“Amsterdam is becoming a donut city.” This slogan isn’t about the growth of sweetbread chain Dunkin’ Donuts in the capital, but about how the city’s sustainability department wants to tackle problems.
Under the guise of the ‘donut city’, Alderman Marieke van Doorninck (Spatial Development and Sustainability, GroenLinks) expressed her ambitions in April 2020 to make Amsterdam a greener and more social city. And she wanted to apply the ideas of the ‘doughnut economy’, based on the theory of British economist Kate Raworth of Oxford University.
According to Raworth, the problems of our time require a different approach than those in the classical growth model. Economic growth as we know it now leads to climate change and socio-economic inequality, she argues. That can and should be done differently, according to Raworth. In contrast to the ever increasing trend of the classical growth model, Raworth’s model looks like a donut. The inside represents a shortage of basic needs, such as care and housing. The exterior visualizes the so-called ‘planetary boundaries’ such as climate and environment, within which the entire economy should operate.
The municipality of Amsterdam has formulated goals to ensure that the city will soon operate within the limits of the donut economy. For example, by 2030 the use of new raw materials should be halved. By 2050, Amsterdam must have a circular economy that is also climate neutral. Raworth, who has also been affiliated with the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences since last year, is enthusiastic. Amsterdam is the first metropolis to try to put the donut into practice. “The policy is not yet implemented everywhere, but I don’t see such an ambitious agenda anywhere else.”
Also read: What will the city look like after the pandemic?
Van Doorninck also wants higher ambitions on a social level, although that task rests with other aldermen. And therein lies the challenge of the donut economy: it is not only sustainable, but also social. An Amsterdam ambition that fits in with this, for example, is that 10 percent of the housing supply must soon be cooperative – with residents deciding for themselves how they manage the building. This should promote affordability and access to the housing market. But it is precisely in this area that Amsterdam is still far from its goals. Of the nearly 60,000 Amsterdammers who were looking for social housing in 2018, only 12 percent were allocated a home. In addition, nearly 20 percent of tenants do not have enough money for other basic necessities after paying the rent.
The donut approach advocated by Van Doorninck in its field – spatial development and sustainability – has not yet been implemented integrally by the municipality in all policy areas.
All this means that the Amsterdam ‘doughnut’ approach has not yet allayed the concerns of Shivant Jhagroe, assistant professor at the Institute of Public Administration in Leiden. He states that in practice sustainable and social usually do not go hand in hand. In 2016 he obtained his PhD on urban sustainable transitions, noting a growth imbalance between an ‘eco-elite’ and ‘gray laggards’. Solar panels, electric cars and organic meat are not for everyone. He sees the donut economy mainly as a nice metaphor that will not change that much in practice.
According to Jhagroe, the municipality should link climate policy to poverty reduction. “Take energy poverty: you also have to keep sustainable energy affordable. Do you necessarily need a donut strategy for that? I do not think so. Now there is a risk that the donut, after circularity and sustainability, will become yet another marketing ploy.”
The risk is that, after circularity and sustainability, the donut will become yet another marketing ploy
Shivant Jhagroe assistant professor at the Institute of Public Administration in Leiden
Also independent economist and metropolitan strategist Najah Aouaki, who often works in and with the municipality of Amsterdam, does not see a major change taking place in the social field. According to Aouaki, the municipality must set a lower limit for simple needs such as access to energy, food and housing. “The government alone can determine the rules for this. In this way, it can force companies to weigh up social, green and financial goals. If the government leaves everything to the free market and citizens’ initiatives, we will really move towards an eco-elite.” The municipality can make a start with this, but the national government is also needed to make really big steps here, according to both Jhagroe and Aouaki.
According to Jhagroe, the big question is whether the donut economy is accompanied by a national or non-national donut policy. “In theory you can say that you want to get rid of that eco-elite and that everyone can participate, but what if in practice exactly the same people use donut initiatives? This actually creates a donute lite.”
What does the practice of the Amsterdam donut economy look like? NRC visited three initiatives that, in line with the donut model, unite sustainable and social.
‘Nomadisch’ restaurant de KasKantine
At Sportpark Riekerhaven, near the Nieuwe Meer, you will find the sustainable neighborhood gardens with a food cycle and meeting and workplace of the KasKantine. The founder of this off-grid community – without electricity, water and gas connections – is Menno Houtstra. “I had no money and was practically homeless. I had previously worked on farms in Eastern Europe. In those primitive conditions, I learned that you can easily survive with self-built facilities. ”
Houtstra built a restaurant for less than 5,000 euros. “The majority of this went to the architect and the catering permit,” he says. Since then, many things have been added, such as a bicycle workshop, a homemade pizza oven for neighborhood meals and a ‘free supermarket’ with food collected from shops and restaurants. And all this on a voluntary basis, to accommodate people with a small wallet. Sustainable and affordable: a typical donut initiative.
