Utrecht, Netherlands

Healthy Urban Living

eco eco interview with the spokesman for the city of Utrecht Jacqueline Rabius, Matthijs Keuning and Maurice Prijs responsible for the Bee-Bus stop project. 

Key words: Biodiversity, City - policy, private and public collaborations

Article reading time: approx. 25min

Audio time: 26min


Philip: Today with us are two representatives from the city of Utrecht, we will be discussing the new project that was launched, namely the adding of green rooftops on the cities bus stops.  We’ve prepared some questions about this and also some follow up questions about sustainability and the city of Utrecht. 


So guys if you could quickly introduce yourselves. 


Mrs.Rabius: My name is Jacqueline Rabius and I’m the spokesman for the city of Utrecht. 

Mr.Keuning: My name is Matthijs Keuning. 


Mr.Prijs: My name is Maurice Prijs and I’m responsible for this project. 


Philip: Who came up with this idea of adding the green roofs on the bus stops? Did this exist in other cities, or in a  movie perhaps? Where did this come from. 


Mr.Prijs: Basically this is our own creation, the thing is in Holland you will see some green roofs on buildings, but what we actually had to do is a European tender to establish some new bus stops in Utrecht, and we have been talking a lot about what we have to do to get our main goals ready for this tender, and we had some inspiration from some roofs on the buildings. We thought it would be great to also have these green roofs on the cities bus stops. 


Philip:  That’s a wonderful idea, it goes to show that there are so many things existing in our world, in our system of living that can be optimised, and we thought that was so inspiring when we heard about this project.  


At the moment, if we read correctly there are 316 bus stops, with green roofs, was this an easy task? How long was the transformation from beginning to end of this project.  


Mr.Prijs:  to complete everything it took about six months, but the thing is in all of the European Union you have to do a European tender, which will last about two years. You have to prepare yourself for the European tender, you have to think carefully about what you are going to do and at the end you have to find a contract partner who will establish your idea. The transformation of the bus stops itself took around six months, but the whole process took around 24 months. 


Philip: The green rooftops capture fine dust, provide cooling in the heat, and ensure biodiversity in the city, do you have any predictions of the benefits? Was there perhaps a study presented before the construction with predicted benefits? 


Mr.Prijs:  There are quite a lot of studies regarding green roofs, but they are more about larger green roofs seen on buildings, the thing is that there is no specific information about green roofs on bus stops yet. We were inspired by the gardens on the roofs, which is why we introduced it on the bus stops. With all the media attention this gets, it will probably get surveyed in the coming years, we’ve spoken to a lot of people and they love the project, so in a sense you cannot only look at the bus stops themselves, you have to pay attention to their surroundings. They believe that when you look at the surroundings,  it can be a big benefit to nature and cities. 


Philip: Were there any researchers involved in the planning?


Mr.Prijs:  No, we actually didn't use a scientific method, we know from the studies from the green roofs on buildings, so that's our inspiration, we didn't do a big study, before.  Sometimes it's better to just do it and be the first, and probably they will prove afterwards what all the benefits are. 


Philip: When we discussed you project we were wondering if people had legitimate concern about the safety aspect, is it dangerous, will the incident rate of bee stings increase? Personally I think bees are quite relaxed if you don’t freak out and start hitting them..


Mr.Prijs: People from the city believe that the bees will attack them, but I think that's a big misunderstanding. There is a big difference between bees, there are quite a few different kinds. Everyone knows the honey bee, from children's stories, or comics… Honey bees are not attracted by the green roofs, the aim of the roofs is to attract wild bees, and wild bees are a very kind species and there is no reason to fear them. 


Philip: Ok amazing, so the people of Utrecht can be more calm again. 


Mr.Prijs: Yeah, the things is the wild bees are a solitary species.. People’s fear stems from the honey bees you know from the movies, when there is a swarm of 1 million attacking someone. With wild bees there is no reason to fear them. 


Philip: What we thought was quite interesting was that the project was done in cooperation and is managed by RBL Outdoor/Clear Channel. Is this model of the city and private companies collaborating in the sustainability and commercial space something new for Utrecht or are there other existing collaborations?


Mr.Prijs: This is not something new, as a city we’ve always looked at public private collaborations, I think that in all of Europe you always need some private partners to take over some parts. What we did in this case is something extraordinary, it’s really more than what people used to do. You know people just think a bus stop is a shelter where people go to wait for the bus. That's a one dimensional way of thinking, we would like to extend that further. So now we have a bus stop that is a shelter, but that also has some benefits for nature, for the bees and the extra water from rain can go through it. We have bamboo seating, so all in all we wanted to establish something more than a bus shelter. 


Philip:  We see this as an ideal partnership, since you are promoting sustainability at zero costs for the city. Regarding this type of partnership, do you have any advice for other cities, how are they initiated, how can they be implemented on a larger scale and at a faster speed?


