The progressive metropolis that few know

Inexperienced Cities | Sustainability (Picture credit score: Westend61/Getty Pictures) Nijmegen would be the oldest metropolis…

The progressive metropolis that few know

(Picture credit score: Westend61/Getty Pictures)

The progressive metropolis that few know

Nijmegen would be the oldest metropolis within the Netherlands, but it surely punches above its weight by way of inexperienced initiatives and sustainability.


Within the east of the Netherlands, simply 10km from the German border, is Nijmegen, a dynamic and progressive college metropolis that manages to fly underneath the radar.

This clear, compact metropolis is the oldest within the nation, and its variety of inexperienced initiatives rivals Amsterdam, with residents prioritising high quality of life and sustainability. Its historic centre is car-free, it has 60km of biking “superhighways”, its buses run on inexperienced gas, and there are schemes in place that encourage car-sharing. It even has the ability to encourage others going through local weather change disruption.

Whereas no metropolis will be 100% sustainable, Nijmegen is making a few of the boldest strides in Europe on this space. They even decommissioned their coal energy station in 2016, which has been became a photo voltaic park that is house to 9,000 photo voltaic panels and two wind generators that energy nearly 400 houses within the metropolis.

But few outdoors The Netherlands have even heard of it.

“Nijmegen is referred to in Holland as ‘Havana close to the Waal’,” stated Margot Ribberink, a local weather activist and the primary feminine Dutch TV meteorologist, referring to the majestic Waal River that cuts town in two. “The individuals listed below are very open-minded.”

Nijmegen's Grote Markt dates to the 15th Century but the city was actually founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans (Credit: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Images)

Nijmegen’s Grote Markt dates to the Fifteenth Century however the metropolis was truly based greater than 2,000 years in the past by the Romans (Credit score: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Pictures)

Ribberink and I had met up in Grote Markt, the Fifteenth-Century cobbled sq. on the coronary heart of the Nijmegen, so she may present me how town punches above its weight. As we strolled previous conventional Dutch townhouses, I breathed the clear, recent air. One of many mainstreets – Lange Hazelstraat, the oldest road within the Netherlands – was lined with impartial retailers, classic boutiques and vegan and vegetarian eateries. I used to be struck by the potted olive timber lining the litter-free streets, individuals biking previous on e-bikes and surprisingly few chain retailers.

Nijmegen was awarded the title of European Inexperienced Capital in 2018, however its progressive roots return a lot additional. The town has an extended historical past of scholar activism. It was the centre of Dutch counterculture and protesting again within the Nineteen Sixties till the mid ’80s. In 1963, the Dutch Nationwide Scholar Commerce Union Motion was based right here by a scholar from Nijmegen, named Ton Regtien. By the Seventies, it had turn out to be the setting for different socialist gatherings, like girls’s teams and communes. And right now its sustainable values proceed to thrive because of its giant scholar inhabitants.

Ribberink got here to Nijmegen within the Eighties to check biology. She met her greatest pals right here in addition to her accomplice, and the 2 settled in Lent, a village on the left financial institution of the Waal River. “I fell in love with town due to the individuals,” she stated. “Particularly the scholars, who’re additionally very involved in regards to the world, the atmosphere and the local weather.”

Nijmegen's coal-fired power station has been decommissioned and is now home to solar panels and wind turbines (Credit: Mischa Keijser/Getty Images)

Nijmegen’s coal-fired energy station has been decommissioned and is now house to photo voltaic panels and wind generators (Credit score: Mischa Keijser/Getty Pictures)

“Rather a lot is occurring in Nijmegen round sustainability and the atmosphere,” she added. “Radboud College has put sustainability on the high of all related fields of research, whereas businesspeople within the metropolis are energetic in making our metropolis extra sustainable, more healthy and greener, together with working collectively to turn out to be vitality impartial by 2030, and creating choices for inexperienced mobility and sustainable retailers.”

As she instructed me this, we arrived at Het Duurzame Warenhuis (The Sustainable Division Retailer), the Netherlands’ first and solely eco division retailer, which opened in 2014. The spacious, ground-level store was a zen-like area, with white partitions, low lighting and plenty of pure untreated wooden. “We attempt to inventory nearly every part it is advisable stay a less-wasteful life,” defined purchaser Lisette Hijink. “We inventory largely clothes, all of it eco-friendly and fair-trade… We’ve a sustainable hairdresser on web site and a completely vegan kitchen. Zero waste is one among our core values, and decreasing waste in our enterprise is vital too, which is tough, however we’re centered.”

