The Transformation of Brienenoord Island
There are few cities with a nature island within their borders. Both in the Netherlands and abroad I don’t know many examples. Rotterdam does have one. Okay, not really in the middle of the city, but well within the municipal boundaries and even (largely) within the Ringroad. We are of course talking about Brienenoord (pronounce breen-a north), separated from the rest of the city by a river channel named Zuiddiepje (which translates as Little Southern Deep)
The island is 1400 meters long and about 200 meters at its widest point. It has been around since the early 19th century, when a sandbank in the outer bend of the river Nieuwe Maas became overgrown. Baron Van Brienen van de Groote Lindt bought the plot of land in 1847 and gave it his name.
The forest that grew here over the years was cut down during the Second World War by both the German occupiers and by desperate Rotterdammers in search of firewood. But in the decades that followed, the island became forested again.
With the urbanization of IJsselmonde, also an island but much bigger, Brienenoord seems to have been forgotten. On the other side of Zuiddiepje there is an industrial area, behind it are residential areas, busy roads and the Feyenoord stadium. But on Brienenoord itself there are only a few allotment gardens, a subcultural center and the pillars of the bridge that got the island’s name.
In the 1960s, however, there was a dock on the western tip of the island where tunnel sections for the metro were built. A large square pond and some concrete and steel constructions still remind us of this. There also have been oil tanks of the Dutch Oil Company, but there’s no trace of them anymore.
That’s how Brienenoord island became a well-kept public secret. A green oasis in an urbanized area, with forest trails and Scottish highlanders, only accessible via a dilapidated bridge. When the municipality of Rotterdam started refurbishing the area two years ago, not everyone was immediately enthusiastic. There was even panic and anger among tree lovers when trees were cut down to create tidal nature. So let’s take a look to discover how the metamorphosis has turned out.
The dilapidated bridge has been replaced and a second bridge has been built across the Zuiddiepje: Ben Schop bridge, named after a district councilor who has always championed a better connection between the island and the adjacent districts. By means of those two bridges, Brienenoord has become part of a cycling and walking route: the Stadionpark Circle. As a result, the place has become a bit busier with hikers, cyclists and dog walkers, but that was of course the intention.
The area between the two bridges has changed the most. The bank here has been made sloping to increase the influence of the tides. There are some trees on little islands and a boardwalk meanders through a strip of sand, mud and low vegetation. The area has acquired a more open and park-like character here. A nice contrast with the industry on the other side of the water.
On the west side, the island has even become a little larger. A sandbank has been created here, which is already becoming vegetated. At a stone’s throw from De Veranda neighbourhood and with the city’s skyline in the background, you almost get the feeling that Rotterdam has its own Wadden Island, a tiny version of the islands in the north. And yes, it’s expected that seals will visit this place, but unfortunately I have not yet spotted them.
The best place to view the sandbank and the skyline is the viewpoint called Water Wood. This corten steel construction with different levels is a gift to Rotterdam from offshore company Van Oord, which has its office on the other side of the river. Thanks a lot on behalf of the city!
The far East
In the eastern part of the island we find the quietest places. Well, quiet… if you ignore the noise of the traffic on Van Brienenoord bridge. But that seems to come from another universe. In addition to the allotments and a newly planted fruit orchard, we find winding paths, little bridges, forest and more tidal nature here. The bridge’s gigantic concrete piers give the area a slightly post-apocalyptic feel, as if you’re walking between the columns of a huge temple. And at the extreme eastern cape we come across a small bay with a muddy beach.
At the beginning of November, the only permanent residents of the island returned: the Scottish Highlanders. Back as if they never left. A beautiful symbolic completion of the metamorphosis.