Tiles out, come on with the green!

In the Belgian town of Lier, 30 families were ordered to take the paving out of their front gardens at short notice. Bricks, pebbles and tiles had to be removed and replaced by green – a very sensible measure as far as I’m concerned, one that wouldn’t do any harm in the Netherlands either as half of all gardens in the country are tiled. Quite apart from the fact that all that grey is rather grim and that green makes people happy, a tiled garden isn’t a good idea for other reasons too. After heavy downpours, the soil can’t absorb the rainwater because of all the stones, and this results in flooding. An equally disconcerting development is that the abundance of tiles are causing biodiversity in the Netherlands to decline further Biodiversity in the Netherlands is under threat – in the countryside and in the cities. A mere 15% of all the indigenous plants and animals that were around in 1900 have survived to this day. The Netherlands does not compare well with the rest of Europe, where the average is 40%. One third of all animal species are at risk of extinction, including various pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Pollinators are usually killed by pesticides or an insufficiently varied nutrition, which in turn are the result of building developments, nitrogen emissions and monoculture – and agricultural land covers more than 54 percent of the country’s total area.

Most people don’t have enough influence to make agriculture more sustainable, but they do have control over their own gardens or balconies. The only thing is that they need to be made aware of this. Cities and municipalities are devoting more and more attention to adding green to neighbourhoods, but small organisations are playing their part as well.

Take The Pollinators foundation, which handed out organic seeds across the country last month. Volunteers in cities and villages acted as ‘food banks for bees’, giving away organic seeds (in coronavirus-proof fashion). The seeds will produce millions of flowers filled with pollen and nectar. The goal of the initiative was to offer pollinators a more diverse diet, while at the same time raising awareness about the value of nature.

Organisations such as Rooftop Revolution and Dakdokters are transforming dull flat roofs into lush green oases. And we mustn’t forget the NK Tegelwippen competition. In its first edition in 2020, Rotterdam and Amsterdam vied for the sought-after title. This year, with 40 cities taking on the challenge, the competition will be fiercer. The city that replaces most tiles with greenery wins. 

All these initiatives aimed at making the Netherlands greener, with flowers, plants, trees, insect hotels, green roofs and living walls, are enhancing biodiversity. But at the same time, it would help to follow Lier’s example, with municipalities urging all Dutch people who have fully paved gardens to take the tiles out and come on with the green!

Asceline Groot is an entrepreneur at hetkanWEL (itCANbedone), author of ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ (The New Green), Content Coordinator at The Crowd Versus and promoted at Radboud University Nijmegen. In her columns, she writes about social enterprises and start-ups and about trends and developments in sustainability.