Green Living Lab in March 2018 to the left. Behind it the Academisch Centrum Tandheelkunde Amsterdam (ACTA) and The Edge.
The public garden on Gustav Mahlerlaan, the land of which is owned by VU Amsterdam, was a popular spot in the past few years. People came to the Green Living Lab to enjoy their lunch, helped out in the garden, and were sometimes even part of scientific research. VU students investigated what benefits such a bit of nature can provide for hard working or studying people, for instance. Well? ‘Rest,’ say the initiators of the Green Living Lab. ‘Living greenery is truly necessary in this concrete desert, where a significant number of people have a burnout.’
Don’t cut too soon
VU acquired the land on which the Green Living Lab stood in recent years from the city in 2014. Previously, these had been municipal school/working gardens. Initially, the city was to hand over de land prepared for building (without greenery) but after consultation, VU Amsterdam and the city agreed that they would not cut down the trees too early. This way, the terrain would remain green longer and the Green Living Lab was allowed to use it temporarily, until it would be required for building development. That time has now come, since VU Amsterdam wants to build an extension here.
‘Green projects make the city of Amsterdam beautiful,’ says the Green Living Lab’s website. ‘But if urban developers give nature no more than a temporary role, the trees and nature that have the biggest impact on a liveable city will disappear.’ The words ‘no more than a temporary role’ hit on a sensitive issue for the Zuidas district developers. It is untrue that nature only gets temporary space here, says Erik Bijsterbosch, Project Manager of Kenniskwartier Zuidas. He shows us the Greenery Plan, full of green roofs, with trees lining every lane, and lots of other greenery. ‘VU Amsterdam will build a green campus that will be accessible to all. And once the land of the former school/working gardens is fully developed, Zuidas will plant new trees and shrubs.’
This notwithstanding the fact that giving land a temporary green destination is definitely a dilemma, agrees Bijsterbosch. Fallow land which is destined for construction eventually offers space to a relatively large number of green projects for a short time. According to Bijsterbosch, ‘these projects often tend to bite our tail. They are usually ‘lovable’ initiatives, such as the Green Living Lab with its huge social engagement. And when they have to go, we are the bogeyman.’ Which is why the municipal board for Zuidas sometimes seriously doubts whether it should offer such initiatives an opportunity. Earlier, a temporary initiative in the ‘varkensbosje’ (‘pigs’ wood’), where Hourglass is now being built, also let to trouble.
Commitment to nature conservation
The Green Living Lab does not feel its own temporary nature is the problem. ‘We are not contesting the termination of our contract,’ says the organisation. ‘We are committed to conserving this unique piece of nature, however’. The Green Living Lab is sad that the university wants to turn this piece of land in particular into a building site. The Green Living Lab claims that this can also be done on a neighbouring parking lot. Now, the nature that the Lab feels is vital here will disappear. Zuidas’ greenery plan does not satisfy the Green Living Lab.
It is true that less nature remains than some people would like, says Marlies Geijsel. She is Bijsterbosch’s colleague project manager. ‘This is an urban development area, after all’, she explains. ‘As a city, we decided to develop Zuidas here so we could preserve green areas around the river Amstel or in Waterland. The city must be able to grow somewhere, after all.’ She does hope that pieces of land still awaiting construction may also be used for initiatives like Green Living Lab. She does not feel that temporary projects should be banned just because some projects are difficult to terminate. ‘They are a perfect match for the objectives in this area, such as stimulating engagement with the public spaces, making the area more lively, and making Zuidas greener.’ According to Geijsel, it is relatively easy to give nature or other temporary functions free reign on temporary land due to the low cost and limited requirements. She was involved in the pigs’ wood at the time. ‘Great fun because of the contrast: pigs in Zuidas.’ She also contributed to a pop-up park across the road from SC Buitenveldert. ‘It would be a bad thing if we gave up such initiatives just because we are afraid of a hassle when the temporary permission is withdrawn.’
The municipal council has also taken action. On Wednesday 19 September 2018, they passed a motion stating that ‘the green space of the former Alma school gardens on Gustav Mahlerlaan must be preserved to the greatest extent and for as long as possible.’ The council has asked VU Amsterdam to ‘cut down trees and other greenery only if strictly necessary for developing the land’, reinventory the trees, ‘assess what needs to be cut down to develop the land and what can be preserved’, and ‘make a distinction between the medium term (the next 5 years) and the long term (up to 2030)’. In other words, to be continued.