam and was edited by Cornelia Dinca.
What is your vision of what makes a really great city? For me, the key things that come to mind would be green space, urban farms, bikes, and happy people everywhere (sounds a bit like Amsterdam, doesn’t it?). Asking different sorts of people – engineers, designers but also artists and kids – to share their vision of a great city is not only a great conversation starter, but it is also an important step in creating amazing cities for all of us to enjoy.
The people over at the temporary Fab City campus are showcasing different visions and projects that are contributing to improving cities. Located on Java-eiland, the Fab City campus has been organized with the six-month Netherlands EU Presidency in mind. From April 11 until June 26, the campus is showcasing different sustainable solutions to urban issues, with 50 different pavilions and prototypes that are operated by over 400 students, professors, artists and designers.
The Fab City campus is part of a global Fab City initiative, with the goal for future cities to become entirely self-sufficient. The initiative focuses on the importance of locally produced and globally connected cities. One of the key concepts of Fab City is the shift from the “Products In, Trash Out” to “Data in, Data Out” urban model. By finding innovative ways to reduce and reuse waste products and producing locally, Amsterdam can work towards a zero-waste and carbon-neutral city. Some key principles behind the Fab City initiative are designing cities for people from the bottom up, focusing on the human scale in urban living environments, creating for local qualities in a globalized world and focusing on circular communities.
A festival ground of sustainable solutions and innovative ideas, the Fab City campus facilitates inspiration and collaboration. Bike on over to Java-Eiland, grab a coffee from the Fab Café, and walk around to go see different visions and plans people have for the city of the future.
As the spring weather gets warmer, the parks and streets in Amsterdam become greener and our moods get brighter. Many links have been made between exposure to green spaces and enhanced well being. People who experience daily doses of nature are proven to be happier, more generous and healthier. Green neighbourhoods are also seen to be safer and enhance community cohesion. Green spaces in cities also have multiple environmental benefits. Greenery attracts biodiversity, filters air pollution, reduces air temperature and helps with water retention. With this long list of benefits, it makes sense why the most livable cities are usually bursting with green. The best urban areas have diverse green spaces on all scales, from large immersive parks all the way down to little hints of nature on every street. Amsterdam has many spaces, diverse in size and function, where we can get our regular doses of nature.
Pot plant gardens and wild flowers
Amsterdam may not have many large front lawns or extensive gardens, but the creative sidewalk gardens and hints of green that pop up wildly provide constant exposure to small-scale flowers and greenery within the dense built environment. These random hints brighten up and add personality to the sidewalks, and makes streets feel cozy and warm.
Greenery on tram tracks
Many tram tracks in Amsterdam are covered in greenery, which has a number of benefits. The green vegetation is much more attractive than asphalt, and it reduces the loud grinding tram track sounds. These green spaces can be created in dense areas that do not necessarily have room for large-scale natural spaces. Greenery on tram tracks also helps water retention and provides a habitat for insects.
There are a number of fantastic parks in Amsterdam, from the famous Vondelpark to the quieter Westerpark in the west and Park Frankendael in the east. The parks in the city range in size and vegetation. One great aspect of many parks in Amsterdam is the frequency that they are used as thoroughfares for bike commutes. One can make use of the parks scattered through the city and get a daily dose of green whether it is a part of one’s commute, a place to read a book and listen to the birds, or spot to jog.
On one of the largest natural spots near Amsterdam, Amsterdam Bos, allows one to fully immerse themselves in nature. Forty-five minutes away from the city centre by bike, the Amsterdam Bos was designed in the 1920s with many trees, waterways, forest, grasslands and open water. This is the perfect place to get lost in a forest of green and let the positive mental effects of nature do its thing.
Taste Before You Waste is an Amsterdam-based organization that works to raise awareness and reduce food waste. Over 250kg of food is collected from supermarkets and grocers that would otherwise be thrown away each week. They redistribute this food to local charities and also use the food to host a dinner every Wednesday at De Meevaart in Amsterdam Oost. A three-course meal is served between 6pm and 8pm. There is often excess food up for grabs at the end of the dinner too, so you leave happy, full, and with some extra veggies and bread your next night’s dinner.
De Ceuvel is Amsterdam’s clean-tech playground, and its Café works to be as closed-loop as possible. The kitchen team experiments with the produce they collect, with the goal to cook with the most ecological, local and nutritious food they can get their hands on. As well as a multiple course “Farm to Table” meal, De Ceuvel also offers a “Dumpster Dish” – a simple meal made of market veggies that were saved before going into the dumpster.
De Peper is a not-for-profit café that is run on a volunteer basis open on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7pm. The set menu changes daily, but is consistently vegan, organic, and delicious. It is located in the lively OT301, a legalized squat that always has something going on – whether it is a movie night, live band or theatrical performance. Although not entirely focused on using saved food from supermarkets, the meals are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation amount, because De Peper believes that everyone should be able to afford healthy, nutritious meals.
