Throughout our field school, we have come across several examples of old industrial infrastructure and sites, typically along waterfronts, being used for new purposes. A quick jaunt across the IJ River in Amsterdam brought us to Amsterdam-Noord (north), where we were shown some of the best examples of industrial infrastructure being repurposed for creative and alternative uses.
De Ceuvel is a brownfield site on the water that has been repurposed into a site for small businesses (for example, a nifty little café that does not give out paper cups, and that sells mushroom burgers made from mushrooms grown from their own coffee compost!) with its own relatively closed loop waste and energy systems. These businesses are housed in old, unwanted boats and houseboats – why build new when there are so many perfectly good structures out there going unused? (Why anyone wouldn’t want their houseboat anymore, we do not know.) Another tidbit: the soil in this area is contaminated to the point that housing units would not be permitted on the site, so the new users are experimenting with different heavy metal-absorbing plants and sensitive soil health indicators to decontaminate the soil to the right standard. The area looks very wild – this can be very aesthetically pleasing, depending on your taste – and the decontamination process is taking place in a much less energy intensive way than it would on most other contaminated brownfield sites.
The photos above show an old shipyard warehouse that is now being used as an art space, where small allotments are provided to local artists, so that they can have their own space to do their thing. This space was complete with an old piano, confetti, and all kinds of visuals and architectural creations for us to feast our eyes on. We also came across an old crane that has been converted to the ritzy Faralda NDSM Crane Hotel Amsterdam – 535 Euro/night for anyone who’s interested! To end our day off, we ate lunch at a shipping container restaurant on the water. They had a wonderful carrot walnut cake.
Something to keep in mind with these sorts of developments, and the places they are situated within: there can also be a dark side to such creative regeneration. In many of the developments we visited during our waterfront tour, gentrification is a prominent issue. This is a process by which wealthy individuals or businesses move into and develop in deteriorating, or lower income neighbourhoods. As a result, heightened property values push out smaller local businesses as well as individuals who can no longer afford to live in these places. In Amsterdam Noord, a great deal of increased housing privatization, as well as the cropping up of some of these new creative land uses have (sometimes purposely, sometimes not), played a role in pushing out certain long standing communities and businesses. Another issue in this area has been a lack of consultation with the surrounding community – this reminds us that no matter how ‘good’ or ‘environmentally sustainable’ certain developments may seem, they need to be approached with a great deal of consideration for the cultural and social contexts of the places they wish to exist within.