The Cleantech Playground (CTP) is a planned cleantech utility and demonstration ground that will be integrated throughout two adjacent sites in North Amsterdam: a land-based office and commercial park, de Ceuvel, and a water-based residential community, Schoonschip. It will combine urban agriculture, small-scale renewable energy technologies, biological water purification systems, urban food production, and several other components of a healthy urban metabolism to:
- produce food
- purify water
- generate energy
- treat organic waste
- support cleantech R&D, and
- provide education and inspiration for those wishing
- to adopt decentralized and renewable technologies
This report presents Metabolic Lab’s recommendations for how to achieve these goals in a financially, socially, and technologically feasible manner. By following the recommended phasing plan and achieving the targets outlined here, de Ceuvel and Schoonschip can become among the most socially and ecologically sustainable developments in the world.
Our recommendations also include ways to make the system measurable and transparent; a network of sensors installed throughout both sites will monitor the system’s performance, display this information for the community, and provide insights for continued development. In particular, the de Ceuvel site will have many areas open for public visits where these technologies will be on display for all to see and understand.
Construction on the de Ceuvel site will begin in spring of 2013. The Schoonschip community does not yet have its site secured, but hopes to win a tender procedure held by the municipality of Amsterdam for a property directly adjacent to de Ceuvel.
Schoonschip and de Ceuvel are two separate community development projects that were initiated by different, but overlapping groups of citizens. Sustainability has been a key objective of both projects since their inception, with both groups requiring all members to sign a manifesto committing them to sustainable living and practices.
Schoonschip was the initiative of Marjan de Blok who was inspired by the Gewoonboot, a largely autarkic houseboat docked in Amsterdam North, to imagine the possibility of a sustainable floating community in her home city. She soon found a group of citizens inspired by the same vision, and formed a foundation to oversee the process. This now close-knit community has been working towards securing a site for the execution of the plan since 2009, with many of the community’s members taking leading roles in pushing the project forward (among them, board members Sjoerd Dijkstra, Thomas Sykora, and Marnix van der Pool).
The de Ceuvel project was initiated by space&matter and Smeelearchitectuur, and the concept for the site was developed by space&matter. De Ceuvel is a 10-year temporary development that will feature beatifully retrofitted houseboats placed on the land and surrounded by a “forbidden garden” of soil-cleaning plants. The architectural plan for both sites has been developed by space&matter and the phytoremediation plan for the de Ceuvel site is being developed by Delva Landscape Architects in collaboration with the University of Ghent in Belgium. The overall feasibility study for both projects was conducted by space&matter (design) and Duurzaam Drijvend Wonen (finances).
In September 2012, Metabolic Lab received financial support from InnovatieNetwerk, a program of the Dutch ministry of economic affairs, to help translate the projects’ high sustainability ambitions into a concrete, implementable technical design with a workable business case. The design process involved close collaboration with the existing development team as well as regular feedback from both the Schoonschip and de Ceuvel communities and other relevant stakeholders. Metabolic Lab worked closely with these groups to develop a technological plan that was consistent with the broader vision behind both developments.
This document summarizes the work done by the Metabolic Lab team since phase two of both projects began in September 2012. Though this was officially a conceptual design and feasibility study for the technological aspects of the plan, our goal from the start was to ensure that the design we developed would lead to a socially, technologically, and financially realistic plan within the contexts’ of both Schoonschip and de Ceuvel.
From early on in the process, we knew that a single, inflexible design would not constitute a realistic solution for these sites. Both communities are diverse in terms of their financial means and desired levels of hands- on involvement. Moreover, due to the nature of both projects, there remain many unknown variables in how the development process will unfold. One of the clearest examples of this uncertainty is the fact that the de Ceuvel site will be populated with upcycled houseboats, most of which still need to be acquired. Properly retrofitting these houseboats will require a plan that is specifically adapted to the quality and typology of each boat. Meanwhile, the Schoonschip community has diverse income levels and housing preferences, which cannot be optimally served with a single design. To handle these unknown variables, we have developed an overall technological framework and toolkit that includes the following elements:
- Performance targets: A set of performance targets for each major aspect of site construction (on the level of individual buildings as well as the level of each neighborhood as a whole).
- Fixed and flexible elements: a mix of fixed technological recommendations and flexible elements that can be selected by users depending on their specific preferences and financial means (similar to buying a computer or car and being able to choose preferred options and add-ons).
- A technology selection tool consisting of a set of decision trees that will guide users through the suitable technological options we have identified for the site.
- A financial modeling tool that will allow users to see the cost and earnings profile of any selected technological mix, including upfront investment, overall costs, and payback times.
- A phasing and deployment plan recommending when investments should be made in order to keep the project financially feasible while still reaching the highest sustainability targets.
- Recommendations for creating specific management structures within both communities to handle do-it-yourself (DIY) constructions and shared oversight responsibilities, such as system maintenance, which will continue throughout the lifetime of both developments.
Taken together, these elements result in a flexible toolkit of technologies than can be selected by individual home or office owners based on their specific requirments, financial situations, and market prices for technologies at the time of construction.
