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What can we learn from Pilot project Lageweg in Antwerp?

04 May 2017

An article by Veva Roesems.

Lageweg is a complex urban development project in the fringe of Antwerp. It is currently in a deadlock situation. The city of Antwerp facilitates a new process to encourage the owners and users of the area to work together and create a new neighbourhood with industry and businesses, housing, green and amenities. How did we work together with the owners, users and the neighbourhood? What worked well and what are possible pitfalls? Read about the process in the recent publication Pilot Project Lageweg.   

Jasper Léonard ©

Antwerp 20th century belt

Antwerp is experiencing a strong population growth. We want to direct this growth to the periphery of the city centre, using the dynamics to transform and retrofit an urban fabric that was constructed mostly after the 1950s. The municipality combines research about the 20th century belt with pilot areas. These pilots are projects were we test new processes.

Lageweg, a formal industrial site, is one of them. The area is characterized by a big diversity of owners, users and scales. The site has large empty industrial buildings, working businesses, three different schools, two high-rise towers with more than 550 residents, small working-class houses, green land cut off from development, … The aim of the Lageweg pilot project is the conversion of this hybrid area, not on the basis of a vision that the city has drawn up beforehand, but entirely in collaboration with the owners of the plots and the businesses that are established there.

The starting point of the municipality however, is to create an integrated development with a positive effect on the surrounding neighbourhood, creating a mixed urban area including the industrial activities and enabling the transition of the present businesses to a circular economy.

The Lageweg pilot project poses an important research question. In a classic urban renewal project, the authorities often own or purchase a large share of the land and can, as a result, weigh in on the project, the programme, the design, the public space, etc. In the Lageweg, however, the municipality does not have that leverage. The land is largely owned by private actors. Moreover, ownership of the Lageweg is heavily fragmented. How can we, as a city administration, intervene here? How can we facilitate, regulate and stimulate ambitions to remain high? However, the Lageweg case demonstrates that sometimes tradition should make way for innovative thinking.

Know Your Stakeholders

The municipality of Antwerp applies specific pilot measures to speed up the development process (van Tuilj 2016). We organised activities, such as mind-opening dialogues and kick-off discussions to explore collective ambitions for the area, co-creative design tables involving an interactive scale model in order to build collective trust, guided walks with all stakeholders which are handed a brochure showing possible future scenarios or adaptable spatial and financial calculation models to test the feasibility of several options. We took the time to get to know the stakeholders and to integrate their plans and opportunities in the project. By pursuing these processes (spatial, financial, programmatic, decontamination) simultaneously instead of successively, they can influence one another. This enables us to lay more links between the various functions on the ground, the inhabitants and users of the project and the area.

Thanks to these tools, most of the land owners were gradually convinced of the benefits of collaborating, which brought them to sign a declaration of engagement and join efforts for the layout of the financial model. The advantages that a land bank offers for a multi-plot development became clear. The success of the initiative was that it allows to work across property boundaries and to make an effective plan for the entire area, for a step-by-step and feasible development.

A learning process

The Lageweg pilot project is a learning process, both for the municipality and for the owners concerned. It was not always easy to preserve a general overview or to get everyone to pull in the same direction. During the process, the alderman for spatial planning of the city of Antwerp was able to talk to the stakeholders and learned that, despite the project’s tremendous complexity, people are willing to go forward together. A financial model backed up the thesis that a multi-plot development is the smart thing to do. This really proves that we can achieve a lot more with a common goal and a constructive collaboration than with a linear or hierarchical planning process where the end result and the process have been determined from the start.

In the case of the Lageweg, the city of Antwerp is offering the owners the possibility to take control, by helping them to organize themselves. The pilot project is in that sense a quest for a way in which the authorities and citizens can work together on the future of the city. We are convinced that this will lead to a more sustainable form of urban renewal. We are approaching the project in an experimental, supportive and at the same time pragmatic manner, without losing sight of our most important objectives for the site. In addition, we also wish to take steps in the learning process of the ‘renewal of urban renewal’.


Toon Vanobberbergen©

Keep what you have

A lot of industry and economic activity remains in the Lageweg. We wish to preserve it, reinforce it, transform it, make it ‘circular’ and better integrate it into the urban fabric.

The Lageweg project area is home to companies. We wish to research how these companies can remain active on the site or even expand in the future. Additionally, we would like to investigate how the companies can reinforce their relations with the area by establishing links with the schools, by training and employing workers from the area, or by sharing spaces with local associations. The schools on the Lageweg and the technical campus, that is still to be built at Blue Gate Antwerp, can make the courses they offer more in line with the current needs of the local industry, infrastructure, studios and workspaces. Conversely, companies can offer internships for the students.

Our ambition goes even further: we wish to involve the existing and future industry and facilities in a new, circular logic where various waste and rest flows and logistical means are tuned to one another. The circular logic will act as a benchmark throughout the development, from preparation to occupation. Neither do we wish to consider the decontamination process as a linear one, with clearly defined waste flows, but as a circular system in which the raw materials are used and reused as efficiently as possible.

The reinforcement of the economy within the city offers a lot of advantages. A lively city is being created, avoiding unnecessary commuting, and changing to a more sustainable and ‘circular’ organization of the city.

A publication to share and discuss our work

This publication does not seek to provide a summary of the exploratory phase. It is perhaps too early for that. By contrast, we wanted to take the learning process itself as a starting point. That is why we decided to let the many partners, with whom we have worked on this project, have their say, each from the perspective of their own expertise and experience: the various municipal services, the Kenniscentrum Vlaamse Steden, OVAM, the design office 51N4E, the transition office Connect&Transform, the financial experts and advisers on soil pollution, the advisory panel of urban planners and last but not least, the owners – the actual protagonists of the pilot project.

This volume is appearing simultaneously with the publication Lab XX_Work. The research focuses on both the interweaving of living and working, and on the densification and renewal of industrial zones. It is recommended to read both publications as part of one and the same ambition.

Read the publication Pilot project Lageweg here.

Read the publication Lab XX_Work here.