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Creating a Green City for the future at Floriade 2022

As preparations continue for the International Horticultural Exhibition in Almere, we look at its focus on sustainable urban living

Floriade Expo 2022 - Niek Roozen
Niek Roozen

Floriade Expo 2022 is set to open in Almere, close to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, in 100 days time. The International Horticultural Exhibition, which runs from 14 April to 9 October 2022, will welcome visitors from all over the world, inviting them to learn more about green solutions for living.

Floriade’s theme for 2022 is Growing Green Cities. Through this, it aims to present the creative, green solutions that will make urban living healthy and sustainable as we move into the future. And the topic is more prescient than ever. By 2050, it is estimated that around 68% of the global population will live in cities, on just 2% of the earth’s surface area.

See also: Floriade Expo 2022: introducing the greenest day out

As the preparations continue, blooloop spoke to landscape architect Niek Roozen, who has worked on every Floriade since 1982, about the task of creating a new green urban district of the future.

A green dream team

Speaking in front of piles of crates, containing some of the 500,000 bulbs that will be planted in preparation for Floriade Expo 2022, Roozen began by introducing the scope of work that his team is responsible for:

“With our green team, we are responsible for all the green elements at this new Floriade. This includes the existing plants and trees, but also the whole new green structure for the Floriade, and the area which we are developing afterwards, including the arboretum.”

“The arboretum is an idea of architect and urban planner Winy Maas, who developed the master plan for the Expo. This green structure brings a lot of plants and trees together, which contribute to a green and healthy city.

“For the arboretum, we are planting about 2,500 trees in total, 750 different varieties, according to a system based on the botanical name in the alphabet. The design for that was made by our team and we also planned all the ground cover. For instance, the perennials, ornamental grasses, flower bulbs, and edible plants.

“These are a joy to behold and also a major contributor to making cities healthier. They can improve air quality, discharge excess rainwater or help to cool things down on hot days.

“Our task is to develop and design the concept, to make planting designs, to collect all the necessary plants and ensure the right way of planting. We do that with about 50 – 60 people working outside, and we guide them to do it the right way. That is our responsibility – everything with a flower and a leaf outside!”

What are Green Cities?

Floriade_Neik Roozen and team
Roozen and team

Speaking about the concept of Green Cities, Roozen says:

“The Green City for me started in the year 2002 when we designed Floriade in Haarlemmermeer. In 2002, while I was chief architect, I was also responsible for one special exhibition inside the Expo. This was the Green City pavilion.

“That was the first time in the Netherlands, 20 years ago, that we began thinking about the other roles of greenery in relation to a healthy city, not only because green is nice and beautiful, but also looking at its function in relation to biodiversity, to nature, to temperature, to energy.

“We started with that Green City pavilion within Floriade Expo 2002. The Dutch government participates in quite a lot of exhibitions for international Expos all over the world. Now, as the Netherlands, we promote the Green City philosophy as much as possible at these events.”

This culminates with Floriade Expo 2022 in Almere, where the whole event is based around the concept of Green Cities.

“This idea underpins everything we are doing, all the trees we are planting, but also the way we think about nature in the city. It’s all based on the Green City principles.”

Growing Green Cities

For this Floriade, the main theme is ‘Growing Green Cities’. The team is developing, creating, and building a green and healthy city, with different elements to inspire people both during the construction and after the opening.

Drone view of the Floriade Expo site

“Until now, all the Expos were designed, more or less, as an exhibition park,” says Roozen. “This is the first time that we are not designing a park, but we are designing a city. This is unique in relation to all the Floriade events that have come before.

“So, we started with the design of the city eight years ago and five years ago we started with the construction. Now we are building the city. The infrastructure, the roads, nine sustainable bridges, and the infrastructure under the ground, is all based on that new town.

“We are going to use it for Floriade Expo 2022. Then, after the event, it will be developed further as an urban district.”

A Floriade for the future

On this topic of Floriade Expo 2022’s longevity, Roozen adds:

“A Floriade Expo lasts six months and therefore covers three seasons: spring, summer and a little part of autumn. But planning for the winter is also important for this Expo’s legacy. What we are designing now is a green structure for all four seasons. Based on the four seasons we have planted 90,000 shrubs and 200,000 perennials and 500,000 bulbs.”