One of Houtstra’s secrets: “Because as nomads we constantly change locations with all our containers, we can stand on cheap land that is temporarily available. We do something fun with it at low cost.”
Houtstra does not have a revenue model. “We eat from what we produce in our gardens and from the food we collect through Albert Heijn.” According to the so-called ‘MAEX index’, which expresses social value in money, the KasKantine adds 300,000 euros to society per year. The total costs amount to 17,000 euros, partly thanks to the efforts of thirty volunteers.
For the first time, the KasKantine has now ended up on the land of the municipality, which uses a cost-effective price as a minimum rent. But according to Houtstra, those costs are lower than what the municipality suggests. He therefore wants to pay less. “We don’t cost the municipality anything, while we do create value for the neighborhood.” A number of municipal councilors submitted a motion to help Houtstra, but it was rejected this month by alderman Van Doorninck. According to Houtstra, this is because the Real Estate department fears setting a precedent: if they allow this form of sustainable land use for less rent, other applicants may soon be queuing up to make use of it. While that, according to Houtstra, is precisely the intention.
Collective and sustainable at De Warren
It should happen next September: collective, sustainable and affordable living, exactly as the donut model prescribes – and that in Amsterdam. It sounds like a utopia in the current housing market, but according to the group of friends behind Wooncoöperatie de Warren it will really happen. The 36 homes in IJburg will be energy-positive, which means that the building generates more energy than it needs. In addition, it will have a green facade and natural building materials such as wood will be used.
“We have been organizing events with this collective for years,” says co-initiator Gerard Roemers. “As a result, there is a culture of mutual respect and good cooperation. In this way, we have now also made the design together and supervised the project.” The building is not only sustainable, but should also promote cohabitation. Each floor will have a collective space, ranging from workspaces to a theatre. “A kind of mini-village in the city.”
The big difference with ‘normal’ developing sustainable homes for the rental market is that no one in the cooperative model becomes the owner of the building, says Roemers.
“You remove speculative incentives from the system, while the long-term objectives are guaranteed. The fact that as residents you feel the consequences of your own design and construction choices, but also take into account the residents who come after you, makes this so unique.”
Roemers is pleased with the role of the municipality. “They have guided us well, and are ready if we, as a pioneer, run into unexpected things.” But it didn’t stop with words: the municipality is making more and more land available for cooperatives, and has set up a loan fund to finance the construction of cooperative housing. “In this way, the municipality of Amsterdam helps to close the gap that the bank cannot finance, as long as you submit a good plan.”
Rents will range from 450 euros for a studio to 970 euros for a family home, and everything in between. This is relatively cheap on the Amsterdam rental market. Roemers: „Because as a resident you are a member of the association, rents will not rise further than inflation. In twenty years you will laugh to death about how little you pay in rent here, compared to other social and mid-range rents.”
New life for old clothes
Amsterdammers produce about 14 kilos of textile waste per person every year, of which 10 kilos ends up in the residual waste. This is usually incinerated, with a lot of CO2 released. “Corona showed us how big the problem is,” says Roosmarie Ruigrok.
From the municipality of Amsterdam, she is project leader at Reflow, a European project that has also been promoting the reuse and recycling of textiles in Amsterdam for two years now. “Because all transport was restricted, we were suddenly saddled with 150,000 kilos of textile.”
Reflow started several initiatives. For example, people with a Stadspas, available to Amsterdam residents with a low income, can receive a 25 percent discount on repairs at thirty tailors. That was even 90 percent in the first few months. “With this we not only help people with a Stadspas to participate in the circular economy, but also the tailors themselves,” explains Ruigrok. “They had little work during corona. In addition, we save thousands of items of clothing from the incinerator.”
Reflow also set up a ‘Swapshop’, where Amsterdammers can exchange their clothes, shoes and accessories instead of buying them. In this second-hand shop you pay in addition to some service costs with ‘Swaps’, points that you receive for returning old clothes. They must be clean and intact. If they are not, they are recycled.
This recycled material comes in handy in the ‘Denim Deal’ between, among others, 30 parties in the fashion and textile industry and the municipality of Amsterdam, initiated by Reflow.
The ‘deal’ is that brands such as Scotch & Soda, Kuyichi and MUD Jeans together make three million denim garments containing at least 20 percent recycled textiles within three years. For this, the municipality, which is therefore directly involved in Reflow, collects the old textiles.