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Cafe de Ceuvel: regenerative, activist, community-based

By Pandam

Published Sat Sep 12 2020


In Amsterdam-Noord you will find a cafe like no other, a little ecosystem built around a series of old houseboats, hidden in the midst of an European capital. Cafe de Ceuvel stands -and partly floats- on a former shipyard located on the Johan van Hasselt canal of the IJ river. “In 2012, the land was secured for a 10-year lease from the Municipality of Amsterdam after a group of architects won a tender to turn the site into a regenerative urban oasis,” explains Lida Ladwig, head of Communication & Education. Under Cafe de Ceuvel rests a layer of heavily polluted soil, which is slowly being cleaned up by phyto-remediating plants located around the houseboats. De Ceuvel will leave behind a cleaner and regenerated soil. The space is furthermore being used as “a playground for sustainable technologies”: Through creative, technological experimentation it aims to improve its energy self-sufficiency and give a second life to its waste. But most importantly, Cafe de Ceuvel is “a place where a lot of different people feel at home, from young to old, from rich to poor, because of the relaxed atmosphere and gezelligheid.


At the start, the goal of Cafe de Ceuvel was “to make sustainability sexy”, to get rid of its dusty image, by offering environment-supportive drinks and food in an eco-friendly and cozy cafe. Indeed, the products sold at Cafe de Ceuvel go beyond the 'organic' label: de Ceuvel cooperates "with a large amount of initiatives that make sure that every plate, beer or drink that we serve makes a positive impact somewhere else." But the space has since then evolved to become a hub for environmental and social activism. Today, Cafe de Ceuvel wishes not only to make the concept of sustainability more appealing to a wider audience, but also works to inspire the people of Amsterdam to individually pursue -and fight for- greater social and environmental justice. “We organize an extensive and broad cultural program and in this way try to plant seeds of transformation among the participants,” explains Lida. From this hidden ecosystem you can expect anything from small-scale events to weekend long crowd-acting festivals.


Among Cafe de Ceuvel’s smaller events is GreenDoc, where people or action groups are given the opportunity to show free documentaries and raise awareness around certain topics. On evenings like these, participants get to learn about a subject they may not know much about. These events are important because “each individual can inspire another, which in turn can inspire more.” This is a key notion at Cafe de Ceuvel: bottom-up social change brought about by conversation and collective brainstorming. Sharing passions and ideas is a valuable way to bring change, as it can inspire your listeners to act upon issues they were unaware of or indifferent to before.


But Cafe de Ceuvel also hosts larger-scale events, such as its crowd-acting festival, inspired by the idea that small individual actions can lead to big social and environmental change. “At a crowd-acting festival we turn our good intentions into positive action with the help of crowd-acts, such as switching to a new bank or energy supplier, learning to give your garbage a new life, applying for volunteer work, finding an impactful career, joining or starting a neighborhood initiative for shared solar panels, or dressing yourself in the newest sustainable fashion. As an individual these may seem like small and irrelevant actions, but the impact is great because you do this as a crowd,” explains Lida.


“The collective is what makes the city, you're not a city on your own,” explains Lida, “this is why accessibility is always a focus in our events, which are organized on a non-profit basis”. Inclusiveness, diversity, socio-economic blind accessibility: Lida hopes to witness more of this social justice in the future. “At Cafe de Ceuvel, we want all types of sustainability to be connected and intertwined in the future of Amsterdam. Environmental sustainability movements ought to pay more attention to social sustainability, because these simply cannot live in isolation from one another.”


Photo Credits: Cafe de Ceuvel

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