Mr.Prijs: The thing is every city is different, and every city wants to make their own choices, what we've done is what works for us, and on your end it also works for other cities.  We’ve spoken a lot about the green roofs, and the bamboo seating but we also have some LED lighting in it and I think the nature inclusive design is very important to do in cities. I think these type of things will work in every city, but you just have to do it and get the most out of it. 


The most important thing is to get out of this one dimensional view of the bus shelter, you really have to take time for it, to think about and to discuss what fits best with your city. To be quite honest, it is a bit of hard work, but thinking outside of the box gets you the rewards you want to have. 


Philip: Interesting you mention this “one dimensional view” I’ve been discussing this with Jacob, and what we often think is that in the past decades we’ve had great innovations however often it seems that this sustainable aspect was not factored into the equation when we created things. I think the bus stop is a perfect example, and I’m sure there are 1000s of other things like it.  Which is why I think this initiative should really inspire people to think where they could transform other things via donations or partnerships with companies. 


Mr.Prijs: I think what's really important about the bus shelters is that people get a lot of identification because of it, we have so many bus stops people pass by, either by bus, car, bike or walking and it's easy to get inspired by it. We also support it in another way, namely that when people want to create a green roof on top of their own house, or with neighbours, we will support them financially to do this.   


Philip: So there are some kind of subsidies in place to do this? 


Mr.Prijs: Yes, we have, and the things we've seen is a really nice increase in demand for this. With all the attention we get, we want to help the bees, but in parallel we are inspiring a lot of people in Utrecht, in Holland, in Europe and the world to do the same. 


Philip: Was this program with the subsidies done in coordination with the bus stops? 


Mr.Prijs: There were actually two separate things, that come together in one way. 


Philip: So I think that's about all the questions we had in store regarding the bus stops, and I hope we will hear more, in coming months and years. 


Mr.Prijs: We’ll I can tell you about another project, at the beginning of November we are going to complete a new project at an advertisement post along the highway.  You have these in a lot of cities, along popular streets and highways. About 30 meters high, with two big screens. What we have done with the motto of “healthy urban living” is to combine the world's largest bee hotel with an advertising pole.  10’000 Square meters, with flowers along the highway, and we are going to create a nice sanctuary. We will create a hill because some bees will live in the ground, some will live in the bee hotel. That's our next project, and its due to launch on the 1st of November. You can create so many nice things with just thinking out of the box. 


Philip: Moving on… We had some other questions relating to Utrecht and Sustainability. 


Philip: Why is Utrecht different from other Dutch or European cities? What started this green consciousness movement? Who started it and when did it form?



Mr.Keuning: Utrecht is probably not very different from other cities in the Netherlands or Europe. The unique element might be that there is a widely shared belief that healthy urban living is the key mission for future development. For the past 10 years and 3 successive executive boards! We want to be an attractive city for a long time in an economically and environmentally sound environment. And Utrecht is growing fast partly because of this mission and the benefits for the city. The other unique element might be that we work together with everyone in achieving our sustainable goals, because we collaborate with all relevant parties like the bus companies, energy companies, housing corporations and platforms for residents. The municipality invests in collaborative step by step research and finding solutions along the way (trial and error). In an early stage we shared our goal of a first residential area becoming natural gas free by 2030. Participation with inhabitants started by the end of 2017 and since then we’re still in contact. We present our plans and listen to the worries and ideas of the inhabitants in ‘Overvecht-Noord ‘. In this way the policy in Utrecht is a real coproduction of the society and the market. In 2020 the local council will decide on the final plans for Utrecht to get rid of the use of fossil natural gas preferably by 2040.


Key for success is also the cooperation and interaction with national policy making. Utrecht was one of the 31 local governments signing a first Green Deal on neighbourhoods without natural gas’ with the national government and front runner energy companies. With this statement they declared the intention to investigate and change the legislative, technical, financial and social barriers for moving to alternatives for the use of fossil fuels! Knowledge has been shared between governments in an unprecedented speed and intensity. Utrecht belongs to the four biggest cities in the Netherlands and challenges the national government to change the policies that hinder the local government from moving forward.  


Philip: “Utrecht wants to be climate-neutral as soon as possible. This will yield a lot: new jobs, smart inventions, comfortable homes and a healthy city.”  Is this the “north star”* for Utrecht? When do you predict to achieve this?


Mr.Keuning: This is the north star mission for Utrecht because it is inevitable that we solve the sustainability issues threatening our planet. We think that action is needed and it’s better to do something than to wait. And in the end it’s our citizens that decide what to do and how fast we can move. And our businesses decide of course the speed and course: if we can’t make sustainability a sound business we will not succeed. 

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