Urbanisation? Landscapisation!

In the coming 20-30 years a million new dwellings will be built in the Netherlands because people want to live in the urban regions. Densifying existing cities is the best strategy for this task for many reasons, but because of its complexity again and again the idea pops up to build ‘just a little bit’ in the adjacent landscape. Not only because of its irreversibility this is only a shallow win, while at the same time climate change, health and sustainable mobility would require the opposite strategy: bring nature and landscape into the cites, even if it is ‘just a little bit’. As tiny acupuncture or large scale intervention this process of ‘Landscapisation’ is one of the smartest and nature-inclusive urban strategies contributing to improve quality of life in cities – for all species.

Vienna, for its traditionally hiqh quality of life (rated nr. 1 by Mercer), and hit by urban heats each summer, is doing some of these ‘little bits’. “Although sunshine and beach weather are a source of joy for most people in Vienna, a long run of very hot days (with temperatures exceeding 30°C) prevents many from getting a good night’s sleep. Children, elderly people and the chronically ill, in particular, suffer under these very high temperatures. The City of Vienna is providing relief with its climate-adapted streets initiative, one of which is Zieglergasse in the 7th municipal district. “

“The ‘Zieglergasse cool mile’ project, completed in 2020, is a timely countermeasure. The initiative has created a new shared space with ample seating, while 24 trees provide shade. Public water points provide refreshment for people and animals, and cooling arches effectively lower the temperature by several degrees in certain sections. Traffic-calming measures were incorporated, with extra-wide pavements and 150 parking spaces for bikes. Areas of light-coloured paving allow rainwater to trickle away more slowly, which helps to improve the micro climate.”

Read more here. Image by Zoom VP.

Biotope city/Wiener wildness

photo: Pi Booy

Two great Viennese photographers, Verena Popp-Hackner and Georg Popp lead you in Biotope city – contact@biotope-city.net, with their photography through the VIENNA WILDERNESS. You won’t believe your eyes what is going on in our man-made and man-inhabited environment without us ever noticing or even imagining it! Verena and Georg have been hunting in this mysterious urban wilderness in Vienna for many years with a lot of patience and sophisticated technology. The results of years of their photography are gathered in their spectacular book VIENNA WILDERNESS, from which these photos will be taken.https://wienerwildnis.at/articles/355

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

3. Amelanchier or Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)

Plant an Amelanchier or two and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Adored by wildlife for its mass of flowers and juicy blueberry-like fruit, this gem of a shrub adds an elegant beauty to every urban landscape, large or small, all year round. The Amelanchier’s characteristic layered, open structure adds a distinct aesthetic feature to the garden, either pruned as a small tree (it grows up to 10 metres high) or planted as a row of shrubs. 

The Amelanchierhas its roots in America (where it’s also called Serviceberry) but has been naturalised in the Netherlands for centuries, such that the Krentenboom, as it’s known here, is unmissable in the Dutch landscape. In the wild Amelanchier lamarckii is abundant in parts of the country such as Drenthe where special forest hikes take in the best locations to spot Amelanchiers in bloom. 

To plant an Amelanchier is to celebrate the seasons, each season showing off a different, equally spectacular side to this hardy deciduous shrub. With its branches laden with large off-white blossoms dotted with copper-coloured new leaves, the sight of an Amelanchier in bloom is to be savoured – it’s quite breathtaking, especially against a blue sky. The whole shrub becomes a magnet for bees, bumblebees, wasps who definitely wouldn’t want to miss this.

The Krentenboom takes its name from the edible fruit krenten (meaning currants)that starts to ripen in summer. Historically, they were dried and used instead of real Corinth grape currants for baking. Look for the clusters of fruit as they ripen from red into deep purple, but not all at once. You’ll have to compete with birds such as finches, thrushes and woodpeckers who flock to Amelanchiers to devour the irresistibly juicy fruit. Every year, they’ll remember when it’s berry time, meaning your garden will truly become a bird paradise! Krentencan be used in place of blueberries, they’re excellent for jam due to their high pectin content and if the birds haven’t beaten you to a decent harvest, make a pie! Or if they did, remember to plant a few more shrubs next year. 

