This entire sustainable neighborhood is built on water

It took almost ten years of planning and a lot of determination, but construction on the floating sustainable neighborhood Schoonschip in Amsterdam has finally started. The first residents are planning to move in right after this summer and if all goes according to plan all 46 floating homes will be in place by the summer of 2019.  With 500 solar panels, 30 heat pumps and no usage of gas Schoonschip allegedly is going to be one of the most sustainable neighborhoods of Europe. And the great thing is: the entire hood is built on a canal in the upcoming north of Amsterdam.   

Realizing a dream

It all started ten years ago with Marjan de Blok having a dream. As a filmmaker she visited a houseboat that was equipped with solar panels and a water purification system, a new phenomenon at the time. She instantly knew this was what she wanted for herself: sustainable living on the waters of Amsterdam. She put her dream on Social Media and within no time gathered a big group of likeminded people to help realize this dream and to get the City to take the plans seriously. Now, ten years later, construction has finally started and 105 residents are planning to move in before the end of next year. “It is just magical,” Marjan says on seeing her dream come true. “I thought it was a little embarrassing that I wanted to create a whole sustainable residential area, but here we are.”

The floating homes are built offsite

The logistical process of building this neighborhood is mind blowing. All the floating homes are being built offsite by different contractors. After being built they have to be transported into the water and then towed to their final destination. “We are talking about big floating homes here,” Marjan specifies. “The vessel on which mine is built, is nine by ten meters (29,5 x 32,8 feet). To get that towed half across the country is nerve wrecking. At one point a crane is needed to actually lift a bridge in order to let the boats pass by. And of course this whole process will be excruciatingly slow.”

Circular economy & lifestyle

The floating homes will find their final resting place on a 10 feet wide jetty that is connected to the quay at five different points. With its 100 meters (328 feet) the canal is pretty wide. There will be quite a big distance to either waterside. “This used to be an industrial area where Fokker airplanes were built,” Marjan explains. “When we found this location for our floating sustainable neighborhood there was nothing here. It was pretty desolate. But time has caught up with us and people have started to build homes for their families here. They’re actually emailing us asking when we’ll arrive with our floating homes. We already signed a contract with them promoting a circular economy and lifestyle. It will be such a nice area when everything is finished.”

Smart grid

Schoonschip, which literally means ‘clean ship’, is building their own smart grid to be as energy self-sufficient as possible. The residents are using block chain technology to bring the sharing of clean energy to the next level. They’re using a local currency, Jouliette, that is fully digital, online and energy based. ”Basically what it means is that my neighbors can use my solar panel generated energy and I will automatically receive Jouliettes for that. If I, on my turn, need my neighbor’s solar generated energy, my Jouliettes will float back into his account. The less power I use, the more Jouliettes I have. I can also use them for other purposes.” This groundbreaking initiative only knows one comparable project, which is in Brooklyn (NYC).

Sustainable living

Of course the smart grid, using solar panels, is not the only sustainable feature of this community. “We’re using water pumps, solar heaters, sustainable insulation and sustainable building materials. We want to be as green as possible. But it also has to be affordable and it can’t take away too much space from the houses,” Marjan tells us. “It’s an interesting journey, but also complicated. It requires a lot of attention, energy and thinking. We’ve encountered many bumps in the road.”

A strong community

The residents of Schoonschip have gathered a lot of useful knowledge on their journey, which they would love to pass on to others. “This community also has a strong social component, which is why we created a communal place on the jetty. This is where we can educate people on sustainable living and give them a guided tour. There’s already a lot of interest from people who wonder how we realized our dream, what the steps were, what we had to overcome and what we learned from that. We’d love to pass all that on and help to promote a sustainable lifestyle.”

Wyke Potjer
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