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Dreaming of a Roofscape as Grand as Vondelpark

Possible Futures

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March 27, 2024

ROEF dreams of a complete green and publicly accessible rooftop landscape

Our cities have never been as densely populated and busy as they are today, and as a result, there is less and less biodiversity in the city, particulate matter emissions are increasing and the temperature is rising. The solution? A Vondelpark at a height! Alexander van der Meer, co-director at ROEF, calls for a completely green patchwork on Amsterdam's roofs.
“As humans, we look from our own perspective, but rarely do we see the city like a bird does.”
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What exactly does ROEF do?

The untapped rooftop landscape of Amsterdam covers a staggering 12 km². While many hotels utilize almost every inch of their roofs with terraces and pools, many other rooftops remain unused. Yet, issues like heat, rain, drought, decreased biodiversity, and increased levels of fine particulate matter can be reduced by making better use of rooftops. With ROEF, we aim to show Amsterdammers the potential of this space. Our ambition is to, in collaboration with various stakeholders such as Rooftop Revolution, rooftop architects, and installation technicians, create a Vondelpark at height. In 2016, we started our event at the Knowledge Mile, in the Wibautstraat and Weesperstraat, hopping from rooftop to rooftop. When we expanded our rooftop expedition to 30 locations at its peak, our focus on awareness had run its course and was taking too much time to affect change. That's why we're now working on the idea of greening rooftops ourselves. We have already taken steps, such as organizing a rooftop park at the Westergasfabriek last year. This year, we're taking it a step further by organizing a six-week event where we also grow edible crops and involve the local community. Step by step, we aim to grow towards the largest public rooftop park in the Netherlands.”

“Cities will then transform into a fusion of people, buildings and homes, becoming one with nature.”

How do you intend to achieve that?

“As humans, we view things from our perspective, rarely do we see the city as a bird does. This limited perspective prevents us from innovative design. We need to approach cities more three-dimensionally. A building doesn't just take away space: it adds space. The ground level is now raised by several floors, creating extra layers and more space. During the Covid period, I occasionally found myself weary of repeatedly strolling through the same parks. Remarkably, our city lacks more green spaces, especially on rooftops. There are many inspiring examples of creating green in the city, such as The High Line in New York and the Dakakker in Rotterdam. Moreover, there are a lot of progressive Dutch architects, such as MVRDV, who are being asked for impressive projects in Asia. They not only build green roofs but also green facades. There cities suddenly transform into a fusion of people, buildings, and homes, becoming one with nature, opening up an entirely new way of looking at things.”

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Does your mission extend beyond Amsterdam?

“Absolutely. A few years after the founding of ROEF, we were approached by the municipality of Faro in Portugal for a collaboration, leading to the creation of the European Creative Rooftop Network (ECRN). This project, supported by Creative Europe, brings together knowledge and local initiatives to make use of rooftops in Europe as creatively as possible. Currently, there are nine (very diverse) cities involved: Antwerp, Barcelona, Belfast, Chemnitz, Faro, Gothenburg, Nicosia, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. It's interesting that each city faces different challenges and therefore wants to use its rooftops for different reasons. While we mainly focus on sustainability, Barcelona is more focused on gentrification for example. And in Nicosia, it's all about connection, being the last divided city in Europe due to the border conflict between the Turkish and Greek parts. At street level, you encounter a military border, but on the rooftop, you can see the other side of the city and the life of the person across the border whom you normally wouldn't see. The common thread here is that both ROEF and ECRN offer the opportunity to look at a city with a fresh look. The rooftop can, quite literally, provide new perspectives.”

“Pioneering is inherently an uncomfortable process, because you are working on something that does not yet exist.”

What do you hope for the future?

“Pioneering is inherently a challenging process because you're dealing with something that doesn't exist yet. While we find it strange that rooftops are not fully used, others might find our story somewhat peculiar. But... something is changing. If you look around, more and more people want to move forward. I hope that people don't underestimate the power of just doing. It's more effective to just get started, rather than to do nothing. Especially for ROEF, it would be fantastic if more people joined us. We notice that more and more parties, even from cities like Paris and Rome, are joining us. Our journey has just begun, and the ultimate goal is for every roof to have a function. Preferably a sustainable function. I'm genuinely hopeful, especially when I see the innovative designs that architects are creating now; that's already a significant improvement compared to what was conceived ten years ago.

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