RCD UPDATE | 10 January 2022
RCD UPDATE | 10 january 2022

Did you know Rotterdam Central District has its own climate team? These urban planners, architects and landscape architects are exploring ways to green the district and help it weather the effects of climate change. No easy task, but we all know that persistence pays off, and this team is proving it.

If you were given a spade to green RCD, what would you do? Landscape architect Willemijn van Manen (32) doesn’t need to think twice. She’d start by digging up the car park outside Biergarten, behind the Schiekadeblok, and putting in the plane trees currently kicking their heels in the municipal tree shed. With a cheeky glint in her eye, she continues: “That would be the starting point of a line of trees running up to the station, through it, and ending at the old ice-skating rink on Conradstraat. Trees make an impact.”

A project leader at the architectural firm ZUS, Van Manen joined the climate team a few months ago. From her third-floor Schieblock office, she has a view of Hofplein and the bright yellow air bridge that has become both landmark and export product. And more proof that persistence pays off. RCD would be unthinkable now without the yellow bridge linking it to the rest of the city.

Van Manen knows that greening existing urban spaces is a wicked task, often frustrated by diverging interests and complex laws that slow progress. Property owners look at their spreadsheets and see a building is profitable. Why bother planting up the façade to offset heat stress or laying sedum on the roof to absorb rainwater? The trick is to multiply opportunities and keep all parties thinking. For instance, it’s a shame that the strip in front of her office is mere lawn, when there’s such need for diversity: “Grass with meadow herbs and a tree would attract insects and birds. Now it’s just bare grass with no forage or shelter.”

It’s enough to make a person cynical, Willemijn mutters. But not her. You need to be a little cheeky, is her message, and that’s a trait she shares with the rest of ZUS and the climate team. “Street lighting around and between the two Unilever offices on Weena and Hofplein is one thing we’re tackling. Within the available budget, we’re looking for ways to fit in climate adaptive interventions such as planting trees and greening façades. Making the most of what you have is key. That’s why the ability to quickly pivot with local actors to get initiatives off the ground is the climate team’s superpower. And the power of design firms and government working together.”

Text: Eduard Voorn
Photography: Ruben Stam, Steevy Schipper, Simone Rentmeester