To make our recommendations concrete, this document presents a worked out test case for each site to demonstrate that the toolkit yields options that are feasible even for the lowest possible range of financial flexibility.
We summarize the general plan, the anticipated system performance, and estimated costs for each site. For both Schoonschip and de Ceuvel, we have described the final vision of how the communities will function and relate to the suggested technologies. We have also included a more detailed deployment plan for how new technologies can be adopted over time by the users of both areas.
At the end of all three deployment phases, both sites should be fully self-sufficient in renewable energy, water management, organic waste processing, and a large part of food production.
Blueprint for Sustainable Cities
Besides aiming to exceed the targets currently set by state-of-the-art ecovillages, the drive behind the CTP is to fundamentally shift the pattern of urbanization by providing a reusable blueprint for development. A large part of this is the goal of making these systems transparent and educational for visitors who wish to see the functioning of the system.
Cities are currently consumers. They are drainage points for resources; river deltas of food, fuels, metals, minerals, and other valuable materials. Despite their enormous social, cultural, and economic value, the primary physical output of cities is waste. A majority of the materials that enter are destined to become pollutants of some kind.
As urbanization continues at a fast clip, we believe it is essential to alter this pattern of lineral material flows by making cities producers in their own right. This shift requires the adoption of new technologies, new infrastructural patterns, and changes in the mindsets of individuals and communities.
The Cleantech Playground can be seen as an urban ecosystem embedded into the fabric of the city. All ecosystems are made up of a complex web of actors: plants that harvest sunlight as fuel, herbivores that consume the plants, carnivores and omnivores that consume each other, and detritivores that break down wastes, bringing nutrients back into a state that can be used as food by other living creatures in the system.
Natural systems are not perfect, but they are much more efficient than most current urban and industrial human systems. Ecosystems are made up of diverse, complementary players, consuming and producing materials and energy in short cycles. They are also quite resilient to abrupt changes, like storms and modifications to the environment, because they have many different species fulfilling the same role and compensating for the decline of any individual actor or species due to disease or environmental stress.
Our goal with the Cleantech Playground was to create a system that works similarly to an ecosystem: harvesting ambient energy and water for use on site, cycling nutrients locally, and creating an environment that is supportive of natural biodiversity. Our goal is to create a new blueprint for biobased cities, rooted in the strength of human community.
Though much of the focus of this report is on technology, the essential core of this new developmental blueprint is the power of community. Without trusting communities of individuals who hold shared values and are willing to work together to build a greater whole, the kind of urban development we describe is not possible. People make up the most important part of this cleantech ecosystem. They become essentially linked to one another in caring for their local resources, trading energy, producing shared crops of food. This is not a retrograde approach hearkening us back to pre-modern lifestyles. Rather, it is a big step forward, where technology is used to assist in making connections between people, facilitating the transfer of knowledge, easing the burden of work, and increasing the comfort and joy of living. At both sites we have designed for the preservation of modern comforts to as great an extent possible.
Fundamentally, however the willingness of individuals to cooperate with one another, work together, share, and trust one another is the cornerstone of the success of these endeavors.
We believe that the Cleantech Playground will be a success if it exceeds the standards of existing eco-communities in at least the following ways:
Achieving the highest goals for renewable resource management
(further defined in the “goals” section on pages 24 and 25).
Exemplifying integrated design principles. We recognize that sustainability goes far beyond just physical resource management. The CTP should support a healthy, enjoyable, and beautiful living environment. The technologies included should work with realistic behavioral constraints and contribute to a socially cohesive environment.
Providing room to experiment and to evolve over time. Neighborhoods should not be created in a static vision of what is possible right now: they should be designed to improve and grow over time. It should be possible to upgrade to newer and better functioning technologies as they become available on the market. The site should also be a testing ground for small-scale technology pilots that can become more broadly adopted if they are successful.
Inspiring and educating. The implemented technologies should be made visible and their functionalities explained. The site should be at least partly accessible to parties wishing to learn about this kind of development approach. Data on the system’s performance should be collected via an integrated IT system and used both in user feedback mechanisms as well as recommendations for policy development.
Replicability. Though pioneering projects can sometimes require an extra boost to get off the ground, we want the fundamental approaches used in the CTP to be financially viable within the short-to mid-term, and to be user-friendly enough that they represent a realistic alternative to the status quo. All of the designs and calculations for our work are therefore published under a non-commercial Creative Commons License and distributed broadly to encourage widespread adoption.
Perhaps the most important measure of success, however, will be to see the Cleantech Playground actually built. As part of our commitment to its realization, Metabolic Lab has joined the de Ceuvel community as a stakeholder; we plan to retrofit a houseboat on the site to serve as our own office. This houseboat can also potentially become a focal point for educational activities, public site visits, and the integration of new technology pilots on the de Ceuvel site.
We believe this project offers an opportunity to implement a working system of environmental technologies and community practices that can inspire the rest of the world to imagine what is possible.