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IJburg, Amsterdam: Innovative Neighborhood on Artificial Islands

IJburg is one of the newest neighborhoods in Amsterdam. In this city of high density and scarce developable land, the creation of a new neighborhood is a long and expensive planning process. IJburg is a unique urban planning experiment that consisted of creating a neighborhood from scratch. The project came mainly to respond to a severe housing shortage in the Dutch capital.

Public space, IJburg, Amsterdam, Netherlands

IJburg is composed of an archipelago of seven artificial islands. To date, three islands have been developed. IJburg is a continuation of the Dutch tradition of living with and on the water; however, a different approach to land reclamation was adopted this time around. Instead of building a dyke-ring, layers of sand were laid on Lake IJmeer seabed to form the islands.

The vision for IJburg was of a mixed-use urban neighborhood in symbiosis with the surrounding nature and water bodies. This symbiosis was to be achieved through an ecologically sensitive design approach. Nonetheless, environmental activists opposed the project initially on the grounds that it would be a threat to the ecological balance of Lake IJmeer and the adjacent Diemerpark Nature Reserve. But the involvement of environmental groups in the planning and design process ensured a positive outcome for the project, and IJburg was granted final approval in 1997.

IJburg was developed using an innovative public-private partnership. The private partners committed to purchase land in advance which would guarantee the future success of the project. The creation of land and infrastructure including new roads, bridges, and a sewage facility was provided through public funding. A new tram line was also extended to connect IJburg to Amsterdam's city center.

Tram 26, IJburg, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The development on IJburg was not only carried by large development companies. To ensure a diversity of building and architecture styles, two islands were platted for plot-based housing development. Parcels are acquired by individuals who will develop their properties with the help of an architect of their choice. The properties concerned by this development are exclusively single family homes.

Housing options in IJburg also include floating homes. Residences float on the water along jetties within an inland water body, forming the first large scale water quarter (waterbuurt) of the Netherlands. Other spaces for houseboats are also provided within the islands.

Floating homes, IJburg, Amsterdam, Netherlands

IJburg is still a project under development. The recent economic crisis has slowed the building and development process; but the adoption of diverse development approaches and use of small parcels allow an incremental development to take place. Undeveloped spaces are being used temporarily by residents, which enables more spontaneous urban practices to take place in this planned community. IJburg is also one of three areas in Amsterdam where new products and services are tested by businesses as part of Amsterdam Smart City initiative.

IJburg offers a precious space for experimentation for Dutch architects and planners, and is already a destination for architecture professionals and students. But with rising sea levels, such development might be risky. What are some of the other climate change issues that are threatening traditional land development practices?

Credits: Images by Sarah Essbai. Data linked to sources.