Housing quarters rich in nature – learning from experiences

Cover brochue (c) KAN

Building with nature requires a different way of working from developers, construction parties and housing corporations. This include new knowledge, a different perspective and a different role in the process. The study ‘Learning from natural residential areas from the past’ has come up with concrete tools for the development process, design, implementation, management and communication. These are now briefly summarized in the digital brochure which can be downloaded for free at KAN (Climate Adaptive Network Netherlands).

Green as Building Material Conference

On May 26-27 2021 the ‘Green as Building Material conference on ecological and nature inclusive design of the climate resilient city ist organized by Delft University of Technology.

The aim of the conference is to investigate and discuss the value of implementation of Nature in the built environment. Nature offers a range of specific ecosystem services. Two examples of such services are provided by vegetation in form of mitigation of heat stress in cities through provision of shadow and evaporation of water, and retention of water during intense rain showers reducing risk of flooding. Ecosystem services can play an important role in designing current and future climate-proof cities. In addition to aforementioned city cooling and water retention, many more useful ecosystem services can be provided by Nature. Further examples are cleaning of air, water and soil, and strengthening of biodiversity in the urban environment. Nature-inclusive cities are therefore healthier, more attractive, and thus overall more liveable.

On May 27 Mathias will speak about his research and findings within his vision of the ‘Next City’ as a biodiverse and nature-inclusive city of the future. The lecture is part of the session on design consequences of integral nature-inclusvie building.

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

5. Elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’)

From all the edible shrubs we’ve selected, our absolute favourite has to be the elder or elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra). Long revered, the elder is celebrated for its fragrant flowers and superfood berries that are both divine to cook with. If you’re looking for a bold eye-catcher in the design of an urban park, you – and the wildlife – will fall head over heels for the ‘Black Beauty’ cultivar with its stunning deep purple foliage, elegant pale pink flowers and purple black fruit. 

Native to the Netherlands, the elder has been associated with folklore and witchcraft. Its name derives from the ancient Greek wind instrument sambuca, and from the Anglo-Saxon word  aeld meaning fire as the elder’s hollow branches were used to blow the embers of a fire. An elder isn’t fussy about where it’s planted. It prefers sun but doesn’t mind some shade nor wet conditions. Resilient and fast growing, they’re an ideal shrub for establishing a design quickly, bearing fruit already after 2 years. 

If it were possible to capture the scent of summer, elderflower syrup probably comes closest. Choose a sunny day around early June to pick the large lacy clusters of flowers for your syrup – take a moment to really enjoy their heady fragrance. The Black Beauty’s dark pink buds emerge as pale pink flowers, an elegant contrast with its dark purple leaves. Be sure to make enough syrup to last into the colder months when you’re longing for summer. While harvesting, you’ll see that the insects of every kind adore elderflowers as much as we do; planting elder around a vegetable and fruit garden is sure to attract the pollinators you need. Elders are also hosted plants for butterflies and moths such as elderberry pearl moth, swallow tailed-moth and buffermine (gele tijger in Dutch meaning yellow tiger). Dried flowers make a lovely tea.

The sight of drooping clusters of ripe elderberries is an unmissable part of autumn. Leave the green ones as they’re poisonous and pick only the deep purple berries. These make the most delicious syrup (used in traditional medicine to treat colds), jam, pies and wine, and are also used as natural dyes. Birds flock to feast on the ripe berries, their droppings helping to spread the seeds. If you spot some wrinkled little brown ‘ears’ growing on older branches of the elder especially in winter, these are wood ear mushrooms. A culinary delicacy, they’re named after Judas who is said to have hung himself from an elder tree. 

Manifesto: Right upon Green Environment

Right on time for lobbying towards the municipal elections in the beginning of 2022 the Dutch nature and garden associations presented a Manifesto on the Right Upon a Green Environment at the end of March 2021 which stresses the benefits of a green environment and implicitly nature-inclusive cities.

The Manifesto is based upon recent research on the European Green Captials published in 2017: Well established and maintained green areas have a key role on reaching the high quality of life […] Green Capitals are leading cities (chronologically, Stockholm, Hamburg, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Nantes, Copenhagen, Bristol, Ljubljana, Essen and Nijmegen) that provide an excellent access to the public green areas . […] As a result of abundant provision and proper distribution, almost all citizens in most of the Green Capitals live within a distance of 300 meters to a green area.

