by Theun Karelse in Radical City inc.

In 2021, after 50 years of absence, the otter returned to Amsterdam. Amsterdam, the city of water, didn’t preserve the biodiversity it used to have back in the days when it still was a swamp. With the return of the otter, we need to reshape the gardens and parks, in order to facilitate space to the otter and other kinds of animals and plants. Artist Theun Karelse introduces a design of a “floating allotment” to stimulate a city where nature, humans, and animals can all flourish.

In the project Otterdam, we experiment with swamp -and water plants that are now lacking in our city, parks and gardens. The starting point is to let the otter be our guide to city landscape architecture and garden design. Otterdam houses in Westerpark with its running water, large ponds, canals, and extensive Waternatuurtuin (Water-nature garden). Otterdam also offers different kinds of workshops for otter and plant lovers. The first city of Otterdam-West opened on Friday 30th of June 2023. On Friday 5 July we open Oterdam-Zuid at Amstelpark.

public space - exhibition



For centuries the Dutch have focused on the drainage of water. As the population grew, more and more land got drained to increase the landscape. Amsterdam was originally a peat land just like the rest of our country. However, due to the increasing drought, the focus has shifted to retaining water in our landscapes. After all, peatlands preserve great biodiversity and store Co2 for both longer and larger quantities than a forest does.

Otterdam explores how the (city) ecology and water management can look like, and how we can re-welcome the otter to Amsterdam. Which design interventions are necessary in order for the animal to enter the city again? In the first phase of the research, Karelse started a conversation with city ecologists and otter experts. From there, he explored in what ways we can prepare for the arrival of the otter. In order for the otter to thrive in Otterdam, we need to include specific water plants and insects and propose infrastructural changes, like corridors and buffers.

The floating allotment is partly inspired by the floating gardens of Asian and South American cultures, like the Chinampa’s from the Aztecs. If the otter can thrive in these floating gardens, that indicates that the whole biome is also flourishing: the fish, the water plants, frogs, and other beings who are ecologically connected to the otter. In some cities in the Netherlands, some animals are seen as ‘guides’ to indicate the development of a nature-inclusive city. Take, for example, Almere where the otter is treated as an indication of healthy water connections in the city.

The otter is knocking on the doors of Amsterdam, which faces us with the challenge of looking at the water biotopes of our city differently. Water plants are placed on the island to induce the ecology. The first garden exists of small islands of plants which induce the ecology of the Waternatuurtuin in Westerpark. On the waterside new plants grow and visitors are encouraged to take care of them or to give them a new home as well.

Otterdam-Zuid, Amstelpark: Friday 5 July, 2024, vanaf 17.00u, nadere informatie volgt.
Otterdam-Zuid is a collaboration with Zone2Source.

Otterdam- West can be visited everyday till May 2024 in Westerpark.

Waternatuurtuin Westerpark, Amsterdam
(near de Gashouder, below the dike)

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