Equally spectacular in autumn, the Amelanchier lights up the garden when its leaves transform into fiery tones of copper, orange, yellow and red, the sight of which gives a welcome sense of warmth as the temperatures start to plunge. 

[L] GreenCity Landscape Laboratory

Looking for the balance between green thinking and economic thinking the Groenstad Landscape Laboratory is an afternoon full of inspiration about the balance between nature and (urban) development as part of the [L] Dutch Landscape Triennal.
The online programme includes key notes, master classes and 1-to-1 meetings addressing the question “How can the quality of nature and water become the supporting principle for urban development?”.

Date: April 21 from 13:45 – 18:00 hours (Dutch spoken).
Programme and registering via the Dutch Landscape Triennial website.

7 x edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

2. Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus Mas)

Cultivated for millennia for its wood and culinary uses, Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) might just become your new best friend in the garden. It’s best known for its delicate yellow flowers and edible olive-shaped fruit, both of which are equally cherished by people and wildlife alike. In the Netherlands, it’s rare in the wild, limited to the southernmost parts of the country. 

When the garden starts to awake from the cold in early spring, the blossoming of Cornus Masis eagerly awaited – especially for the bumblebees as it’s one of their first food sources available after the long winter. Masses of fine bright yellow clusters of flowers covering this bushy shrub or small tree bring an instant cheer, especially on sunny days when the yellow blooms contrast strikingly with the deep blue sky. An added bonus is that it blooms for several weeks, meaning more time to enjoy this stunning shrub.

Cornus mas is also the host plant for moths including Eupoecilia ambiguellaand Antispila treitschkiella, -metallellaand –petryi. While moths aren’t as prominent as butterflies, they’re important as pollinators and a food source for birds and other wildlife. 

Like all dogwoods, Cornus masmakes a show of autumn colours when its glossy green leaves turn vibrant shades of burgundy tinged with purple. Look for bunches of ripening elongated ruby red fruit called cornels hiding between the colourful foliage. Birds adore them. When ripe, they’re soft and fall easily off the stalk. Their tartness lends itself well to jams and jellies but surprisingly they can also be brined and eaten like olives. As the pits were used as rosary beads, Cornus masis often found in monastery and cloister gardens. 

Cornus Mas stands the test of time, some growing to be over 100 years old! The Romans called it Cornus, meaning horn. As a tough hardwood, it’s been prized since ancient times particularly for spears, wheel spokes and tool handles but also shepherd’s staffs. 

It’s an easy friend in the garden as a hedge or standalone feature, thriving in sun and partial shade and most soil conditions – although it has a preference for chalky soils. It doesn’t mind drought nor wind and gets on well with most plants making it ideal as part of a diverse urban landscape.

7 x edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

In these blog posts, Maike van Stiphout (landscape architect and author of First Guide to Nature Inclusive Design) and Jeanne Tan (architecture writer and content editor) delve into the world of shrubs, sharing the beauty of this under appreciated group of plants which are ideal for urban nature, urban biodiversity and urban food forests. First up is Sloe famed for its ethereal white blossoms and its plum-like fruit. Supporting a wide variety of wildlife, the low maintenance Sloe shrub or hedge is a firm favourite for improving urban biodiversity all year round.

  1. Sloe or Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Native to the Netherlands, Sloe is an ancient shrub that supports a wide variety of wildlife, making it one of our favourites to plant in urban landscapes to improve biodiversity all year round. It’s famed for its delicate white blossoms and edible dark purple fruit called sloes. Low maintenance Sloe shrubs suit rather wild landscapes and gardens and are excellent as hedges. It thrives in full sun but can tolerate some shade.