Our subsequent cease was 512 Nijmegen, a classy and edgy vogue boutique specialising in sustainable garments and equipment for ladies. “I promote largely sustainable and fair-trade manufacturers,” stated proprietor, Jettie Wakker. “We make garments in both small, medium or giant and only some items at a time, so we by no means have debt or waste.” She added: “I additionally know all of the individuals behind the manufacturers I inventory. I do know their backstories, who their producers and other people working for them are.”

Residents prioritise sustainability, riding bikes through the city's car-free historic centre (Credit: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Images)

Residents prioritise sustainability, using bikes by means of town’s car-free historic centre (Credit score: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Pictures)

I seen that one aspect of the store was crammed with vegetation. “All of those are pre-loved,” defined Wakker. “If individuals not need their vegetation, they’ll convey them to us. Each second-hand plant we promote has its personal story, which we go on to the brand new proprietor – for instance why it was donated, and the way outdated it’s. We do not wish to throw vegetation away.”

We wandered into Njmegen’s cobbled backstreets for lunch at De Nieuwe Winkel, a vegetarian fine-dining restaurant with two Michelin stars and one Green Michelin star. Opened in 2011, chef Emile van der Staak and his team create experimental multi-course, meat-free tasting menus using an array of herbs, roots, flowers, nuts and plants – some common, others less so – grown in a “food forest” in the village of Groesbeek, 13km from the restaurant. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, this six-acre plot of land resembles an ordinary wood, dense with free-growing shrubs and trees. But there’s one main difference: everything in it is edible.

“It’s the first ‘food forest’ of its kind in Europe and we’re one of the few restaurants around the world collaborating in this way,” said Van der Staak. “Menus are planned around more than 400 different species of edible plants grown in the forest, such as peach, chestnut, walnut, pawpaw and Japanese plums.”

The Waal River is the longest river in the Netherlands, connecting the Rhine in Germany with the port in Rotterdam (Credit: Frans Lemmens/Alamy)

The Waal River is the longest river in the Netherlands, connecting the Rhine in Germany with the port in Rotterdam (Credit: Frans Lemmens/Alamy)

Surprisingly full after my lunch of acorn seitan kebabs, sunflower-seed risotto and other vegan delights, we hopped aboard the Zonnetrein (Sun Train), a novel and sustainable mode of transport consisting of two connected solar-powered buses for taking visitors on sustainable guided tours of Nijmegen. As I looked onto the vast river Waal, which is the longest river in the Netherlands and spans up to 400m wide at points, it was easy to understand how it has shaped the city, both geographically and psychologically.

That’s because life in Nijmegen goes hand in hand with flood risk, making the effects of climate change impossible to ignore.

In 1995, the city experienced one of the worst floods in its recent history. The river burst its banks – or dikes as they’re called in the Netherlands – causing major widespread damage and saw 250,000 people temporarily evacuated from their homes. After much debate in the community about how best to protect the city from future flooding, residents voted to create a bypass river, which led to the launch of the aptly named Room for the River project.

For centuries, the Dutch have approached managing river overflows by building dikes to contain the water. Instead, this new project worked with the flow of the water by diverting it. To be effective, the dikes had to be moved and some of the river’s original floodplain recreated on the northern side of the river. This meant cutting through the village of Lent, where several homes, including Ribberink’s, were located.

Nijmegen was awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2018 (Credit: Frans Blok/Getty Images)

Nijmegen was awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2018 (Credit: Frans Blok/Getty Images)

“The local government saw this as a chance to change the whole area, which meant clearing 56 houses, including mine,” said Ribberink. “Most people were offered money to leave their homes to be demolished. But our farmhouse is considered a monument, so together we decided to move it. We put it on wheels and we moved it 1km in one day. We were on local TV at the time.”

The result is a huge urban regeneration project that has created a haven for wildlife, a city beach and acres of recreational space where people can swim, take classes, listen to concerts and be outside, including a newly created central island that’s filled with flowers in spring. The project – which Ribberink described as “the biggest climate adaptation project in Europe” – has proven it’s possible to improve infrastructure while respecting and considering the environment.

“People in our city love the new environment, especially the island we have for recreation, but, as a climatologist, I think we still need to be aware of the fluctuating water levels,” said Ribberink. “We need to remember the summer of 2021 when Germany, Belgium and South Limburg in the Netherlands had catastrophic flooding. This could happen again in the future.”