Why is Amsterdam, a city famous for its progressive culture, so determined to build a big-box distribution center on a 60-hectare plot of unspoiled land on the edge of the city? Despite the obvious downsides of the idea, politicians and city officials seem more eager to cater to the Amazon retailers of the world than to plan for climate disruption, a carbon-frugal economy, and wiser land use. The City seems poised to sell or lease the public’s crown jewels – land – on behalf of a world of economic growth, consumerism, and carbon emissions.
Thanks to a spirited campaign by thousands of Amsterdam citizens, however, an alternative future for the land may yet materialize. Over the past several years, thousands of city residents have held public protests, teach-ins, and organizing sessions to advance a different vision for the land. They envision the building of Voedselpark Amsterdam, or Food Park, that would use the land as an urban farm and a green space for recreation and nature studies, all to be stewarded as a commons.
The basic idea is to generate locally sourced, nutritious food; create farm jobs that would contribute to the city’s food security; and strengthen civic culture through commoning – while avoiding the problems caused by capitalist growth and climate breakdown. Supporters of the Food Park have been passionate enough about these ideas that they raised half a million euros in cash and pledges through crowdfunding, in an attempt to acquire the land.
To learn more about the campaign to establish the Food Park, I spoke with Natasha Hulst, one of the organizers, on my podcast Frontiers of Commoning (Episode #41). Natasha also happens to be a colleague of mine at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, where she is Director of the European Land Program.
“It's very much a David-and-Goliath story,” said Hulst, pointing out that the City of Amsterdam is trying to displace family farmers who have grown organic food on the land for generations. The title of a documentary film about the struggle is entitled, “The Last Farm of Amsterdam.”