The Dutch city of Alkmaar is crowned Europe’s greenest city

After Beringen in Belgium in 2020 and Nantes in France in 2021, Alkmaar in the Netherlands has won the 2022 Green Cities Europe Award recognising its inspiring “Greening & Biodiversity” programme. The Green Cities Europe Awards took place at Les Victoires du Paysage in Paris, France’s national landscape awards.

Surrounded by polders and crossed by canals, Alkmaar is a charming Dutch city famous for its cheese market. It is also a dynamic city which chose a local pragmatic approach to address environmental challenges. Knowing that plant solutions are effective in fighting urban warming, flooding risks and biodiversity loss, Alkmaar is developing its “Greening & Biodiversity” programme. In just a few months, various neglected sealed spaces were transformed into local green oases.

Alkmaar’s objective is to create 50,000 m² green spaces in seven years. Stadswerk072, the organisation responsible for the management and maintenance of Alkmaar, has grabbed an opportunity with both hands. The first step was to identify all sealed spaces that could benefit from a quick transformation: small squares, banks, car parks and roundabouts. These watertight and lifeless areas are then de-sealed to restore soil permeability. It is also important that all projects actively involve residents in the planning. Last but not least, the plant selection needs to focus on biodiversity, with a large variety of trees, berry-bearing shrubs, wildflowers, flowering bulbs and perennials.

In two years, 50 per cent of the objective has already been achieved with several mini-parks, urban flower meadows, newly planted banks and biodiversity-friendly roundabouts. These targeted and easy-to-implement interventions have had a decisive impact on the city and its inhabitants, improving the quality of life and local biodiversity and restoring the natural water cycle.

Alkmaar’s “Greening & Biodiversity” project thrilled the European jury because it shows how plant-based solutions can easily provide local mitigation to our current environmental challenges. This “Quick Win” approach transforms the city from grey to green, based on four pillars of local action: de-sealing, involving residents, planting and welcoming biodiversity. Alkmaar’s approach is one that can be followed by really any European city to green the living environment without excuses, restrictive rules or delays.

Poland ended 2nd with Czyżyny Park in Krakow, and Sweden 3rd with Växtrum in Lerum.

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