How to live alongside nature
SCHOONSCHIP, AMSTERDAM (THE WASHINGTON POST) – Marjan de Blok readjusts her weight as she crosses the piers connecting a floating community on the IJ River.
His cheeks and nose are elven red from the strong winds. She shouts greetings to many of her neighbors, her voice carried by the water all around.
In October, heavy rains, hail and winds of 80 km / h put Amsterdam on alert, a few minutes away by ferry. But in the northern district of Schoonschip, life continued as usual.
De Blok visited neighbors to chat and get updates on the local smart grid – which allows residents to generate and share power with each other and with the country – while the overhead lights went on. swayed and the houses slid up and down their steel foundation posts with the movement of the waters below.
âIt’s like living on the beach, with the water, the salinity of the air and the seagulls,â she said.
“But it’s also special because, at the beginning, we were told that building your own neighborhood is simply impossible.”
De Blok, 43, is a Dutch reality TV director by day and a sustainable township guerrilla organizer by night.
She and her neighbors quickly adapted to life on the water – proving, she said, that the technology already exists to make floating urban development a solution for the world’s densely populated waterfront cities that are struggling. with rising sea levels and the accelerated impacts of climate change.
She discussed the future of large-scale floating communities in the Netherlands and around the world when she hosted Prince Harry, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and a long list of other dignitaries, town planners, entrepreneurs and citizens. who have visited in recent years, curious to see the real manifestation of a once science fiction idea.
She also showcased a mosaic of environmentally focused social projects: lush floating gardens, tended by residents and loved by waterfowl; a community center with floating architectural drawings; and a nearby land vegetable garden teeming with kale in the winter and zucchini and tomatoes in the summer.
But the industrial-chic design of the houses and their close proximity to the city, De Blok said, are usually what surprises visitors the most.
This is intentional, she said, because it helps distinguish the homes of the 10,000 eccentric converted barges – known as “barges” – that clutter the country’s canals. Schoonschip, with modern design for modern lifestyles, seeks to serve as a prototype for the more than 600 million people – 10% of the world’s population – who live on or near water and are already affected. by climate change.
In the flooded Netherlands – a country one-third below sea level and two-thirds prone to flooding – the houseboats are the latest in a centuries-old experiment to tackle water.
Since the Middle Ages, collectives of Dutch farmers have united to drain water to make room for agricultural land.
The groups evolved into regional water boards that keep the land dry using a complex system of canals, dikes, dams, and sea gates.
In 2007, the government unveiled a program called Room for the River, allowing certain places to be strategically flooded during periods of heavy rains. Water management is such a normal part of Dutch discourse that many citizens are surprised to be asked about it, assuming it is common in all countries.
From the age of four, Dutch children learn to swim fully clothed, to instill in them ârespect for the waterâ, said Michiel Snijder, partner of De Blok, who works as a children’s swimming instructor.
The Dutch have historically lived on water. From the 17th century, foreign traders moored their boats ashore to sell their goods. In the 1960s, artists converted boats into homes to make “barge” life a culturally subversive means of retreating from civilization on earth.
And especially as climate change has warmed the world’s oceans over the past decade, Dutch water management strategists have sought to embrace, rather than resist, rising sea levels. Wed.
As part of this change, floating communities emerged in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
Those homes that are converted into boats, rather than the other way around, present themselves as part of a national, and potentially global, solution for a wetter future.
Schoonschip, which houses around 150 residents including around 40 children, is made up of 46 households located on 30 arches. Half are floating semi-detached houses, shared by two families. We have three generations of the same family.
They are relatively low-tech, built off-site and ballasted by basins filled with water-resistant recycled concrete, then pulled over the water by a tugboat and moored to the lake bed.
Heavy pieces such as pianos are counterbalanced by bricks on the opposite side of the house, and the interior design is carried out according to the Dutch principle of gezellig, or ‘comfort’ which incorporates soft lighting, modern fixtures and virtually no references. stylistic to the sea. life.
Many rooms are fitted with modular furniture that can be easily taken apart or reassembled to make room for life changes such as the birth of children or the separation of couples.
âThe floating houses, you can turn them over, turn them over, take them with you. Flexibility on water is incomparable with flexibility on land, âsaid Sascha Glasl, a resident architect
His architectural firm, Space and Matter, designed the community’s jetty system and several of its homes. âIt is obvious that the waters of the sea will rise and that many large cities are very close to these waters. It’s amazing that this innovation and construction on the water is no longer being executed.
De Blok, who has no training in engineering, architecture or hydrology, said she never intended to lead a floating urban development movement.
In 2009, she was exhausted from living in Amsterdam. She worked all the time, bought things that she only used once or twice, and had very little time to meet friends.
She recycled and bought vintage instead of new, but had the creeping feeling of being unwittingly turned into a passive consumer.
On a mission on a cold winter’s day in 2009, she visited a solar-powered floating event venue called GeWoonboot as part of a series of short documentaries she was filming about sustainable living.
She was amazed by its contemporary look, its immediacy to water and the city, and its incorporation of experimental sustainability practices.
âBefore visiting this boat, I wasn’t really aware that I didn’t like the way I lived,â she said.
When she asked friends if they were interested in building a floating community, she was unprepared for the deluge of responses.
She cut the list to 120 people, disappointing dozens.
She explored the waters around the GeWoonboot district, known as Buiksloterham, a 100-acre post-industrial area that had been largely abandoned since the manufacturers – including the Shell oil company and the Fokker aircraft factory. who made parts for KLM airlines – left town for the farmyard. wage countries in the second half of the 20th century.
âThe area was a disaster, really depressing. Just a few businesses, no street lighting, âDe Blok recalled.
But when she considered the city’s plans to develop tens of thousands of housing and cultural centers in the area, she thought to herself, “We could be pioneers here.”
Over the past decade, the houseboat movement has gathered momentum in the Netherlands.
The Dutch government is amending homeowner laws to redefine houseboats as âreal estate housesâ rather than âboatsâ, in order to simplify the process of obtaining a permit.
“Building on water is seen as a kind of blank canvas: due to the lack of existing infrastructure,” reads a research paper that argues for changing the law.
“We foresee that in the near future, building on water and living floating in the Netherlands will no longer be a luxury, but an absolute necessity.”