The beautiful South: Exploring Amsterdam’s Zuidas
The business centre of Amsterdam is getting a facelift, sprucing up its striking modern architecture with more eco-conscious, green public spaces.
Look around you in the centre of Amsterdam: you’ll be hard pressed to find a building that’s taller than four stories, and not angling like an old man from the weight of its years. It’s no secret that Amsterdam is no Manhattan, but, where are the skyscrapers, you ask? There has to be a few! There are, just a few tram stops – and soon to be a quick subway ride – away, in Zuidas (the ‘Southern Axis’). Home of the World Trade Center (and many national and international corporations such as ABN AMRO, Deloitte and even Google), Zuidas is Amsterdam’s business central. A major new development zone, it’s sprouting vertical architecture faster than you can chomp on a HEMA hotdog – which you’ll find at the street level of the Zuid train station along with many other outlets such as Starbucks and Sissy Boy.
The RAI convention centre: not a canal house in sight
Zuid Station is actually slated to become a big-league international transportation hub in the coming years, thanks to its rapid commute to Schiphol Airport (seven minutes) and the soon-to-be-completed North-South metro line, all part of the ambitious project that’s rethought and redesigned the business district. However the city isn’t only focusing on real estate development for financial high-rollers, but has, in the true Amsterdam spirit, a real plan for pleasant urban living that marries business and residential needs… without of course forgetting leisure. ‘Being raised in the city centre spoiled me’, jokes Mischa Heymans, who works for the local government. ‘So to me this area isn’t human enough, it feels a bit lost with all these roads and highways. I think it’s really worthwhile to transform it into a real livable environment.’
The city is well conscious of that need and has lofty goals for the area. ‘It may be the legal and financial district, which gives it an interesting buzz because there’s no other place like it in Amsterdam. But the public spaces are starting to be very well managed too, and the future developments are really looking to cater to the community’, says Amber Huizinga, a real estate developer who has her offices in the area. First, the A10 highway ring and its myriad cars are going underground, as well as a big percentage of the rail infrastructures, in a concept nicknamed ‘the Dok’ which aims not only at cleaning the air and easing up traffic, but also opening up space for pedestrian areas, squares, and communal gardens. Nobody cares about their trees and gardens just as much as Amsterdammers, as evidenced by Beatrixpark, which, a few hundred yards away from the World Trade Center, rivals the Vondelpark in enchanting greenery, with the added bonus of tranquility.
On the Southwest side of the neighbourhood, the Vrij Universiteit of Amsterdam and other educational institutions don’t only bring younger generations’ minds to the area, but also their socio-cultural needs and endeavours. Sports and recreation spaces, parks and gardens, and circular economy initiatives abound along the Boelelaan, such as the Green Living Lab, a non-profit where scientists, social entrepreneurs and pioneers in sustainability research healthy urban living options. Many restaurants in the area try to provide more than a hearty table: they grown their own food, expand onto gardens and terraces, and organise cultural events, often with an eco-conscious vibe.
Shack style sustainability at Boeletuin
This spirit of urban renewal with a conscience is a big trend in Amsterdam; urban planners have heard the Millenial generation a-knocking and are looking towards tomorrow. ‘A sustainable and successful urban environment of international allure, but with traditional Amsterdam qualities’, promotes the official Zuidas ‘vision’ brochure. It translates into a plan that pays particular attention to CO2 emissions, sustainable building materials, waste management, and an ecological urban landscape.
Last but not least, it also focuses on the well-being of its community, encouraging diversity, civic involvement, and social responsibility. ‘The city checks in with us and with the residents regularly, to make sure they’re catering to everybody’s needs’, says Xavier Giesen of restaurant Bolenius. The disposable income of the neighbourhood’s 150,000 dwellers is one of the highest in the city, and it’s not such a big surprise when you realise what an enviable location Zuidas really is: a stone’s throw away from the cultural centre of Oud Zuid and Museumplein, it’s also in close proximity to more semi-rural areas of Amsterdam where quality of life primes.
Fine dining at Restaurant Bolenius
The suburban life
Zuidas fades into Buitenveldert, the gateway to the Amsterdamse Bos – 2,500 acres of lush nature, with recreational areas, sporting clubs and facilities, boat rentals, and even a spot for naturists. It boasts a colossal programme of cultural events such as musical and culinary festivals, which are often free. Buitenveldert itself, which was just a big polder 70 years ago, has benefited immensely from the development of Zuidas. At the outer edge of the city, the borough remains mainly residential, but it also possesses quite a few gems for its visitors and for its residents, and not only because it’s blessed by its fair share of nature with the Bos on one side and Amstelpark on the other.
Home to big Asian brands such as Nikon, Buitenveldert has a vast Japanese community, with many local stores whose offerings you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the Netherlands – grocery shops with specialty products or hairdressers who know their way around chopstick-straight hair. Funnily, it’s also home to a large Jewish community, so if you’re in town from New York and sorely miss Katz’s deli, you’ll fulfill your hankering for authentic pastrami sandwiches at little shops like Sal Meyer.
But Buitenveldert isn’t all small local businesses. Smack in the middle of this very quiet, safe and neighbourly suburb stands one of the Netherlands’ most monumental malls: Gelderlandplein, with its hundreds of boutiques from luxury fashion outlets like PAUW and Esprit to exclusive shops such as Huize van Wely chocolatiers.
Searching for Bieber at Gelderlandplein
The department store’s claim to fame is its warehouse-sized Albert Heijn, the largest in the country, where Justin Bieber and BFF Martin Garrix infamously purchased some food and beers a few months ago, causing a joyous riot among shoppers and propelling this quiet little neighbourhood into stardom. Not that we think it’s the best reason to visit, as animal lovers will get an even bigger kick than Beliebers: Amstelpark is the only park in Amsterdam that has squirrels, and it’s also home to large-horned Galloway cows, sheep, goats and… kangaroos (what?); but best of all, it even has a bat cave. Now that’s cool.
Photos: Marie Peze
Article originally published in A-Mag, February 2017