Rijnvliet, Edible Neighborhood  

An Urban Food Forest for Utrecht

Rijnvliet is a new residential area in Utrecht. It is part of the Leidsche Rijn expansion area that provides 1000 new ground-based dwellings. The masterplan is developed by DeZwarteHond. Felixx designed the public space in the area as an edible, educative landscape. The layout is based on the principles of food forestry and developed in collaboration with residents and Æ – Food Forestry Development.

Participatory Co-design

Around 2016 early plans for Rijnvliet were opposed by the inhabitants of the Straatweg along the northern boundery of the development area. Organized in a foundation, “Green Lungs of Rijnvliet”, these inhabitants proposed an urban food forest for the entire area. This grassroot proposal was embraced by the local government and taken through the design phases. Today the public space of Rijnvliet is a 15ha food forest with over a thousand (fruit-) trees and over 220 different (sub-)species of edible plants, herbs & shrubs. The design of the public space and the participatory process make Rijnvliet a pivotal development in Utrecht’s transition towards a greener economy and strong local communities.

Seven Layers

The principles to create a ‘food forest’ are merged with the functionalities required for the surrounding residential areas and so the entire district is embedded within a productive landscape, integrating three values: food production, usage and nature. The realms are built up with multiple layers, together forming an integrated ecosystem. The different vegetation types and species attract insects and organisms that enforce each other. There are seven layers:

  1. 1. The canopy, consisting of original and planted large trees.
  2. 2. Low trees, consisting of smaller trees or half-standards.
  3. 3. Shrub layer of fruit and berry bushes.
  4. 4. Herb layer of multiannual vegetables and herbs.
  5. 5. Soil covers, a layer of plants that spread horizontally.
  6. 6. Underground layer of plants that produce roots or tubers.
  7. 7. Climbers, a vertical layer of climbing plants.

The central part of Rijnvliet combines all these layers. For the public space in adjoining areas aspects such as safety & maintenance limit the full application of all layers. Instead, the public space design focused on a set of layers for each part, creating four distinct areas. The (edible) Fruit-, Leaf-, Nut- and Flower-neighborhood.

Though the public green in Rijnvliet is still very young, we are excited to see the edible neighborhood evolve and strengthen its expression with every season.

Sustainable Future

The productive landscape of Rijnvliet serves as a backbone and creates social cohesion within a community by requiring a coordinated effort for its care and maintenance. The resident engagement already contributed in educational, recreational, and natural qualities for Rijnvliet and added new concepts and ideas to its design, such as beehives on a ‘bee island’, an isolated nesting island for birds and ‘food-forest range and garden’ maintenance programs. The active participation in the implementation of the food forest principles of the public space gives residents a strong stake in the future of the area and is the best assurance for long-term commitment to the stewardship of their Edible Neighborhood, Rijnvliet.

Awarded Innovation

Created to sustain forestry and food production while providing multiple uses for all generations and unique access to nature, the ecologically resilient food forest also doubles up as green infrastructure. Next to recreational benefits this strengthens the area’s ecosystem services including water management, reduction of heat, and cleaning the air. The abundant green and blue spaces are harmoniously merged together with the built environment enhancing the quality of life by providing a rich human experience, ample biodiversity and a complex habitat for birds, bats and other species, giving Rijnvliet a very powerful identity.

Rijnvliet’s innovative and pioneering approach to city-making, earned Utrecht municipality the European Innovation in Politics Award beginning of 2022.

Socially inclusive green infrastructure

Utrecht municipality aims to achieve a healthy future for the city by providing high-quality public green space. The productive landscape of Rijnvliet serves as a backbone and creates social cohesion within the Rijnvliet community. Care and maintenance of the food forest require a coordinated effort of residents together. This resident engagement is the best guarantee for continuous evolution of the educational, recreational, and natural qualities of Rijnvliet, realizing a sustainable urban future for people and nature together.

“It was an honor to plant fruit trees together with the children of Rijnvliet. They are the most important farmers of the food forest and key to the success of Rijnvliet, Edible Neighborhood.”-  Klaas Verschuure (alderman)

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape
Landscape & Public Space: Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners

Food forest expertise: AE | Food Forestry Development

Anouk Vogel

Architecture offices involved in the design:

Urban Plan: De Zwarte Hond

Project location Utrecht, The Netherlands

Design year 2015

Year Built 2022

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LILA 2022 Sponsor

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