Help to make Amsterdam Doughnut-proof
Work with academics to explore solutions
SUSA is an interdisciplinary network that aims to engage Amsterdam’s academics and other interested thinkers in making Amsterdam align with the Doughnut Economy of Kate Rayworth, i.e both socially and ecologically sustainable. The past months, SUSA has been busy collecting stories from citizens and organizations in Amsterdam about the obstacles they encounter when trying to live or do business without harming the planet or others around them. From these stories, so far some eight obstacles to overcome have been identified to make Amsterdam doughnut-proof. On 15 September these obstacles to overcome were presented and discussed in a Roundtable discussion with interested academics from various academic institutions in Amsterdam. Based on these discussions we have further narrowed down the core obstacles to overcome from eight to the six obstacles discussed below.
You are warmly invited to join one of the interdisciplinary teams that will seek solutions to one of the six obstacles to overcome set out below. In October and November 2021, the teams will meet a few times to explore the problem and their solutions from their various disciplinary backgrounds. Their solutions may come in many forms, such as a written report, a presentation, a database, a movie, a clip, a business idea, or any other research outcome. Creativity is welcome! There is no pressure to deliver a finalized end product: Amsterdam was not built in a day, neither will we make Amsterdam doughnut-proof in a few months. The aim is to bring together smart and creative individuals in an interdisciplinary setting to investigate if we can innovate to make our city doughnut-proof.
On 1 December the teams will present their solutions at a conference where Kate Raworth is the confirmed keynote speaker. The conference will take place in Amsterdam, in hybrid form (both online and in person).
Express your interest for one (or more) of the themes before 30 September 2021 via email@example.com. If you would like to receive more information or to talk further with us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
The six themes & teams
1: A bottom-up city
How to design municipal governance in a way that nurtures bottom-up initiative? The Amsterdam Donut Coalition shows that bottom-up initiatives are extremely important for bringing Amsterdam in the Doughnut. Some of Amsterdam’s inhabitants indicate that the government and municipality get in the way of what makes life worthwhile for them: they want to help others, contribute to their community and collectively channel their efforts into ideas that can make their environment a better place. They feel like civil service kills their enthusiasm, pulls it all towards itself or complicates it to such an extent that all energy drains out of the once so motivated groups and individuals. How do we design the governance of Amsterdam in such a way that the city stimulates and supports the wonderful bottom-up initiatives of its inhabitants? Last week’s roundtable discussion led to ideas on sandboxing to create space for experimentation. In addition, participants highlighted how inter-departmental communication within municipalities must be un-siloed, and that we must explore how ‘participation’ is often unsatisfactory and that there must be more space for actual listening to locals, in ways that are utterly inclusive.
2: Rethinking garbage
The concept of garbage is somewhat odd considering that we live in an interconnected system on a planet in a universe and that ‘garbage’ does not leave our system when we throw it away. Our consumption patterns bring with it more and more garbage which stands in stark contrast to our ambitions to respect the ecological boundaries of the planet we call home. We all know the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, but to what extent has this influenced the way in which we manage our city? What alternatives are out there for plastic? What can be done to make packaging-free groceries the new normal? Citizens of Amsterdam have expressed that they are concerned with what happens with their garbage and what the right allocation of responsibilities is between the municipality and citizens when it comes to separating waste. They equally express that they feel seduced to buy more and more clothes by advertising and vlogs and that opting for sustainable options still is expensive or just simply a space that remains very difficult to navigate. During our roundtable, ideas came to the fore on working on alternative materials as well as on better communication on the (dis)advantages of using plastics.
3: Travel and mobility
How do we make sure that mobility in Amsterdam is both inclusive and ecologically sustainable? The city is crowded: the abundance of traffic leads to the roads and parking spaces being dangerous and chaotic. Vehicles used in Amsterdam (including the public ferries to and from Amsterdam-North) are polluting. Shared bicycles must be returned at the same place, making it harder to use them as real means of transport. Moreover, many of the ‘shared services’ still provide vehicles that run on petrol. Especially disabled residents of Amsterdam experience mobility issues and indicate that they perceive mobility in the city increasingly so as less inclusive. Less mobile citizens struggle with the bumpy streets, the inaccessible public and cultural facilities due to impractical architecture and loss of parking spaces that are close enough to facilities. In addition, Amsterdam’s citizens are well-informed about how polluting airplanes are, but struggle to translate that insight into their travelling behaviour or to sustainable traveling policies for their companies.
4: My neighborhood, my home
Citizens of Amsterdam indicate a desire for their neighbourhoods to feel more like inclusive communities in which there is a sense of belonging, in which people help each other out and a place where together everyone feels at home. The individualistic set-up of the city has been identified as a problem. Respondents have indicated they would be interested in living more collectively, where facilities are shared, ownership may be shared and there is room to meet one another. This phenomenon goes hand in hand with the dire housing situation in Amsterdam, living in Amsterdam has become unaffordable to many. Social rent services have waitlist of over a decade. Many cannot afford renting or buying in the city, while investors have free rein to buy up houses to rent them out for high prices. How can we build a city in which people feel locally connected and at home in their neighbourhoods?
5: Living in harmony with urban nature
“Hello, we are Amsterdam’s pigeons! Many people see us as pests, but we do not find that very social.” Humans share the city with much non-human life: with trees, plants, doves, seagulls, parakeets, other birds, with rats, mice, worms, insects and many more. There are about one million trees in Amsterdam – meaning there are actually more trees than people. The era of the Anthropocene requires us to rethink our relationship with non-humans. How can the intrinsic value of a tree be recognized? How can the infrastructure of the city be made in such a way that it is inclusive towards doves and other birds? The social foundation of Raworth’s doughnut-model that inspires Amsterdam to become more sustainable should arguably not only include humans, but also non-human beings. What role does human language play in how ‘nature’ is perceived as opposite to ‘culture’?
6: Making big system change tangible and measurable
Meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet requires big system change. However, many people feel that the problems of climate change or societal inequality are so big that they are powerless to affect any change. One of the reasons for this feeling could be that sustainability has to be made concrete and measurable before people can see how their activities make a difference. Although the Doughnut model provides a powerful compass for human progress in the 21st century, many people feel like they cannot really work with it. The reason for this is that the Doughnut does not yet function as a concrete yardstick for organizations or citizens to assess how well they are doing. How to operationalise the Doughnut as a workable framework based on which individuals, companies and municipalities can assess their performance? But before trying to define metrics in pursuit of measurability, one must first address the question what the potential is of measurability to make big system change tangible. What can and cannot be expressed in numbers or figures? And where does quantification in pursuit of comparability over-simplify complex societal problems so that we must seek alternative solutions to empower people to pursue change?
Get in touch
Express your interest for one (or more) of the teams before 30 September 2021 via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive more information or to talk further with us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
We hope to see you soon!
Nena van der Horst