Picture: Van der Tol BV via Woningcorporatie Vestia
My colleague asks if I would like to interview Bas van Schelt (Project developer at Vestia), Eva van Bolderen (Project manager at the municipality of Rotterdam), and Linda Koning (Project assistant for improving quality of life at Vestia) for a blog about the current steps that are being taken in the LIFE@Urban Roofs project. Of course, I am immediately enthusiastic about this opportunity! I am very keen to hear about this project’s progress. All the more so because we have been involved from the very first incentive. We supported the grant application and continue to support its implementation.
Rotterdam Takes It to the Next Level
You may remember the first blog about this project, “Rotterdam Takes It to the Next Level“, the result of my conversation at the municipality of Rotterdam with Paul van Roosmalen and Eline van Weelden about multifunctional roofs. These roofs have multiple functions: water collection, energy generation, social and economic functions, and of course a green function—a roof with plants. Multifunctional roofs are a creative way to contribute to achieving the climate goals.
The Paperclip, a housing complex owned by housing corporation Vestia, has become one such location with a multifunctional roof. In addition to its green and social functions, it also provided opportunities for water collection and solar panels. Unfortunately, not all ambitions could be realised for technical and legal reasons. However, what have they been able to implement?
LIFE and The Paperclip
How did the municipality of Rotterdam and Vestia decide on the LIFE@UrbanRoofs initiative?
Bas van Schelt explains he had already discussed the possibility of green roofs on existing buildings with a colleague, and The Paperclip came up in this discussion. Being over 40 years old, the building was in need of thorough maintenance and of course, it would be great if that could be achieved in combination with climate adaptation activities. “The municipality was also looking towards climate adaptation and multifunctional roofs, and knew that we were interested in the pilot projects that were being launched. Based on the resilience strategy, the municipality contacted us and eventually persuaded us to cooperate. The result is this large-scale renovation of The Paperclip—an iconic building in the shape of a broken paperclip, designed by architect Carel Weeber.
What is Vestia’s motivation for this very expensive project? What is the objective?
Bas: “We really need to engage with the climate adaptation theme. Whilst it is not yet a requirement, we can gain experience by taking on projects like this, and we will learn a lot from them.”
“The first plan for the green roof was mainly aesthetic, neatly divided into sections. It had to be something special, just like The Paperclip itself. However, the landscaping company indicated that nature does not allow itself to be divided into neat compartments. Rather, it is all about biodiversity. Now it has become a real nature roof, with different biotopes, where nature can take its course. As a result, the roof does not require any maintenance.”
Revision of the 1,200 m2 Courtyard
Vestia has completed the renovation of the 550 homes, accommodating a total of 1330 residents of 125 nationalities.. With 7600 m2, the largest natural roof and the longest facade garden (over 200 meters) in the Netherlands are a fact.
Last October, work began to transform the inner public courtyard. This was necessary, because the trees around the green center caused root pressure, making the surrounding paving extremely difficult to access. Linda: “We tried to incorporate the themes of wood, moisture, mounts, and stone used on the multifunctional roof into the inner courtyard. The advantage of making both the roof and the garden as diverse as possible is also that it attracts a variety of different animals.”
The courtyard is expected to be completed in the spring of 2021. After that, so-called self-managed gardens will be put on the agenda: gardens that are planted and maintained by the residents of The Paperclip.
How is the courtyard watered?
Bas explains that the rain pipes from the roof were on the wrong side of The Paperclip, meaning it was impossible to make optimal use of them. Therefore, it was decided not to disconnect the rainwater drains from the roof, from the sewer. For the redesigned courtyard, water comes partly from rainwater tanks that have collected rainwater from the galleries.
Resident Participation The Paperclip
How were residents informed and involved in the courtyard’s renovation?
Making the residents resilient and resistant is one of the most important motives for the development of The Paperclip. Linda explains that the residents of Rotterdam South differ substantially from those in Rotterdam North. Some 40% of the residents of The Paperclip are unemployed , mostly vulnerable residents with educational disadvantages. There is a lot of vandalism and nuisance and little social cohesion between the residents. It takes more energy to get the residents enthusiastic.
