In Rotterdam nature meets technology
Who said technology and nature are on opposing sides? Anyone who still thinks they are should go to Rotterdam. A city in the Netherlands that is more than accustomed to looking the future straight in the eye, without a second thought. That much is clear from the city centre, which was rebuilt from scratch after it was razed to the ground in World War II, on completely new foundations. Now it is a place of steel and glass skyscrapers, so this city, in the wealthy heart of Europe looks like a miniature New York, but with wider streets, to give people more room to breathe. The human factor matters here.
There is currently much debate around themes such as people being at the centre of things, hi-tech nature, and technology at the service of the individual, who never becomes a slave to it. But in Rotterdam ideas are turned into actions. We went to find out precisely how.
Nature is gradually taking over this city of steel and glass. Everywhere, including on the rooftops and on the river, the Nieuwe Maas, home to Europe’s biggest and most modern port, with cruise liners and container ships arriving there from all parts of the world.
The rooftops have become something of a city landmark. Conceptual like the Op het Dak, chic like the Suicide Club, or free-range in the case of the Uit Je Eigen Stad urban farm. They also serve the community: during the Rotterdamse Dakendagen summer festival there are concerts, movie screenings and art exhibitions on the tops of buildings.
And if dry land is not enough there is always the water – as people here are well aware. And water has the advantage of bringing producers and consumers closer together.
“Agriculture needs to be rethought and has to find new spaces,” says Peter van Wingerden, creator of the Floating Farm, a vertically-organised system for dairy cows that literally floats on the river. Works are underway and the first cows should move in before the end of the year. A way of stopping people from abandoning rural areas and solving problems of supplying the city with fresh products, but also a sustainable closed circle, the Floating Farm has three “pasture” levels for 40 cows, robotic milking stalls and conference rooms. The first “made in Rotterdam” dairy products will be sold from here.
Over-development and drought have resulted in a reduction in farmland while plastic is filling up our seas and rivers. Rotterdam’s solution to these problems is the Recycled Park. “Plastic traps” catch refuse floating on the river before it reaches the sea. That material is then recycled to create hexagonal “floating islands” which can be variously configured to create cultivated fields on the river, as well as forming eco-systems for birds and fish. The first such island in the port was inaugurated on 4 July.
Technology, agriculture and sustainability are moving towards the future together. The Netherlands is only a small country, but it is world’s biggest exporter of seeds, the third largest exporter of fruit and vegetables and the biggest producer of onions. “Twice as much food using half as many resources” is the commitment this small nation made in around the year 2000 to encourage sustainable farming. This involves reducing the amount of water used to grow crops by as much as 90%, eliminating almost entirely the use of chemical pesticides in greenhouses and reducing by as much as 60% the use of antibiotics in livestock rearing.
This is all about sustainability and technology. And from one of Rotterdam’s flower-filled rooftops, the future does not look quite so bleak.