Lots of villages in the Frisian area of the Wadden Sea have to deal with population decline. In Holwerd, a town that is known for the ferry terminal to Ameland, a bottom-up approach towards this problem is carried out right now, in order to find a solution for the population decline using the landscape, history, culture and ecological values of the area. In 2013 a group of people from the small town of Holwerd stood up to fight for the future of their hometown, and started a project. The project is called “Holwerd aan zee” (Holwerd at sea) and aims at bridging nature and culture by means of landscape art.

The town of Holwerd actually lies a few kilometers away from the ferry terminal. This causes most of the tourists to neglect the town and head straight towards the island of Ameland. Marco Verbeek, vice president of the foundation, thinks the project can help Holwerd to get connected to the Wadden Sea again and being a valued part of experiencing this UNESCO world heritage area. How? By enabling a dike burst.

The idea is to reconnect the sea to the inland water by tracing back a creek called the Holwerder feart to the sea, as can be seen in the visualisations that were made for the project. This will yield an area of briny water and therefore an ecologically dynamic area. The plans are to use such an ecological improvement as an ecological stimulant by adding a cultural and historical feature like a holiday cottage on a terp, which is man-made hill to live on prtected against flooding, to let tourists experience the landscape of Friesland like it was before the dikes were built. This is quite interesting from a cultural geographical perspective, because of the project being a bottom-up initiative. It could be argued that the project is closely connected to the concept sense of place. The experience of Holwerd be would indeed be very different once the project has been carried out. But the thing is that the plan arose from the people in Holwerd who felt that something was missing. That something, they decided, was the connection to the sea.

What is interesting from a spatial planning perspective is that the initiators developed their design not just from their own ideas, but by taking into account the ideas of the people who cared about the area. So, by starting with an “empty map” showing only the current situation, and filling in the blanks after multiple meetings with stakeholders, they came up with a holistic plan for the area. This type of planning process could be a good example for other spatial planning projects, as well for having the courage for starting bottom-up initiative as for helping to reduce protest towards spatial developments.

By this time the initiators have already presented the plans to the Dutch Parliament, and succeeded to make the plans legally possible by including it in the next environmental planning strategy for the Frisian Wadden Sea area. Therefore the project proves the capacity of bottom-up initiatives to have the impact to change the tides.

For further reading and news updates, take a look at: www.holwerdaanzee.nl (only available in Dutch).