It is estimated that at least 5% of fruits and vegetables are thrown away because of their imperfect looks, and Kromkommer is a product line of ready-made soups that are made from these weird shaped veggies that supermarkets do not sell. The first official soups were put on the shelves in the spring of 2014. Selling their different soups at over fifty stores within the Netherlands, Kromkommer (a play on words between crooked and cucumber) is helping combat unnecessary produce waste, one delicious soup at a time.
As mentioned in a previous post [for Sustainable Amsterdam], Instock is a restaurant in Amsterdam Oost (with a second, takeaway location in De Pijp) that transforms unwanted food from Albert Heijn into creative and delicious meals. Of the daily food that is served, 90% of it would have otherwise been thrown away, with the remaining 10% essentials such as spices and olive oil. The founders met while working at Albert Heijn and are committed to tackling food waste.
As seen originally in the Calgary Herald (February 6 2016):
In four months living in Amsterdam I have learned many things.
I have learned that the Dutch love the word lekker to describe just about anything that they consider enjoyable, from a sandwich to the weather to the cute guy across the street. I have learned to ride a bike into a stream of cars knowing they will yield to me, and I have learned a lot about coffee.
A proper cappuccino is made of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third milk froth. The latte, on the other hand, is generally composed of one shot of espresso, a cup full of steamed milk, and a very small amount of foam on the top. And then we have the flat white, a coffee coined by Aussies, that is apparently more than just a latte in a smaller cup — although I still haven’t quite figured out what else is truly different. I’m used to finding my coffee bliss with a simple large cup of black coffee from Good Earth or Higher Ground back in Calgary, but since arriving in Amsterdam and hanging with a number of Melbourners (who all have some serious coffee standards), I seem to have made the switch to the strong cappuccino.
The Melbourners I know here act as my cafe culture guides, and often times our conversations seem to steer towards comparing the bean and froth quality of different cafes (I tend not to have much to contribute to these conversations).
One late night not too long ago, two of them got into an extensive and enthusiastic talk about their favourite cafes in Amsterdam on the dance floor. A Melbourner named Chaz introduced me to the app “Beanhunter” that helps you locate quality Australian standard cafes wherever you may be. This is every bit as useful as the app Buienradar that Amsterdammers use to predict the rain — to the minute.
Although Amsterdam may be known for its coffee shops that sell joints and hash instead of lattes and carrot cake, it seems to me that coffee is taken pretty seriously over here. And I think Australians have definitely contributed to this (and perhaps they’ve also contributed to the other kind of coffee shop). Almost every time I go into a cafe in Amsterdam, whether they are the owners or the servers or the customers, there are Aussies near.
And while I may not have an Australian fine-tuned cafe standard, I offer a few of my favourite, most lekker coffee spots that I’ve discovered in Amsterdam (so far):
1. Back to Black: Located not too far from Museumplein, Back to Black has become a favourite study spot for me. The pet cat and comfy couches contribute to the living room gezellig* vibes. This is also where I eavesdropped on a 20-minute conversation between two Australians about their favourite cafes in the Netherlands. I suggest the coconut-date power balls and cappuccinos.
1. Coffee and Coconuts: A fellow Calgarian introduced Coffee and Coconuts to me on my first day in Amsterdam. This three-storey space was a cinema back in the day and it’s filled with plants and beanbag chairs. The wooden tables are held up by rope attached to the vaulted ceiling and the art work includes a massive photo of John Lennon that stares at you — peacefully — while you sip your coconut smoothie. The surfer relaxed atmosphere is apparently very Melbourne. If you go, order the scrambled eggs and avocado toast and the orange-ginger tea.
1. Ivy & Bros: Located in the centre of the Red Light District**, Ivy & Bros is a concept store and specialty cafe that wins for the coolest foam art I’ve ever seen. The barista, an Aussie of course, drew a very intricate face in my cappuccino. Major points for this place too because he also served us cold mint water, without even having to ask.
1. cloud art and coffee: Located in the Jordaan, cloud art and coffee is a frequent spot for me. Doubling as an art gallery, the displays on the walls are constantly changing. Right now, they are covered with white mice sculptures. Although my Aussie friend says “the beans aren’t strong enough,” each coffee is served with a mini stroopwaffle (a sweet Dutch delicacy), so I always leave happy. Sit by the window, order some carrot cake to supplement the stroopwaffle and spend your afternoon watching tourists and locals walk by.
*Gezellig (heh-SELL-ick): A word that is literally translated to “cosy” but encompasses much more than just coziness. It means friendly, comfortable, relaxing, and enjoyable. This word encompasses the core of Dutch culture, and people love all things gezellig.
**The Red Light District is a very interesting spot that has been changing within the past few years. The city is trying to push out some of the prostitutes and stoners and attract the specialty flat white drinkers and boutique shoppers. Policies have been put in place to make this happen and entrepreneurs are given subsidies to move into the area. As a result, you can sip on a coffee, listen to Bon Iver and watch British lads marvel at the prostitutes in the adjacent alleyway — all at once!