Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Island without Borders: Ijburg, Amsterdam

The Concept
Land resources for building new housing within the City of Amsterdam are limited. Urban planners tasked with meeting the increasing housing demand have found a solution in creating new fill islands off the shores of the existing city. Ijburg, conceptualized in 1995 and built in 2000, was one such solution. Ijburg was intended to be built in two phases. However, only the first phase (9,000 housing units) has been completed to date and the second phase (13,000 additional housing units) is on hold indefinitely until the economy improves.
In addition to meeting the demand for market rate housing, Ijburg set aside 40% of the housing units for social housing for low-income and disabled citizens.  Following its nickname, “Island without Borders,” Ijburg set ambitious goals for social inclusion. Planners mixed the social housing, rental units and homes for sale throughout the development. It’s not uncommon to find all three types of housing in the same building, with little differentiation between them. 

A typical mixed-income residential building in Ijburg

The Reality
Mixing-incomes, while a valiant effort on behalf of the City of Amsterdam, has not come without equally significant issues. Many of the homeowners on the island of Ijburg claim that they did not know they would be sharing their living spaces with such a diverse population. Many feel that had they known, they would have chosen to live elsewhere.  They also feel stuck in the situation financially, due to the unstable economy. The home buyers were the first to move in and as the City moved in immigrant populations, lower-income families and the disabled (some formerly housed in institutions), tensions grew strong.
Ijburg was designed to foster interaction between all of the residents - there are shared common spaces within the buildings and small green spaces between them. Conceptually, this seems wonderful, but when you have a high-density development with residents of all ages, noise management becomes a major issue. Children often play in the green spaces and it has irritated some of the elderly home owners.

An example of a potentially noisy courtyard in Ijburg

Despite the social tensions, Ijburg is an impressive example of urban design, especially on the topic of connectivity. Every mode has equal access to the island. Cars drive in over a beautiful bridge. Bikes and pedestrians have a designated path and bridge from central Amsterdam to the main street of Ijburg. There are also three tram stops along the main corridor of the island.
These resources are not only functional, but they are beautifully designed and integrated with the natural environment. See photo captions for more details.

Beginning of the serene ped/bike bridge to Ijburg (green space was formerly a landfill)

One of the lush tram stops on Ijburg’s main avenue

View of the ped/bike bridge from the edge of central Amsterdam

Retroactive Conflict Resolution
The City has not ignored the fact that social tensions are high within Ijburg and has spent the last four years experimenting with ways to help residents live happily together. A coalition of senior staff from the city, the housing developers and the service providers has been formed. This group meets regularly to discuss how to collectively approach pressing issues. These meetings are mediated by a neutral party, Stef Spigt, who also works closely with the residents to assess their needs. Spigt’s position is funding by the coalition, who understands the value (albeit financial) in fostering a happy, healthy lifestyle on Ijburg.
The wealthier residents have also taken community development matters into their own hands by forming a group called, “Ijburg Dreaming & Doing.” This leadership group generates ideas for improving the public spaces, coordinates community projects and encourages the involvement of the lower-income and disabled residents. Despite the seemingly exclusionary structure of the group, each project has a champion that is able and willing to see it through.
Integration of communities through the schools has also been a successful. Every so often,  residents of Ijburg have been invited to share their cultural background with students. The hope is that encouraging acceptance amongst young people will translate into more tolerance between the adults.
Ijburg in the Future
It’s clear that if Ijburg follows through with phase two of the development, the organization of housing units will need to be modified. Currently, the plan is to continue mixing incomes within each block, but to separate housing types by building so that home owners and renters are only sharing the internal common areas with residents of a similar status. 

There will also be an expansion of the social services and community programs provided. However, it’s widely accepted that mixing incomes on this scale is a very challenging task. The City of Amsterdam has not given up on their vision, but they are still working out the best plan for the future. As Spight explains, one thing planners must recognize is that “you can’t just plan for the hardware; you need the software as well.”


  1. why is the #janhoek file (trafficjam) not mentioned?

  2. there have so many or million of peoples in the world became lucky to migrate there Ijburg, Amsterdam. one of the glories nation like paradise view mention on snaps. thanks do much to share this post.

    Singapore Citizenship Singapore | Apply for Singapore Entrepreneur Pass