“We started with major maintenance, distributed leaflets, and posted pamphlets. We organised a kick-off party. We were particularly keen to hear what the residents’ wishes and ideas were about how the courtyard should be developed.” Linda continues: “We also reached out to parents through their children. Long outdoor play days were organised, so that the parents would also come to watch. A so-called Green Newsletter was developed and contact was sought through the Residents’ Committee.” An illustration workshop was organized, and a large mural was created based on the children’s drawings. Drawings by the children were also applied to paving stones. “Together with Eva, I even stood in the entrance to The Paperclip to reach out to people in person,” says Linda.
What is the status of the residents’ participation that has been achieved?
“We have received both positive and negative reactions from the residents. The negative reactions have been dealt with. Here you may think of practical matters, such as play mounts that were too high, so that people were able to look into their houses.”
“Some of the paved areas of The Paperclip are being made greener with the help of self-managed gardens. In the arch of The Paperklip, some residents are already enthusiastic about tending such a garden. We hope that this type of privately maintained areas will reduce vandalism and keep the neighborhood tidier.”
A garden coach may be approached to help residents think about how to manage the gardens. Energy coaches are already helping people to become more energy conscious. This helps residents save money and indirectly contributes to climate change.
Eva agrees that resident participation takes time. “It takes a long time before a project like this starts to engage a larger number of residents. As a project leader, you are only given a certain period of time to set this up and then it stops. That does make it difficult.”
When I ask how the results achieved thus far are to be secured, it turns out that the national organisation of volunteers Humanitas an important role plays in this. For example, this organisation helps people to build up a social network. Humanitas has an office in the inner courtyard, which will be extended with a terrace. They can support by, for example, providing a cup of coffee before work commences.
Are there any more positive side-effects from this project?
One result of the LIFE project is SROI, Social Return on Investment. Four residents were temporarily employed by the contractor taking on the major maintenance activities. Now one of them has been given a permanent position, and the other residents can put it on their resumes as work experience. In addition, there is a lot of attention for the project from external parties.
Collaboration Is Key
Will there be similar projects at Vestia?
“It will be difficult to take up similar projects. Budget has to be made available or reallocated, because there is always extra money required. A wider roll-out is only possible if there are good reasons for it, such as damage to existing buildings or residents who are dissatisfied with their living environment. Then we look at how we can collaborate with other parties to solve the problem,” Bas responds.
What has the LIFE grant enabled you to do?
Bas explains he would like to approach this question differently. “It was a complicated process that definitely did not always go smoothly. However, the joint agreement between the partners, the partnership that you have, really ensures that you go for it, in terms of commitment, in terms of money, even when there are setbacks.” Eva adds that if it were not for the LIFE grant, much less would have been done to incorporate climate adaptation. The courtyard would have been much more empty.
There have been quite a few changes that require EU approval. How was this achieved?
At each feedback moment, the changes were presented to the EU monitor. Here you may think of the revisions made to the water collection on the roof, the cancellation of the solar panels, etc. During the mid-term report (after 2.5 years of the project) an official change request is made to LIFE. Currently, we are in the midst of this process.
What part does Evers + Manders play in all this?
Evers + Manders are experts. They know the dynamics of the EU. They know when and how to present the information, and they know what is important.
Well, are the Vestia colleagues proud?
Linda: “Our colleagues receive news items about The Paperclip via Intranet, and people like the roof, but that is about it. That probably also has to do with the fact that you are not allowed to enter the roof. It is just not solid enough.” Bas adds that originally, the calculations for the roof construction were done very accurately, but this now means that it is not suitable to receive “visitors”. For this reason, unfortunately, they have not been able to accept the request to participate in the Dakendagen (Rotterdam’s annual “rooftop event”).
Whilst this is indeed a pity, of course it does not mean that the results are not visible. From the highest floors of The Paperclip and other high buildings in the area, you can most certainly catch a glimpse of The Paperclip’s multifunctional roof, and of course, the inner courtyard is open to the public….
…see you in resilient Rotterdam!
Eva, Linda and Bas, thank you very much for your time and input!
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