This manifesto is even more urgent today as the one-year-anniversary of covid-19 in the Netherlands has shown a significant increase of burn-out among employees (research by CNV union) that even worries national health insurances (article by Zilveren Kruis).

The manifesto was initated by AVVN , Natuurlijk tuinieren, KMTP/Groei&Bloei, KNNV, NL Greenlabel, Stichting Steenbreek, Velt and Vogelbescherming Nederland.

Metropole Ecology Course

In spring 2021 the Master on Earth Sciences Future Planet Ecosystem Science at the University of Amsterdam and its course ‘Metropole Ecology’ held by Prof. Judy Shamoun-Baranes, Dre Verena Seufert (VU).
An increasing part of Earth’s terrestrial surface is taken up by urban and peri-urban land use, forming large agglomerates known as metropoles. These intensively-used areas are dynamic ecosystems with distinct properties, hosting particular species and communities, but also creating nuisances e.g. through invasive species or human-wildlife conflicts. At the same time, metropolitan ecosystems are pivotal in supporting human well-being, as over half of the global human population lives in cities, facing challenges related to e.g. air quality, heat, storm water, and space for leisure. Urban ecosystems can provide services to address some of these challenges. In this course we use an interdisciplinary approach to understand specific challenges and opportunities of an urbanizing world for biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and people. Specifically, we will learn about biodiversity, human-wildlife interactions, urbanization, human well-being, and the role of ecosystems and their services in addressing these challenges”

On Monday April 12, Mathias will speak on Nature inclusive building: Dive into the Anthropocene and find out how the rapid growth of metropoles is not only a threat but also an opportunity to bundle forces and design a new generation of cities based upon the hypothesis of the Next City that provides Quality of Life – for all Species.

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

4. Common hazel (Corylus avellana)

Which shrub was cultivated by the Romans, its nuts the star ingredient of Nutella? The hazel. Planting a native common hazel (Corylus avellana) will boost the presence of all sorts of wildlife in an urban landscape – the squirrels, particularly, will have plundered your shrub for their winter stash in the blink of an eye.

Give a hazel space and time – it starts producing nuts after about 8 years. Your patience will be rewarded with harvests of delicious homegrown hazelnuts and sculptural long flowers called catkins that add visual interest to the sleepy winter garden. With its sculptural multi-stemmed structure that widens at the top and grows up to 8 metres high, a hazel needs room to thrive. However, it’s also excellent for compact hedges, which are vital for sheltering wildlife. The hazel’s bendy branches are well suited for weaving; corkscrew branches are popular as Easter decorations. 

From winter into early spring, the deciduous hazel looks like it’s hibernating but in fact it’s in the midst of flowering season. It’s the first wild plant to flower so early, marking also the start of hay fever season. On its bare branches hang clusters of yellow male catkins, swaying gently. Nature perfected their lightweight, elongated forms to catch the wind and spread pollen to the female flowers, which resemble buds, located on the same tree. Beekeepers plant hazels to feed their honeybees that are active early in the year.

Appearing after the flowers, the toothed-edged leaves are a delicacy for caterpillars. The hazel is an important food plant for many butterflies and moths. These include the renowned Giant peacock moth and Comma butterfly, and moths with charming Dutch names such as the Hazelaaruil and Bonte beer, meaning Hazel owl and Multicoloured bear. 

Keep a close eye on the clusters of hazelnuts, which form on the female flowers after pollination, as they ripen in autumn from pale green to deep brown. The trick is to pick them not too early as they will be tasteless but not too late as chances are there’ll be none left as the squirrels, mice and birds will have beaten you to it. Forgotten hazelnuts from an animal’s stash get the chance to germinate and grow, which is another way the hazel spreads. 

How to combat climate change & its impact as architects?

The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects BNA is offering the Course on Circular Designing and Building, including a session on Designing Nature-inclusive and Climate-adaptive. This session on April 13 2021 addresses biodiversity, quality of life for plants and animals, building with green as well as dealing with the influence of heats, droughts and heavy rain. 

Next to Mathias explaining on how to contribute to UN SDG 13 “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” and how to think in systems and processes from a spatial point the co-speaker in this session will be Robbert Snep (WUR).

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.