A new approach to urban landscape

Jac. P. Thijssepark in Amstelveen

Jac. P. Thijssepark in Amstelveen

[POST BY Anna van Gerve]

At the moment the Netherlands is not known as a country that is very progressive or active when it comes to using principles of biodiversity in cities. However, this hasn’t always been like that. In fact, in the 1970’s the Netherlands were famous for their ecological experiments within the urban environment. The developments in the Netherlands have been at the forefront of the realisation that a lot of environmental problems are rooted in cities and that these problems can partly be solved by means of designing urban green in a specific way.

Looking for ways to implement nature in cities, in the 1970’s landscape architects from England and Scandinavia undertook several study trips to the Netherlands. They wrote reports about their visits, organised symposia and workshops and started to develop projects in their own countries, based on what they found in the Netherlands.

Important examples from the Netherlands were the instructive parks and heemparks, both characterised by the use of native plants presented in their natural habitat. Jac. P. Thijsse, the father of the instructive park, argued that a new form of urban park was necessary to make people aware of the richness and diversity of the landscape. On the one hand Thijsse wanted to protect nature, on the other he wanted to educate the general public and make them familiar with the world of flora and fauna. Heemparks, which were inspired by, but slightly different from, instructive parks, were designed to keep and maintain the wild flora and to bring it to people in ways different from the usual way of designing a park, which would help their contact with the natural world.

Projects that aimed to increase biodiversity could have had two approaches. Either biodiversity in the city was accessible just by looking at it, like in instructive – and heemparks, or it was accessible by being actively involved. The projects of art teacher and gardener Louis le Roy illustrate the last approach most accurately. Le Roy stated that ‘since cold gridded cities are invading the landscape, nature has to respond.’ He wanted to encourage wildlife in cities and created artificial ecosystems in the city, which ideally would be connected to nature reserves outside the city. Central to Le Roys theory and practice was his conviction that residents should be actively involved and be allowed to change the landscape however and whenever they wanted. According to Le Roy only cooperation between the residents and nature would allow a diverse, complex and rich environment.

These are just a few examples of projects in the Netherlands that inspired other countries in the 1970’s to develop an ecological approach to the urban landscape and to consider biodiversity in cities. Of course nowadays there are new developments and strategies but there is also a rich history at hand to learn from and to build on.

Timeline biodiversity in the Netherlands_(IN PROGRESS)

Further reading:
Blanck, H. Aspects of change in some nature-like parks in the Netherlands. Uppsala: SLU, 1996
Ruff, A. R. Holland & the ecological landscapes. Manchester: 1979
Ruff, A. R. Holland and the ecological landscapes 1973-1987. Delft: Delftse Universitaire Pers, 1987
Ruff, A. R. ‘Holland and the ecological landscape’. Garden History, vol. 30, nr. 2 (winter 2002): 239-251