The plants used are able to grow well in this climate and in this soil. This ensures that the plants will continue to develop after several years. “We do not plant just for one Expo. We plan for the long term,” says Roozen.

“There are three starting points for us as a green team. The first one is to be aware of what you have already, the existing green. This is a relatively new area in the Netherlands. It is reclaimed land, 60 years ago it was still under the sea. The construction of this new town started 40 or 50 years ago. We have trees that are 40 years old and these are already big.”

floriade-arboretum planting
Planting work on the arboretum. Image credit Danny van Kolck

When the team started to design Floriade Expo 2022 and this new part of the city, they decided they wanted to keep all the trees that were healthy and in a good condition, making them part of the new green structure.

“That’s not always easy. For instance, if you want to make an electricity cable or a sewage system, and there’s a tree, you must go under the roots. That’s more complicated, but that’s what we did.

“The other two starting points are the new trees, but also ways to stimulate and improve existing nature as much as possible. We believe that nature will play a much more important role in our cities in the future.

“For instance, we try to give examples of how you can combine different cultivated aquatic plants that grow on the border of the water or in the water, in order to stimulate biodiverse nature. This is important for all kinds of insects, bees and butterflies.”

Engaging the local community

With any project of this scale, it is important to ensure that the local community is engaged from the start.

“It was not easy in the beginning,” says Roozen. “People asked ‘Is it necessary? Why are you going to build such an exhibition?’ That is why Floriade held many information evenings to inform people as much as possible.

“But what we have seen throughout the process is that the appreciation of the people in the area is increasing. That is because they now understand what we are doing here and why we’re doing it.”

Floriade Niek Roozen - bulbs
Roozen planting bulbs with local school children

“This morning, I was planting bulbs with 30 students from primary school. It’s nice to see all the volunteers from companies, businesses and schools in our city helping us to plant some of the 500,000 bulbs. There are many volunteers here who want to contribute, at all different levels.

“That is important because that’s how we create ambassadors. There is a lot of enthusiasm. Next year, those children will return with their parents to show them: ‘These are my bulbs, I planted them’. They are very proud to have contributed to the Expo.

“We try to connect with people in all kinds of ways, from the city government to the young people.”

The Green City Storytelling Exhibition

Another way the Floriade Expo 2022 team works to connect with the local community and with visitors is through the Green City Storytelling Exhibition.

“The entire Expo, all 60 hectares, is a Green City. So, with everything we do, the existing greenery, the new greenery, the arboretum, nature, the butterfly belt around the Expo, we are building that Green City.

Bee & butterfly friendly planting ribbon Floriade
Bee & butterfly-friendly planting

“But it’s also important to explain to people what we are doing. We thought, let’s try to tell it everywhere, not in one specific place but all over the Expo, showing examples of what we do and then explaining.” 

The team designed the Green City Storytelling Project with four different levels to explain the ideas behind the Expo:

“Firstly, we explain what the green city means at a national level. Right now in the Netherlands, we are building a lot of cities and green buildings. There are now special buildings under construction in the Netherlands where greenery plays a very important role. Together with our government advisors, at the highest level in the field of architecture and urban planning, we asked those people to support us developing plot number one, explaining Green Cities on a national level.”

Explaining the Green City concept

“Then we have 12 spots all over the site where we explore something specific about one subject of the Green City,” says Roozen. “For example, food production, high temperatures in the city, clean air, or bees and butterflies. For these different subjects, we designed 12 specific pavilions.

“At the third level, we explain about all the ground cover plants, the combination of the plants. We designed 150 information panels within the Expo site, and all the information is given not by a panel where you can read what you see, but we are going to frame it, so we make a kind of painting frame and inside the frame, you will see what you really see outside, then we tell you about it.”

Arboretum East Floriade Green cities
Drone view of the arboretum

“Finally, on the fourth level, this is the information about the trees. We are going to make a small information panel connected to these trees with a QR code. This will be connected to a dashboard. Here, you can find all the information on every specific tree. You can also see how that tree contributes to a green and healthy city.”

