Green Miles: more green, people-friendly streets

After Amsterdam, Hoofddorp now has its own Green Mile. In such a street, government and businesses, as well as education and residents, work together to boost sustainability and 'greening'. "Those who think sustainability is important should also look at the immediate environment."

An April 2023 cleanup marked the beginning of The Green Mile Hoofddorp. Employees of eight companies and councillor Marja Ruigrok (Haarlemmermeer municipality) went to the Taurusavenue in Hoofddorp to pick up litter. “Fortunately, it was already very clean there,” Ruigrok looks back, smiling. “So the day had mostly symbolic value: companies that are already focused on sustainability connected with each other there. As a municipality, we can only applaud that.”

Human- and animal-friendly street

The initiators behind The Green Mile Hoofddorp were inspired by Amsterdam’s The Green Mile Stadhouderskade foundation. Organisations with offices at the Stadhouderskade are working together to turn this road into Amsterdam’s greenest, most animal- and people-friendly street. Members of the foundation include Heineken, the Nederlandsche Bank, the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Last year, Lidl also joined.

Machteld Kors, Director of Strategic Development at UNStudio, was one of the initiators in 2022. She did so with Ruth van Dijken of Blendingbricks, who is now director of The Green Mile Foundation. Kors emphasised at the time that The Green Mile is not a master plan for redevelopment of the area or some kind of action group, but a movement. “That still stands. Therefore, we are a foundation and not a business investment zone (biz) (Dutch). There is a mandatory nature to such a biz, which also focuses primarily on businesses. Instead, we want to work together with education and residents. And with the municipality. These are all equal stakeholders in the movement, each with their own role.”

The Green Mile Stadhouderskade seeks to enhance liveability in and around the street in a variety of ways. Similarly, in the summer of 2023, residents participated in a major cleanup effort in the area. In addition, The Green Mile is included as an innovation lab in several educational programmes at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. This means students can use the area for research on metropolitan challenges, for example, around supply, design and governance.

Learning from each other

The Green Mile Hoofddorp is not that far along for now, says Alexandre Golisano, Country President of Schneider Electric Netherlands. The company is one of the initiators in Hoofddorp. “We’ve had a few meetings now to get to know each other better. The next step is to learn from each other. What are different companies doing in terms of sustainability? And what could perhaps be done better? In addition, we want to invite employees to pitch initiatives, something that other organisations can also benefit from.”

Some eight companies have now joined the initiative, including Asics and L’Oréal. Golisano wants that number to grow and hopes area property owners will also join. “If we want to move towards zero emissions, we also need them. After all, buildings account for a large portion of emissions.”

Golisano could see The Green Mile eventually becoming a foundation, just like The Green Mile Stadhouderskade. “We can then formalise responsibility and ownership so that we can take bigger steps. That would match the responsibility we would like to take as companies. If you think sustainability is important, you also have to look at the immediate environment in which you operate.”

Marja Ruigrok, Machteld Kors and Alexandre Golisano are all members of our Network Council. Learn more about the benefits of membership. The article continues below.

Look differently, act differently

The Amsterdam metropolis aims to be a region where work and life are good for everyone. With a better balance between growth and liveability. Aimed at achieving prosperity for all. To get there, we need to make choices together. This is what companies, governments, academia, civil society organisations and citizens do together. How? Learn more about the call to Look differently, act differently.

Hanging up sensors

The Green Mile Stadhouderskade is now working on a sensor programme. Various sensors are hung in the area to continuously measure air quality, temperature and noise levels. “With those, we collect data to measure the effects of other interventions later on.” Via a dedicated dashboard (Dutch), interested parties can view the data. With TNO, The Green Mile is also working on a so-called digital twin of the area: a digital version of the Stadhouderskade that can simulate interventions in the area.

For Kors, the most important lesson so far is to continue to draw attention to what The Green Mile is working on. “The other day the whole street here was under construction. Now that the street is accessible again, there is just as much asphalt as before. This, of course, does not match our ambition. After a firm email exchange, and also partly due to good cooperation with the municipality, a traffic island is now being greened after all. The foundation is paying for this, because the municipality is not allowed to use its greening budget for concepts that have not yet been approved.” If measurements later show that such a traffic island contributes to the collection of water and cooling of the area, the municipality may well build more of them.

Interfering with public space

But is it actually desirable for companies to get involved in the design of public spaces? Melanie van der Horst, councillor in the City of Amsterdam, thinks so. “Of course, as a municipality, we have to keep a grip on this, but it is nice to work with partners, whether they are residents or entrepreneurs. Our coalition agreement also states that we want to join forces with all parties in the city that can help us with good and creative ideas.”

Sometimes that is still quite a search, Van der Horst acknowledges. “Initiators are often eager, but public space projects usually involve many municipal departments. As a result, it sometimes takes a long time before it is clear what can and cannot be done – and when. Mutually managing expectations is then of great importance within this public-private partnership. This is sometimes a search, but because we ultimately want the same, we really do get there.”

As far as she is concerned, the Green Mile Stadhouderskade is an example of that. “It’s obviously great to leverage the power of business. Especially when it comes to common goals, such as a liveable city and preparing the city for more extreme weather. As a municipality, we only own about half of the city’s surface area. The rest belongs to individuals and businesses, so we need each other anyway.”

One enthusiast

Ruigrok is also enthusiastic about this type of public-private partnerships. For example, the councillor sees great opportunities for the grid congestion the region is battling. “Besides the Taurusavenue, we have 67 more business parks in our municipality. Like Schiphol Trade Park. Thanks to similar cooperation, fifteen companies here can run on four grid connections, whereas normally one company has one grid connection. That only works if companies are in contact with each other.” As far as Ruigrok is concerned, there will therefore be more Green Miles in Haarlemmermeer. “You only need one enthusiast to get started. Organisations have to be willing to free up people. To connect with neighbors. Then great things can happen.”

Text: Mirjam Streefkerk
Image: Marja Ruigrok

16 January 2024

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