Creative uses of space in Amsterdam

Ever since I heard about the concept of "placemaking" several years ago, I was intrigued. I became an admirer of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and learned of the wheel of "what makes a great place", a framework that would inform my community work. 

So, when I was about to go on a long-awaited visit to the Netherlands, a country known for excellence in the use of public space, I decided to research the local placemaking scene. Through PPS, I learned about STIPO, a firm working to create more attractive regions and better cities. The name stands for "Strategy, Innovation, Process development and Open-source." The firm initiated The Eye at City Level, an urban a multi-disciplinary consultancy team for urban strategy and city development. I highly recommend checking out the articles on the website (such as "The Cities of the Future are Bicycle-Friendly Cities," "Making Room for People," and "Train Stations as Destinations" ).

I was delighted to be able to make arrangements to meet with one of the partners, Hans Karssenberg. He told me to take the ferry to northern Amsterdam (Noord Amsterdam) and he'd show me around some interesting places. So, I rolled my borrowed bicycle onto the ferry, took the free 4-minute ferry ride across the canal to northern Amsterdam, rolled off, and met up with Hans on the cycletrack directly across from the dock. We biked next to each other down smooth cycletracks and he told me about his work and listened to me marvel at how easy it was to get around Amsterdam, thanks to its many cycletracks, walkability, buses, and trams. Read this 2012 NY Times article about the transition of this area. As with many places that become more desirable to more poeple, how do they stay affordable?

We biked to an amazing place that seemed like a utopian village, called de Ceuvel, which I later found out from its website is known as "a city playground for innovation and creativity." No wonder I thought it was fantastic!  Old, refurbished house boats had been converted into workspaces for a variety of design firms and the like. The boats sit atop contaminated land that was not feasible to redevelop. Instead of just letting the property sit vacant, people were able to use it. Next to the boats is water that is clean for swimming, and people were taking advantage of that.  There is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. The whole place has a closed-loop, zero waste approach, as evidenced by the educational signage found throughout.

Welcome to de Ceuvel - "a city playground for innovation and creativity...An experiment in which we make sustainability creative, accessible and fun for everyone.”

People enjoying the water on a warm summer day at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam.

People enjoying the water on a warm summer day at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam.

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Cafe de Ceuvel

Cafe de Ceuvel

Hans of STIPO was one of many kindred spirits I had the good fortune of meeting while visiting the Netherlands. Here we are at de Ceuvel in Amsterdam.

Hans of STIPO was one of many kindred spirits I had the good fortune of meeting while visiting the Netherlands. Here we are at de Ceuvel in Amsterdam.

After cool beverages with ingredients like ginger and elderflower, we biked a bit further (again without needing to bike in the road alongside cars and trucks) to see a residential area where people built unique homes on land leased to them by the city. The front yards had everything from trampolines and gardens to seating and bike parking. The street had one travel lane and a few parking spaces for area residents. There was very little vehicular traffic, and people were playing in the street.

Hans had to depart, but he encouraged me to continue my bike ride to see an industrial waterfront area I had read about. It's called NDSM and it's where ships used to be built. After those businesses faded away, street artists covered warehouses with bright murals and the city encouraged reuse of the space.  Today, the area is home to a large cafe called Pllek ("the place"), which enlivens the waterfront with picnic tables, lounge chairs, performers, and sometimes vendors with delicious cakes!

NDSM - old ship yard...repurposed

Hundreds of bikes at NDSM

Hundreds of bikes at NDSM

People enjoying the waterfront at Pllek

People enjoying the waterfront at Pllek

PlacemakingErica Mattison