The arboretum

These trees are a key part of Floriade Expo 2022, forming an arboretum where 750 different varieties of trees will be showcased.

“The arboretum project is a collection of trees, perennials and bulbs, which contribute to the four themes of Floriade 2022, within the overall theme of Growing Green Cities,” says Roozen. These sub-themes are Greening the City, Feeding the City, Healthying the City and Energising the City.

Arboretum-Floriade Green cities

“We have planted varieties of plants which are connected to one or more of those themes. In the future, we think it will be important to see more different varieties of trees. We want to see more combinations of trees, in relation to biodiversity. So, we designed an arboretum with all the plants which can grow here, and which contribute to the principles of the Green City.

“We have designed it on basis of the alphabet, using the botanical name of the tree. It’s like walking through a living library. It’s enjoyable to see the different varieties and combinations in colour, height, size and shape.

“The arboretum will also be great for the future of the city. In total, the Expo has 192 building plots, for all kinds of entries like national and international exhibitions. After the Expo, the developer will build houses on these plots. Looking ahead, each building plot will be surrounded by different varieties of trees.

“The arboretum gives a lot of information about the different trees. We are also writing a book that will be ready at the start of Floriade. This means that designers and people who work in city governments can use this information to develop their own Green City.”

Floriade will reveal Green City solutions from April 2022

Roozen also says that the Floriade Expo 2022 project is on schedule, despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic.

“It’s going perfectly. We are on schedule; we open on April 14th, and we will be ready. But, as with every big project, there is a lot of pressure.

“In the beginning, it was not easy to develop the design, because we are building an Expo and an urban district. To do this, you need a city developer, people who invest money. The commercial aspect of this Expo makes it a little bit more difficult than the previous events.”

Floriade_Floriculture Green cities

“The pandemic of course adds an extra difficult element, but the most important thing is we are mostly working outside.

“One of the good things that has come out of this pandemic has been easier communication. With tools like Zoom, we can talk with international exhibitors, as well as partners in the city. It is very easy to communicate and work, sometimes even more efficiently. It saves a lot of travel time.

“Right now, in the Netherlands, quite a lot of people are fully vaccinated. Also, Floriade Expo 2022 is a project which is mainly outside. It is designed in a way so that we can ensure a good flow of people.”

A career in horticultural Expos

While Floriade has evolved over the years, Roozen has always been involved in one way or another, throughout his career.

“At the event in 1972, as a student, I was so enthusiastic about what I saw,” he says. “Since that time, from the moment I finished my studies, I have been part of Floriade.”

Plant_greenhouse Green cities

“For Floriade 1982, in Amsterdam, I worked there for three years as a designer. After this, the Dutch government asked me to design all the Dutch exhibitions at international horticultural exhibitions all over the world. For the Floriade in 1992, I made a lot of designs for different ornamental promotion organisations for bulbs and perennials. Then, in 2002, I was the chief architect of Floriade in Haarlemmermeer.”

The importance of Floriade

Roozen has also worked on Expo 2019, an International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing, China, as well as Expos in Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and more. Over the last 20 years, the theme of Green Cities has grown and become increasingly visible.

“For me, personally, Floriade Expos are very important. I see the enthusiasm from the builders, from the designers, but, most importantly, from the visitors. You can inspire people, you can educate people. These events make people more enthusiastic about Green Cities, especially in the time that we are living in now.”

Arboretum_Living-bridge-Floriade Green cities
A living bridge within the arboretum

“At this moment, Green Cities are more important than ever. Cities are growing fast and we know there are all these problems in relation to the climate. Greening the city is not the only solution but it helps to improve the environment for modern urban living.

“I believe that this kind of exhibition brings people together. The slogan is that ‘green connects’ and that’s what I really believe. Floriade Expo 2022 will show us an optimistic future. Floriade brings people together from all kinds of cultures, all kinds of countries. And it makes people enthusiastic about the future.”

All images kind courtesy of Floriade Expo 2022.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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