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Home > Focus > Rijnvliet, the Edible Neighborhood

Rijnvliet, the Edible Neighborhood

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 7 July 2023

On 17 June 2022 I visited the Utrecht suburb (in construction) of Rijnvliet [2] for a guided tour offered as part of the City of Utrecht Architecture Day. This development won the 2021 Innovation in Politics Award [3] and reached the final of the A+Architizer Award 2023 [4] in the Sustainable Landscape / Project Planning category for its approach to ecology, is marketed as an 'edible neighborhood' and features a food forest and edible hedgerows.

As regular readers will know, relationships between nature and society and in particular food production and provisioning has long been a topic of interest [5] for the Bassetti Foundation. Posts discussing this relationship in the Netherlands include a report from Voedsel Anders [6], a network engaged in building healthy food systems, a post about Utrecht city garden Food for Good [7], and a description of Dissident Gardens [8], an exhibition held in Rotterdam that focused on the struggle between nature and culture.


Rijnvliet is a new neighborhood in utrecht, part of the Leidsche Rijn development, described on the City Council website as the largest newbuild location in the Netherlands. Building began in December 2017, and once completed the project will include 1100 houses and flats, a mix of rental and owned properties. The development has been given the name 'edible neighborhood', with all plants and trees providing food for humans or animals, co-designed with residents in a procedure that involved nature experts and city governors and planners.

The area contains a 150 000m2 food forest (opened in 2022) that is connected to the central child-services building by a bridge that leads into a canopy walk. The walk circles fruit trees, allowing easy access for picking, as well as offering a viewpoint from which the extent of the forest, orchard and play areas can be appreciated. The forest is surrounded by water offering further recreation possibilities, with a nature reserve island that is not connected to the mainland, allowing insects, birds and other animals a private space.

The neighborhood boasts 220 different sorts of edible plant and 1000 fruit trees, not only providing ecological benefits (water retention, heat reduction, biodiversity and reconstruction) but is also aimed at building social networks and knowledge of nature, and will require the organized participation of the residents in its management. The forest is connected to the school and is very much viewed as part of the children's playground, containing a children's play area with slide and apparatus and a sun dial, a space for outdoor lessons and a miniature football pitch.

The idea for this unique food forest originated from residents - organized in the 'Green Lungs of Rijnvliet' foundation - together with 'Metaal Kathedraal', a special ecological and cultural incubator in a former church building at the edge of the development area. They asked Xavier San Giorgi of Æ Food Forestry Development [9], to assist in the development. Their 'grassroots' proposal was embraced by the municipality and - complemented by the knowledge and experience of public space design of the landscape architects at Felixx [10] - taken through the design phases.

The Tour

There were two guides present for the tour, landscape designer Robert-Jan van der Linden and food forest expert Xavier San Giorgi. I joined Xavier San Giorgi as he showed visitors around the forest and its surroundings. He explained the intricacies of co-production in practical terms, how Æ Food Forestry Development, Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners en De Zwarte Hond developed a concept that would fall within the capabilities of the city council and the local residents in terms of working hours and expertise. This implies a fine balance between recreational spaces (cared-for with mowed grass) and natural spaces (largely left to develop naturally) and related human or nature use questions (mowed grass is not an optimum environment for wildlife and is expensive and time consuming to maintain).

He explained how the neighborhood has been built in 4 sections: leaves, flowers, nuts and fruit. Each road is named after a plant which can be found and enjoyed on that road. The house number boards display a leaf, flower, nut or fruit according to the zone, there is a shared herb garden and the public curb spaces are planted with a variety of edible bushes.

He also noted that the land had required a lot of preparation in order to make it suitable for construction, a factor that is visible in the prices of those houses that are for sale. The market is buoyant in the Netherlands, and almost all of the properties have been bought before they have been completed at a price of around 5400 Euros per square meter, some 500 Euros more than the average for the city as a whole (they have an A++ energy label). The houses are quite large though, so there is nothing available under around 800,000 Euros with the average above a million.

There are also 200 rental apartments in Rujnvliet, 50 of which fall under a scheme run by City councils across the country through which middle-income families (44,000 - 73,000 Euros per year) can rent at a reduced rate (800 - 1000 Euros per month). At the time of writing almost all of these properties have already been rented (less than 5 are available and they all fall into the high cost bracket).

Previous Co-design Experience

The city of Utrecht has a history of co-design in its housing infrastructure, the standout example being the structural experiment Lunetten [11]. Lunetten sits on a defense site that includes an inundation canal and a series of Lunet forts (moated half-moon shaped fortifications) built between 1822-4. Thanks to involvement from landscape architects, city planners, students from the local University (planning, biology and architecture) and future residents, these features were incorporated into a park and made central to the design of the neighborhood.

Most of the properties were rental houses and apartments at the time of construction (around 30% built for open sale) the development being the first time that several housing associations (10 different entities) had joined together to provide budget for an entire development. Over the years this percentage has changed to about 50-50.
As the first experiment of its type (all encompassing), the Lunetten project did not always run without problems, as the expansive green areas were difficult to manage and a financial downturn led to some of the proposed housing (low build) changing into larger blocks of apartments in order to generate more income.

The neighborhood is child friendly and has strong social cohesion and lower than average crime rates, boasting a theatre that is well recognized on the cabaret circuit, a gym and library, all housed in a central 'village hall'that offers activities of all sorts for residents. It is known locally as 'the green neighborhood' and there are many groups that look after the nature including cutting the willow trees once a year, cleaning the park of rubbish and maintaining a community allotment that provides vegetables for the local farm shop. There is a medical centre and pharmacist and all types of social services including schools, physiotherapy, speech therapy and a mental health team, all within walking distance in a central location.

The social and environmental co-design process has certainly paid dividends in Lunetten. See photos of the event and a view of Lunetten below.


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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/rijnvliet-edible-neighborhood-leidsche-rijn-district-the-netherlands-felixx/?v=796834e7a283
  3. 3] https://innovationinpolitics.eu/awards/awards-2021/
  4. 4] https://awards.architizer.com/a
  5. 5] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/food_and_feed/
  6. 6] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2022/06/resources_from_voedsel_anders.html
  7. 7] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2023/04/food_for_good.html
  8. 8] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2018/04/dissident_gardens.html
  9. 9] https://www.facebook.com/FoodForestryDevelopment/
  10. 10] https://www.felixx.nl/
  11. 11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunetten
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Rijnvliet, the Edible Neighborhood
Read also: Food For Good
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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