After long Dutch winters, a blossoming Sloe in March is a spectacle to celebrate – spring is on the way! They transform in early spring from a thick mass of thorny branches into ephemeral clouds of delicate white blossoms. Importantly, at this time when there’s little food available, Sloe blossoms provide precious nectar and pollen for bees, bumblebees and butterflies. After the blossoms have been pollinated, the fruit appears. 

Later in the season Sloe becomes a favourite foodplant for the caterpillars of moths and butterflies, in particular the black hairstreak (Satyrium pruni) which lay their eggs almost exclusively here. This butterflie is extremely rare in The Netherlands.

Sloe provides an ideal nesting habitat for birds – especially with caterpillars, an important food source, within easy reach. Although Sloe is deciduous, its dense, thorny branches offer shelter to birds and other wildlife against urban predators all year round.

Come autumn, the small oval leaves turn orange and the clusters of fruit ripen into a rich dark purple – a beautiful sight. Resembling mini plums, sloes are the predecessor of our cultivated plums. Try to spot birds such as thrushes feasting on them. If you’re going to harvest some, don’t be tempted to eat them straight away – they’re astringent and tart. Traditionally sloes are prized for making jam and wine and infusing liqueur such as Slivovitsj.

Trees, Urban Ecosystem Services and the ‘Internet of Nature’

In the 2020 virtual tour on her city’s Arboreal Wonders Amsterdam based researcher Nadina Galle lines up a variety of beneficial ecosystem services of city trees as key ingredients for a biodiverse city.

Already when planted the service expected by the elm trees in Amsterdam was to strengthen the canal quay sides with their vertical roots. Today there are 400.000 trees along streets and canals, and more than one million trees in the entire city offering many services. Software like iTree helps quantify these value of trees. Next to cooling and a pleasant soundscape these values include the increase of property value, and safety by lowering traffic speed and decreasing crime. In addition, trees help to buffer storm waters, store carbon dioxide and improve health by lowering stress and blood pressure, says Galle.

The Amsterdam Urban Nature Map (also available for Breda) shows all the green and blue public spaces, and how to better use urban nature. More information on trees and their benefits can be seen on the Interactive Amsterdam Tree Map, and MIT’s Treepedia. Or use an identification app such as PlantSnap, iNaturalist or PictureThis. Speaking with Nadine get one and have ‘a botanist in your pocket!’

© Still by Nadina Galle, video by Christiaan Kanis

Building with Nature perspectives

A new publication about Building with nature is published by Rius (Research in Urbanism Series), TU Delft. This publication offers an overview of the latest cross-disciplinary developments in the field of Building with Nature for the protection of coastal regions.

Drawing from the experience of DS landscape architects, four actualized projects and two student master theses of the Academy of Architecture illustrate the challenges, opportunities and benefits that building with nature presents. These cases highlight four important lessons for designing with nature in rural and urban landscapes

Publication: https://www.rius.ac/index.php/rius/issue/view/10/10

The Nature of Cities Festival 22-26 February 2021

“The 2021 TNOC Festival pushes boundaries to radically imagine our cities for the future. Join a diverse international community of urban thinkers to re-imagine our cities today, to build the cities of tomorrow.

This virtual festival spans 5 days with programming across all regional time zones and provided in multiple languages. TNOC Festival “offers the ability to truly connect local place and ideas on a global scale for a much broader perspective and participation than any one physical meeting in any one city could ever have achieved.

Look at the program and register (100 USD for Global North).

Green ‘city skin’ delivers many ecosystem services

Protecting the ‘skin’ of the city with all forms of greenery delivers a wide array of ecosystem services, as Nicole Pfoser shows in her research already in 2012. While the unprotected skin leads to noisy, hot and flooded cities, the ‘city skin’ composed of roofs, facades and public space surfaces delivers sound absorption, water buffering, reduction of urban heat islands – and an increase in urban biodiversity, when protected with urban flora.

Download the full (and free) report of Mrs. Pfoser at the German Fraunhofer Insitute.