Reflection | “Living in a Compact City”: Amsterdam’s Vision of a Sustainable Future

Amsterdam 2040

The municipality’s hive mind flashes forward 26 years to envision Amsterdam as it might develop, should the sustainability fatigue become taboo. The general lines they set out are most agreeable, but what does it actually tell us? A brief tour through the relevant paragraphs of this self-fulfilling prophecy (and some free interpretations of what might become).

More compact, energy efficient and undisturbedly green. This is the vision of Amsterdam in the year 2040, according to the predictions of the city’s municipality. A ‘Structural Vision’ of 2040 gave way for “Amsterdam Explicitly Sustainable“: a document revealing the perspectives inhabitants can look forward to with regard to their urban environment.

A city without waste

In 2010 they looked forward and their vision was beautiful: “The city no longer knows of the term ‘waste’. What used to be known as trash and rubbish, now serves as a resource that returns to the chain of production.” Renewable energy and new materials or material cycles take the stage more than once, as a positive development of urban consumer, entrepreneurial and municipal behaviour. Notably, the emphasis is very much on the former two, as the document imagines the city’s inhabitants playing a key role in working towards a sustainable future and companies are encouraged to work together in making the envisaged resource cycles possible. Of course, these insinuations raise a burning desire to ask: How?

Harvesting from suburban grounds

Not that this document by any means provides an answer to that question (rather it insinuates a way in which a possible future can be framed), but the predicted densification of the main city body hints at direction in which we can start to think. For one, the effective cycles of material resources are envisioned to be sustained by the suburban or neighbouring grounds of the metropole area. “By densifying the inner city as much as possible, the landscape of the city region will remain.” Food production could be accounted for in the areas close by, but it can also be imagined that this land will play a key role in recycling biobased materials in ways that the city cannot manage. As is stated in the file: the city shall be heavily intertwined with its surrounding land.

A materialist marriage

Moving quickly from the urban planner’s scale, collaborations in certain industrial areas of the city, such as the harbor region Amsterdam – Zaanstad, are taken as a prime example of the developing relationships between businesses that work actively to create a system of use and reuse of materials and scrap. Here, the ultimate self-sustaining system is defined. One business’ trash becomes another one’s treasure. In a way, the same goes for the suggested marriage of urban architecture and nature, in this case roof gardens, that could prove a valuable collaboration between the historic and the living. The space that could be redefined and used here not only lends itself for spectacular imaginations of how this could transform our urban views and enhance the quality of living both inside and out, but also implies a practical side to itself in terms of the cycle of biobased materials.

So, what exactly does the future of the city entail according to its current fronteers, leaders and management? Who’s to say, which means we get to imagine it completely as this story unfolds.

Mycelium Sculture in Vondelpark

Mycelium Sculpture project in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark

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