Nature driven research


The historically industrial city of Rotterdam is going green. Rooted in an urban strategy centered around water, the river Meuse and the 19th century Singelplan by urbanist Rose, more recently the city is focused on enforcing its green corridors. In the last two decades the Municipality of Rotterdam has developed over 20 ‘green’ masterplans, designed in collaboration with and sometimes initiated by renowned landscape architecture offices. In Rotterdam, the city dreams big and is in the middle of a National Park Rotterdam campaign (launched March 2023). The city is also in the process of implementing 7 large nature positive parks, the city has a program manager for biodiversity, the city of Bureau Stadsnatuur [office for urban nature] and the home of the concept ZOOP (launched in 2022 by Nieuw Instituut, and organizational model for cooperation with nature), so, it’s fair to say a lot is happening in Rotterdam regarding nature, biodiversity and ecology. 

Kevin Westerveld and Hedwig van der Linden. Photo: Urban Cerjak
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The in 2022 published combined report of IPCC and IPBES point out that rather than focusing on climate restorative projects, shifting to initiatives enhancing biodiversity have more positive effects and human, other than human and our overall planetary wellbeing. Urban green spaces and biodiversity are essential components of sustainable and resilient cities, contributing to environmental quality, human well-being, and social equity. They are integral to creating healthier, happier, and more livable urban environments. Environmental benefits are multiple for instance greenery helps mitigate the urban heat island effect by providing shade and evaporative cooling. Trees and plants also absorb pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter, improving air quality. Green spaces provide habitats for various species of plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife, contributing to urban biodiversity. This is essential for maintaining ecosystems and supporting pollinators, which are crucial for (urban) agricultural productivity, nature and biodiversity, both in our soil as that which grows from it. Vegetation helps absorb rainwater, reducing surface runoff and the risk of flooding. This can alleviate pressure on urban drainage systems and improve water quality by filtering pollutants before they reach water bodies. All in all, a greener city is a happier and more future proof city.

Botanical Monuments

Stemming from a rationalized and cultured gaze of landscape, rooted in the late 19th and 20th century we are currently witnessing the fact that many (landscape) architects drive new narratives, which about relationality, nature positive design and oriented towards more metabolic and ecological design thinking and doing. As we still continue to focus on developing a richer relationship and value for urban nature, not only to enhance biodiversity, our (human) connectivity to a place but also emphasizing the different visual appreciation, health benefits or social behaviours that these changes in our urban environments will bring. Besides the mentioned Masterplans, small but many green initiatives are on the rise in Rotterdam. As part of the Nature of Hope, IABR 2024 launches the program Botanical Monuments that focuses and highlights existing green practices and gives voice to the people leading these initiaties. They are ambassadors of botanical spaces by drawing our attention and care for urban nature, regenerative gardening, and community practices: all these endeavors are rooted in daily rituals and coexistance with nature. The Botanical Monuments are offering and expanding experiences across the city, with lectures, workshops, readings and other less visible events.

How to understand the scale and concepts of top-down (master)planned cities in relation to these lived and regenerative environments? How do these grass roots or smaller initiative on coexistence with nature in cities relate to public appreciation or the large plans and visions developed in recent decades? These questions are at the root of this new research and design project by research practice Dérive - to explore how the existing plans reinforce each other, how they relate to the smaller and grass root initiatives, and other (civic) projects that we have identified as part of Botanical Monuments. Are there gaps in the layering of these designs and/or strategies? What are the opportunities for growth of urban nature, for instance on facades or rooftops, how can we speed up restoration of biodiversity, appreciation for coexistence in this compilation? What does this mean for Rotterdam in its positioning as a design city, and what are the key moments of attention moving forward?

Research by design IABR 2024 by Dérive

Within the IABR 2024, Nature of Hope, design and research practice Dérive will start a longer-term project around, on the one hand, taking inventory of previous design and realized efforts around the development of Rotterdam as a nature-inclusive city and, on the other hand, looking ahead to how these developments can be made more ‘effective’ and tangible and where we maybe have developed some blind spots – collectively as a city.  

Although there are many moments to feel hopeful about in Rotterdam in the steps and attention being given to nature – nature inclusive design is not yet mandatory in Rotterdam, unlike Amsterdam or Utrecht. One of the issues is that urban biodiversity is still often narrated from the perspective of the city, while it exists in the contact with the peripheral edge of the city, and in large volumes of quiet, dark spaces of the city. This research will help articulate and further the questions mentioned.