Caught between redevelopment plans and neighbourhood protest

Brugse Poort is a popular neighbourhood situated to the north-west of the city centre of Ghent. The identity of the neighbourhood is formed by its many small houses, originally built around the large factories upcoming in the 19th century. Most of these workers houses are still standing the way they were built a century ago. This results in a very dense population. The last six decades the area witnessed an influx of underprivileged and marginalised groups housing in this area.

It is also the neighbourhood of the collective of temporary users called ‘De Vergunning’. Wiebe Moerman, one of the initiators of the collective, tells his story:

“From 2007 until September last year I  lived in the Brugse Poort. From the beginning I was engaged in community related voluntary work: a transition group, the community house Trafiek and the start-up of a community garden “Boerse Poort”. Through this engagement I gained a good knowledge of the neighbourhood. I learned about the concept of temporary use in what was left of the Ghentish squatting community at first. But mainly by doing a project which took place at DOK and later also at the SITE.

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Location of the old furniture factory in the neighbourhood

In December 2010, an interesting development took place within the housing block across my own street. A mustard factory, a furniture factory and a big bowling hall got closed down. All in the same month. Due to new environmental regulations both factories had to move. The furniture factory stopped doing business, the mustard factory moved out of Ghent.

Two project developers bought the land, nearly 2ha (20.000m2) in total with plans for creating a new street and 45 new houses around it. These plans are in contradiction with the city renewal programme “Zuurstof voor de Brugse Poort” (oxygen for Brugse Poort) that ran in the neighbourhood for the past ten years with the main goal to provide more public space and to attract investments. But as the factory grounds are privately owned, little initiative to prevent the new plans of the project developers could be taken (except for buying the place).”

Backed by the City of Ghent, the neighbours closed a deal with the project developer: as long as the construction works aren’t started the neighbourhood can make use of the premises. By joining forces and with a modest grant, the neighbours are making the place public proof: hazardous areas are shut off and a few support beams are put in place to reinforce the structure.

De Vergunning started looking for candidates to occupy a part of the site for a small fee. Due to the temporary nature, professional organizations didn’t show much interest. Instead, the candidates were an amalgam of non-profit organizations, all of them young, beginning, creative. Among them, the artist collective ‘Zwart Wild’, a Bicycle Kitchen, several theatre groups and a youth association. The site also hosted some rehearsal rooms, artist studio’s, storage areas, a give-away shop, music exhibitions,… A few local residents even began a cooperative café.

For 1,5 years, the furniture factory brought new life in the neighbourhood. At its peak, the temporary use had some 80 occupants and roughly a 1000 visitors in a month.

But, at the same time, the neighbourhood protest against the redevelopment plans continued to swell. De Vergunning gets caught in a dual position: being the temporary user in buildings of a project developer whose plans are highly criticised by the local community where De Vergunning is part of… This duality proves problematic for the project developers and the temporary use contract is cancelled in June 2014.

The neighbourhood loses its popular hang-out place and the project developers loose further popularity (if any was left). More than 400 appeals against the redevelopment plans are gathered and the project developers saw their plans rejected by the municipal authorities. The City offered the project developers to buy the place back for the amount of their initial investment. Nothing has been heard since…

 

See also: the story as seen through the eyes of Zwart Wild, one of the temporary users in need of space.

 

 

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