Urban park revitalises deprived city neighbourhood
The development of Park Spoor Noord has seen the creation of one of the most popular recreational parks in the city of Antwerp and triggered a social and economic transformation of the surrounding neighbourhood.
In the 1990s the Park Spoor Noord (North Railway Park) area of Antwerp (BE) was an old and neglected railway marshalling yard. Its re-development since the year 2000 has been one of the key projects in the process of regenerating the city of Antwerp and represents a standout example of integrated planning and the inclusion of spatial, social, cultural and organisational elements in a major development project.
The 24 hectare site in the north of the city was abandoned by the National Belgian Railway Company (NMBS) in 2000. Following a series of studies, consultations and negotiations, plans were drawn up in December 2001 to transform most of the area into an ‘urban landscape park’.
The transformation of the former railway sidings has been part of a public-private partnership supported by the Objective 2 programme of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Indeed the commercial aspect of the project has been vital to its success. Key to the development of the park has been the agreement in 2001 between the city, NMBS, AG ANN, and Euro-Immo-Star (i.e. the railway’s real estate arm) through which 18 hectares of the site would be used by the city for the development of the park, while NMBS and Euro-Immo-Star received commercial development rights for a 6 hectare plot (192 000 m²) on the west of the park.
Improving the urban environment
The transformation of Parc Spoor Noord has resulted in a green, recreational space and residential development allowing more than 30 000 people to live within 800 meters of the park – and it is fast becoming a favourite urban spot for the citizens of Antwerp and many visitors.
The park now connects three areas – Dam, Stuivenberg and Seefhoek – that were previously cut off from each other by the railway site. The city is monitoring the positive overall impact of this project in reducing poverty and the high level of deprivation faced by these quarters in the north of Antwerp.
Indeed, in neighbourhoods adjoining the park, the number of renovation permits has increased from just 11 in 2000 to 47 in 2009 as the whole standing of the area has risen. Private development around the park is on the rise in terms of housing projects (including student accommodation close to the new university campuses) and commercial development.
The city of Antwerp still plays an active role and has appointed a park manager and also programmer to take charge of recreational activities in the park with the active participation of local residents and neighbouring associations, networks and services. This is helping to promote the role of the park as a social meeting and networking place.
Engaging the local community
The long-term success of Park Spoor Noord is being built on the support of the local community. Generating a strong sense of ownership is important for sustainability and the organisation of events (cultural outings, festivities, sports events, walks, etc) has proved to be extremely effective in mobilising the enthusiasm of local residents and bringing a sense of belonging to a multicultural community.
Further investment is taking place in Park Spoor Noord with the renovation of old railway hangars taking place during 2009-2011 to transform them into a sports hall, co-financed by Artesis University College.
One of the hangars offers more than 5 500 m² of space and is now one of the largest covered spaces in the city. In February 2012, the city decided to dedicate the new location to the film and multi-media sector in Antwerp, with the ambition of strengthening the city’s creative economy and eventually turning Antwerp into a creative hotspot.
“The Park Spoor Noord project is a key example of an integrated and global vision of urban development, whereby physical investments in public spaces go hand in hand with social improvements. The development of housing projects, office space, the new campuses of Artesis and Plantijn University College and a new hospital, ensures that the area around the park will continue to grow as an attractive neighbourhood for living, studying, working and visiting. Through the Parc Spoor Noord project we have created a garden for the locals and a park for the city.”
Koen Derkinderen, AG Stadsplanning (the Autonomous Municipal Company for City Planning)