The historic city centre of Leiden is surrounded by a six kilometre long moat which dates from the 17th century. The old ramparts are the location of, among other things, the Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens, the Observatory, museums, cemeteries, city mills as well as listed buildings from the city's industrial past (including an old gas plant). As a consequence Leiden has one of the largest, still intact set of fortifications in Europe. Residents of Leiden took the initiative to turn this example of cultural heritage into one large connected park, known as the Singelpark. A park in which to experience sport and culture, to discover nature and history, to find peace and meet people.
The municipality of Leiden, which had wanted to turn the edge of the moat into a green area for years, embraced the idea.
What is new about the Singelpark?
Something that is new is the use of a large historical urban structure in the (re)design of greenery in the city.
What is more, the plan is an initiative by citizens who have come together in a specially established foundation called Friends of the Singelpark. The Friends have joined forces with the municipality and various organisations in order to turn the Singelpark into a reality. Work is going on in all kinds of ways to ensure participation by citizens, with open days, a nature work day and other events.
In 2012 two landscape architecture bureaus were chosen to develop a plan, partly on the basis of a municipal vision and ideas from brainstorm evenings with residents and organisations in the city. This resulted in the 'Botanical City Park' plan, in other words the Singelpark as a connected botanical urban park with in exceptional collection of plants and trees, but also with, among other things, examples of industrial heritage (an old gas plant) and an old cemetery. Each of the seven districts along the moat has its own atmosphere and design. Where necessary the districts are connected by new footbridges, of which there are seven in total. A promenade is being created on the outer edge of the moat. All the projects together are costing approximately 16 million euros.
A lot of progress is already being made
As from 2014 the plan has been implemented in phases and ten large Singelpark subprojects are going to be ready in 2017. Groenesteeg cemetery has now been restored and work is being carried out on, among other things, the realisation of an Energy Park (Nuon area with old gas plant) and the Singelpark route. In addition the accessibility of the Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens is, for example, being improved with seven new bridges being built. In the Singelpark 66 individual trees have been designated as valuable and as an 'arboretum tree'. At the end of 2016 eight new arboretum trees were planted, and these will be followed by a further 26 in the coming years.
Elsewhere in the Netherlands
- The green and sustainable new neighbourhood Eva-Lanxmeer in Culemborg.
- A new recreational green area covering 1,000 hectares in the Haarlemmermeer: PARK21.
Green (including water and soil) is important for the city as a living and working environment. It generates many ecosystem services, such as an environment for exercise, rest and relaxation (health, recreation), cooling, the flood prevention and a certain degree of soundproofing.
All being well, green elements are not isolated features, but are part of a larger whole, referred to as the green infrastructure (or green structure). That larger whole can be a cultural-historical entity like a fortification, a dike or a network of old polder ditches. Sometimes the entire structure will be put in place, as in EVA Lanxmeer in Culemborg, where the complex origin of the soil provided the basis for the design of a (sustainable) new housing development (at the end of the Nineteen Nineties). The groundwater under the neighbourhood is also protected, as is the archaeological soil archive.
Although it should be the case that 'green' also has a natural value and contributes to the ecological structure and the biodiversity of a city or village, it can also be of cultural-historical importance. Green in the city is always under pressure from (increased) 'petrification' by buildings and infrastructure because space in the city is scarce.
Green infrastructure: valuable for the city
The fact that, these days, people talk of green infrastructure in the urban context is down to the policy on nature (the ecological main structure or EMS or Netherlands Nature Network). It bears witness to the realisation that a green element has, in itself, little natural value, certainly in the long term. In the city that green structure consists of very diverse elements such as parks, verges, allotment complexes, cemeteries, ditches, moats, canals and rivers (including the banks), urban agriculture and even blue or green roofs and façades. The task is to start viewing all those green elements as a single whole, to connect them where possible and create and/or preserve space for plants and animals. Key pretexts for nature policy in the city are trees and birds (see below).
Sometimes old structures will remain in a city or village, for example a fortification as in Leiden, dikes, polder ditches, old farms, etc. Such structures are often a good basis for the further development of the green structure.
Viewed from a nature perspective, new neighbourhoods on the edge of towns and cities are often of interest. There is more nature, which often links up with structures in the nearby rural area. Here too there are often possibilities for ensuring that the green structure links up with old elements in the surrounding area.
How much urban green space do we have?
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency [Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving] investigated, during the period 2000-2006, the development of the availability of green space within a 500 metre radius of the residential environment. The results show that, in some parts of the Netherlands, the amount of green space decreased during the period investigated, but increased elsewhere. The map does not provide any information over the type of green space and how it is used (the functionality) and does not include privately owned green space.
No norm exists for the quantity of public green space. The Spatial Planning Memorandum (2006) refers to a target figure: 75 m2 per dwelling. In 2003 the amount of public green space was less than this in 19 of the 31 largest municipalities and none of the four major cities achieved the target figure.