Rotterdam Takes It to the Next Level: LIFE@Urban Roofs


Colleagues recently told me about an innovative project in Rotterdam: LIFE@Urban Roofs and its roof programme. And indeed, amazing things are happening on the roofs in this city!

Whilst I am not a grant consultant familiar with all the ins and outs, I am most certainly an enthusiastic colleague who thinks this is a great project in a great city that deserves to be put in the limelight.

And so I made my way to Rotterdam. Whenever you enter Rotterdam, it never ceases to amaze, no matter your mode of transport or entry point—it is such a magnificent city! Whilst there is indeed little history left after the Second World War, the city has achieved an unprecedented worldliness. And…. there are so many flat roofs that are just waiting to be utilised in an innovative way.

In the imposing De Rotterdam building, I meet Paul van Roosmalen, manager of the roof programme of the city of Rotterdam, together with Eline van Weelden, project manager of LIFE@Urban Roofs. An impressive location, certainly if you consider the view from the 27th floor.

Urban Challenges

The City of Rotterdam has been working on greening roofs since 2008. The aim is to make the city more climate proof and to improve living conditions. Initiatives include:

  • The municipal grant scheme for green roofs has been launched;
  • The municipality actively facilitates and stimulates property owners to develop the city’s roofs;
  • Rotterdam participates in (inter)national networks to promote the dissemination of knowledge on multifunctional roof use; and
  • Rotterdam embraced rooftop development, with several initiatives boosting the project’s communication strategy, such as the Rotterdam rooftop days and “The Rotterdam Rooftop Book“.

Paul van Roosmalen adds that at a certain point, one comes to realise that developing green roofs alone makes little sense. “The pressure on space in a city like Rotterdam is increasing, particulate matter needs to be captured, and a solution must be found for flooding—just a few of the challenges that the city, or in fact any large city, faces and for which you want and need to come up with solutions.” Whilst Rotterdam already has a total of 270,000 m2 of green roofs, the goal is even more ambitious: 1.000.000 m2 of roofs with greenery in the city centre alone.

Multifunctional Roofs: LIFE@Urban Roofs

The municipality of Rotterdam owns only 40% of the public space. The remaining 60% is in the hands of private owners. However, the municipality needs that space to prepare the city for the consequences of climate change and urbanisation. Importantly, a large part of those 60% are flat roofs.

The question is: How do you get more private property owners to change the way in which they use their flat roofs? Whilst green roofs do not provide a direct return, when combining multiple functions, they might do just that. Besides green roofs, the roofs can also be filled with blue (water collection), yellow (energy generation), and red (social and economic functions, such as catering), or a combination thereof: so-called multifunctional roofs. This is precisely the idea behind the LIFE@Urban Roofs project. With this in mind, the idea arose to apply for a LIFE grant.

European LIFE Grant

Originally, the LIFE programme was intended solely to improve the environment and nature, but since a couple of years, it is also possible to get funding for projects addressing climate change. This was a great opportunity for the city of Rotterdam.

“The municipality is never able to pay for innovations on its own, so how do you get money for climate adaptation measures? The roofs belong to people, organisations, various parties in the city. In essence, the municipality has nothing to say about these. However, it does add a whole extra layer above the city if you can start using that huge surface of flat roofs.”

The LIFE grant has created the opportunity to realise the project, bring together a solid consortium with different kinds of investors and private owners, and experiment with different ideas. There is money for actual investment. The grant makes it easier to get involved.

Some partners have a clear social objective, such as the housing corporation and the women’s shelter, who want to realise an improved living environment for their residents. The debate centre wants to contribute to raising awareness about the climate issue, whilst the project developer wants to show their pioneering role in the field of sustainable development.

The challenge is to also quantify this kind of social benefit in the investment, and to include it in the sum of the returns: the Social Cost Benefit Analysis (SCBA). Within LIFE, a special SCBA has been developed that shows all costs and benefits.

Regulatory Obstacles

In addition to the actual investments, we also look at possible regulatory obstacles: These are not (always) in line with the intended goals. For example, a housing corporation was not allowed to supply the generated solar energy directly to the electricity grid. This reduced their yield. Rotterdam is taking the lead in adapting these kinds of regulations.

The Added Value of Cooperation

For Paul, the best result is the actual conversation that has been kickstarted. “The development in society, the discussion that arises about the roofs and their possibilities. People start thinking about it.”

Summarising the project’s progress, he states: “Looking back from the start until now, the project is going well. It is still a very strong narrative, we can explain it well and the partners are also enthusiastic and pass it on. The conversations we have with, for example housing associations, have really changed substantially.”

What Role Does E+M Play in This Project?

“We have benefited greatly from the efforts of Evers + Manders in submitting the grant application to LIFE: They know what the application should look like in order to optimise the chances of your application being approved. They identify the opportunities, develop the project plan with the partners, and write the application.”

Eline adds: “After the grant has been awarded, they act as a point of reference for all parties involved and help to set up the administrative systems properly. The process guidance and risk management provided by Evers + Manders is invaluable. All of the partners in the project are really pleased that Evers + Manders is involved. This also benefits mutual cooperation and trust.”

Monitor Visit

Then there is also the monitor visit by LIFE. Eline continues: “E+M really helped us prepare for the monitor visit, making us aware of what we could expect and ensuring all went smoothly. Of course, E+M was also there during the visit, helping us in discussions with the monitors about conditions and targets. The reaction of the monitors was very positive.”

Looking Towards the Future

Paul van Roosmalen already has another plan in mind: connecting the roofs of the various buildings. In other words: roof bridges. I imagine a kind of aerial bridge that runs from building to building, like in Calgary and Minneapolis, only then open and public? From Urban Roofs to Roof Scape, perhaps? Or is that still a bridge too far?

In 2019, there are plenty of opportunities for wonderful projects in the area of climate adaptation. Good preparation is the best guarantee for a high chance of success. Contact us this year if you have an innovative idea.

Henny Doppenberg
Marketing en communicatie


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