Rotterdam as national park:

Symbiosis of man and nature

Living, working, travelling, building and living in the city; with symbiosis between man and nature. Like many urban areas in the Randstad conurbation, Rotterdam faces serious challenges in the coming decades. For example, declining biodiversity, air, water and soil quality which are under pressure, rising sea levels and global warming. Under assignment to and together with Heijmans, we have developed a vision to keep the port city healthy and liveable in the long term.

The result can be seen during the National Park Rotterdam exhibition in the Natural History Museum Rotterdam and will be presented in a detailed storyboard. Key to our vision is a future perspective for the Rotterdam of 2100, in which the survival of the city and all its residents - people and animals - is sustainably guaranteed. Hopefully, this vision will be inspiring and promote discussion about ambition and acceleration of urban biodiversity.

This makes Rotterdam as National Park a useful metaphor for a future perspective on the city of Rotterdam of the future. In National Park Rotterdam, space will be created for large-scale nature and new and lost animal species. At the same time, the living environment of the port city residents is protected.

In partnership with nature

The great challenge is to find a balance between sustained economic prosperity and healthy biodiversity. Because a balanced ecosystem is resilient and stable. By regarding green and nature as a fully-fledged collaboration partner, a system is created with resilient and varied nature which can withstand tough conditions.

To reverse declining biodiversity, the reserves, the green and blue arteries and the ecological hotspots (see 'The three foundations of National Park Rotterdam' for more details) play a key role. These core areas are important anchors for robust biodiversity, to act like cooling batteries for the city, capture CO2, filter the air and store water in periods of heavy rainfall. This goes hand in hand with recreation for the residents and visitors.

The network of reserves, corridors and green anchors is the place where nature feels at home: from butterflies and birds to hedgehogs, bats, beavers and squirrels. Along the Meuse, the robust marsh landscape can reappear, and provide space for beaver dams and sea eagle nests. Choosing trees, bushes and herbs which suit the soil and groundwater of Rotterdam will strengthen soil life and water quality. Including algae and mosses which capture CO2 and trap particulates. With insects like bumblebees and wild bees also able to play their vital role in pollinating our food crops.

And buildings in National Park Rotterdam also make a more prominent contribution to green and nature. Through green and living buildings, with plants as part of the structure. Roofs with water collection help tackle the water problem and combat heat stress. Think of the densification around Rotterdam Alexander station like the ‘Alexander Canyon’ or the Kop van Zuid where the buildings are on stilts, through which the water of the New Meuse River flows and creates sediment banks. This all provides more space for the dynamics of nature.

Food and raw material production goes local

In the Rotterdam of 2100, there is also space for the local production of food and raw materials, creating raw material chains at urban level. The Alexander Canyon is a place where crops are grown on terraces, which produce food and building materials. The supply route of food and construction material, produced in the surrounding countryside, passes through the big urban hubs on the edge of the city. Which means that useful and sustainable raw materials are no longer sourced from far away.

The river supplies sediment, materials like sand, clay and gravel, which can be used as construction material in the sediment centre. Wood and crops like flax and cattail are renewable, biobased and grow in the city and along the banks of the Meuse. Wood can be used as construction timber, flax and cattail as insulation material. During the growth of these raw materials, a symbiosis develops between people and nature. They offer a home to animals, help keep the city cool, provide a place for relaxation and naturally store CO2.

Mobility: from car to bike, walking and Public Transport

In today's Rotterdam, traffic and parking takes up a lot of space. This will make way for green and water. Cycling, walking and good public transport will ensure a totally different urban logistics. In National Park Rotterdam, we move around the city in small electric vehicles, by monorail and on the water in the water taxi. Cycling and walking is the norm. This is better for the air quality and for people. The car is no longer a status symbol. This has been replaced by the green and healthy area by the front door.

In line with our own journeys, supplies are delivered via big multifunctional hubs at strategic places on the Rotterdam ring road, from where residents collect goods or small modern vehicles transport them into the city. Logistics will become more efficient and less harmful to the environment because we bring and collect more from our own districts and neighbourhoods, like food from the public spaces. The public spaces have now become the new supermarket.

Water quality and security

In response to rising sea levels, peak rainfall and periods of drought, water control is taken seriously in Rotterdam National Park. The flood defence is a conscious human intervention. If the salt water in the sea rises too much, it accumulates in the rivers and replaces the fresh water. Also inland. The salt water will therefore need to be kept in the sea, whilst at the same time making more room for (fresh) river water.

(Peak) rainfall must not result in flooding. Locally and around the city, space is needed to store water, like a sponge. This space for water storage and control can also be combined with recreation, for example in the Southern Sponge Reserve. The collected water can be used as drinking water. With natural filters (helophyte filters), we can already purify much of this, as on Brienenoord island (10) and the Kuip as 'bathtub'. The water is also the start of enabling characteristic Meuse nature to emerge. We can make local drinking water facilities and store sufficient water so that we have enough during drier periods.

Witteveen+Bos created this vision under assignment to and in collaboration with Heijmans and Natural History Museum Rotterdam.

1. The reserves

The Kralingse Bos, Het Zuiderpark and the Eiland van Brienenoord will soon be the city's nature reserves. By significantly expanding them and extending them into the districts and neighbourhoods, a reserve will be created which may be able to accommodate as many animals as people. The three reserves are distinct in their landscape characteristics and the species of plants and animals within them.

The Kralingen reserve will feature an oak-beech forest which will be home to the eagle owl, fox and squirrel. The Eiland van Brienenoord, also known as the Biesbosch Reserve, consists of swamp vegetation with willows and alders. Beavers and various fish will live here. The reserve is a contiguous nature reserve along the banks of the New Meuse; from the Biesbosch, Dordrecht via Ridderkerk and Rotterdam to the North Sea.

The blue connection along the A15 joins up with Het Zuiderpark and gradually changes into a 'sponge reserve'. This landscape is like a fresh salt marsh and acts like a big water buffer which collects excess water from heavy rainfall which can then be used during dry periods. Furthermore, the large lakes provide cooling during hot summers.

The three reserves not only improve the habitat of the animals, but offer residents a pleasant and healthy living environment.

2. The green and blue arteries

With its verges, the Rotterdam ring road also offers an existing framework to link traffic as well as the various parks and reserves with accompanying forest and water structures. The car disappears, enabling a substantial part of the ring road to make way for nature. Besides ecological connections, space is also created for express cycle routes, footpaths and a fine-meshed network of sailing routes. Freight transport returns to the water. Just like 100 years ago. Longer distances in the city are travelled quickly and safely using a monorail. From the monorail, passengers can see the treetops and waterways which cover the former motorways.

To maximise the space available for nature in the city, National Park Rotterdam has an extensive roof landscape. Through compact construction and connecting roofs, a second street level is created where food production, relaxation and meeting places are key features. At ground level, there is now enough space to design greener streets and transform them into migration routes for animals.

3. Ecological hotspots

Here, it's all about interaction and exchange. Like a floating market where local fish are caught, sold and eaten. The waste is composted and returned to the system as fertile raw material for fertilising wet crops, like rice and cattail.

The great diversity of human and non-human residents which come together on this small scale turns these places into ecological hotspots. These places are the yardsticks of the ecosystem, because they show on a small scale whether the system is healthy and working adaptively. If there is too little of one thing, there is an excess of another thing and vice versa, without disturbing the balance of the system. This balance between production and consumption can also be compared with a National Park where plants (producers) and animals (consumers) keep each other in check. The National Park Rotterdam is therefore not only an ecological transition but certainly also an economic transition.

More information?

Harro Wieringa Team manager Urbanism