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The Venice of the North: How Amsterdam Became Sustainable


Bikes parked along a canal in Amsterdam
Image © John J. Berger, PhD/CityTalk

There have been many cities that have taken the mantle of being green and sustainable; from Copenhagen to Stockholm, their examples set us on a hopeful track and inspire others to head towards being CO2-neutral. Amsterdam is a great role model for developing cities whose initiatives and alternatives are both economically and environmentally promising. What can we learn from them?




Amsterdam is also known as the Venice of the North due to its impressive and grand canals that snake through the city. Many canals around the world are polluted due to countries not treating and paying enough attention to it when waste overflows into our waterways. Generally, canals are important for a city as they are a means of transport, irrigation, and water removal; without canals, a city like Amsterdam may drown. However, Amsterdam has taken note of the fact with their canals are “cleaner than ever.” This provides a benefit: participation in the eco-tourism industry. Through canals, Amsterdam has encouraged the growth in eco-tourism as tourists are provided with an opportunity to get an insight into our environment and to venture between the city’s flora and fauna to kindle a greater appreciation for the environment.


On the subject of transport, Amsterdam is a cyclist's paradise - the city is commonly associated with bicycles as it is the primary form of transportation. Over the years, cycling has cut down carbon e


missions, reduce noise levels coming from automobiles, and improve air quality. Cycling is supported as a result of the city’s flat terrain and Amsterdam is now equipped with a wide network of cycling paths and lanes, even meant for toddlers and elderly citizens. Furthermore, automobiles aren’t motivated within the city due to parking fees being exorbitant, the small size, and the inconvenience that can be brought upon by the city’s small size.


However, some citizens do still prefer driving an automobile. Hence, Amsterdam has introduced electric cars; now, there are around 3000 charging ports available around. Amsterdam has shown great innovativeness through the establishment of five low-emission zones which they plan to expand with firmer regulations, and the growth of electric cars is something to be considered.


As a solution, citizens are being encouraged to switch to electric vehicles through car-share programs and subsidies. At the moment, limousine companies have done the switch and the city is expecting to install 1000 more charging ports on the street - residents who own an electric car can apply for a charging port in their neighborhood too!


At the heart of Amsterdam’s sustainability are the societal efforts of every resident.

It can be seen in the way the city fosters and advocates for green technologies: for example, the De Ceuvel - known as the city’s creative hotspot - is an inspiringly green haven dabbling in experimentation and innovation, promoting the presence of eco enterprise within the city. Once an industrial shipyard, it is now a riverside hangout with a sustainable playground by the riverside. There, tourists and residents alike can find a series of offices, cafes, and events held on repurposed houseboats; the sewage systems also harness plants like willow, hemp, and bamboo to filter the community’s water, and kitchen waste is used to fertilize the gardens and fruit trees.

Image © YourLittleBlackBook

Besides the support of green technologies, citizens have taken it upon themselves to advance a circular economy: a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling for as long as possible. Moving towards a circular economy makes it easier for an area or business to transition ways into being more eco-friendly, reducing pressures on the environment. In Amsterdam, civilians have started to install solar panels on their roofs as a sustainable way to power their households; the city is aiming for 1 million solar-powered homes by this year. Furthermore, local homeowners are beginning to grow their food or starting to purchase from the farmer’s market, putting money back into the local economy.


If there is one thing that we can learn from the efforts of Amsterdam, it is this: the environment is still worth saving, but it is about something deeper than justice, it’s about solidarity. Human solidarity.



Revised/Edited by Daniel Kim

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