“The Importance of Local Heroes”

Hans Appelboom, owner of Duikelman tells about his experiences as entrepeneur. Duikelman is a specialty kitchen equipment store in the bohemian neighborhood of The Pijp, Amsterdam.

How does ownership and local control over real estate influence plinth redevelopment and revitalization?

“I’d like to make a remark on the often heard idea of a necessity for flexibility in (the use of) property and the levels of rent. Project developers and landlords on speculative base tend not to think on a long term. Often they set for the highest return on their investments, resulting in tenants of the well known kind. Real estate owners should be involved in an early stage in new plans and strategies in order to convince them that a long term vision is better for everyone.”

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de kracht van specialisatie
Both images © Jan van Teeffelen 

“The Never-Ending Story of Street Management”

In this article a conversation with Nel de Jager, the street manager of the best shopping street in the Netherlands, the Haarlemmerstraat/dijk.

How did the rediscovery of urban qualities play a role in the improvements of the street? What was the turning point?

“When the urban renewal was some years in process and new larges homes were built in area, you noticed that more and more people wanted to stay in the city and didn’t want to leave. People got the opportunity of having a larger home in the city. Result of this was the return of purchasing power and with it the retailers, and that again attracted new people to the street.”

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“In the Meanwhile”

An article from our book by Emily Berwyn, director of London-based company Meanwhile Space. In 2009, the recession was beginning to hit hard in the UK; businesses were going under, developments stalled, high streets were declining and unemployment was soaring. We noticed that vacant property and lapsed developments were a missed opportunity in the ‘meanwhile’, and it was almost impossible to access these spaces. The abundance of empty properties compound the decline of high streets (also called main streets), yet local people who need space to develop new business ideas and innovative uses for high-street spaces are excluded by the archaic property industry. It seemed to us that there was a great opportunity here—if only we could get hold of the space!

“Our vision for an ideal ground floor is one where vacant space does not exist; that vacant periods are foreseen and ‘curated’ to give people a chance to test an idea, in a highly visible, low risk and affordable way, even for a few weeks or months. This requires a transparency of ownership, a flexible approach to bureaucracies, and a central point all the knowledge on an area so it is easily accessible.”

Click here to read and download this article

p260a 71-4. Queens Parade, Willesden Green BEFORE London UK - CREDIT Mike Massaro

BEFORE: Queens Parade, Willesden Green London UK ©Mike Massaro
p260b 71-5. Queens Parade, Willesden Green AFTER London UK - CREDIT Mike Massaro
AFTEr: Queens Parade, Willesden Green London UK ©Mike Massaro
Cover picture: Cottrell House, Wembley London UK ©Dostofos



Museumplein: from space to place

About 30 participants came to the placemaking session on Friday, including the Director of Concertgebouw, the Alderman, urban planners, entrepreneurs, and city- and neighborhood-level leaders. After an tntroduction by Fred from PPS and a short summary of Thursday’s placemaking game at the Pakhuis de Zwijger, we all headed out into the cold October air to walk  Museumplein and the surrounding areas.

At one point Fred conducted a mini-placemaking game with the group and that really got the juices flowing! Everyone split into smaller groups and came up 10 programs for 10 spaces in different parts of the square. There was lots of enthusiasm!

What were the goals of the day? It was basically a reconnaissance mission: we were trying to connect the institutes, users, (residents, entrepreneurs, institutes, visitors), with the space of the Museumplein. We wanted to rediscover and reconnect the different parts of Museumplein to the places and destination they have the potential to be. We also had in mind the Power of 10, to take it down a level and think in terms of programming the space.


What were some immediate results, quick wins of the day? No doubt about it: a growing energy and a growing network between the participants. A sense that it doesnt have to be difficult: it can be simple, short-term, experimental solutions that make the difference. In the end, iterative place-based strategies means that nothing is permanent. So when can we begin?


Placemaking on Museumplein

The Museum Quarter is a unique location in Amsterdam: it comprises no fewer than five world-class cultural institutions: the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. For the people of Amsterdam, the best works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Rietveld, as well as concerts by Bach, Händel or Liszt in one of the world’s best concert halls, are just around the corner.

In the immediate vicinity we find the Vondel Park, P.C. Hooft Street (the most up-market shopping street in the Netherlands), Van Baerle Street, the Spiegel Quarter (specializing in antiquities, linked to the Rijksmuseum function) and the northern section of the Pijp district (the ‘Quartier Latin’ of Amsterdam, where Amsterdammers themselves go out nowadays).

However, these areas are not linked, and the user groups are very separated. This week we will take a closer look at Museumplein with Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, from Project for Public Spaces, Peter from Placemaking Plus, and Meredith and Hans from Stipo. With a select group of participants, including planners, directors from the institutions,  local politicians, and entrepreneurs, we will discuss: How can we reconnect the institutions to the grassy “square”? How can we connect the surrounding areas to the Museumplein? Where can we make quick fixes? All this and more (and a video!) to come.

Private Invitation_22 nov


The case of Helmond: an unorthodox approach

by Jan van Teeffelen

Key words: the dna of a former industrial, textile-producing city; transition of the city center driven by a non-growth scenario; the danger of spreading vs concentrating energy and investment; importance of quality and image of the public domain; the role of ’local heroes’; conditions for realization; the challenge for the next ten years.

The city of Helmond, the Netherlands, is one of many communities in the Netherlands that must transform from a blue-collar economy into a modern knowledge-based economy, like that of Rotterdam, Tilburg, and Eindhoven. In the case of Helmond, the people involved focused on the importance of the city center. Of course a (network) city is more than its center, but the center represents a major trump card in the game of city competition. The thesis was that the city and its ambitions would only be taken seriously if its image, performance of the public domain, and the experience at eye level were of high quality. The way this is achieved in Helmond is special and has never been realized on this scale in the Netherlands. This so-called ‘Helmond approach’ is difficult to copy because of its specific approach and strategy, but the principles are open for a process of learning and application elsewhere.


The ‘Helmond method’

City planning and urban development often starts with a top-down approach, a long-term vision, and an elaborative set of policy documents (which are subject to plans of realization in several sectors like traffic, housing economy, etc.). This approach is bureaucratically conducted in a sequential, time absorbing process.

The case of Helmond was different. The city government saw it as a very special chance to take a different approach, more bottom-up. The policy gap was filled by private initiative and it was a process of learning by doing; it was business-driven and integrated.  But only under a few specific preconditions was this approach possible.

Preconditions and approach

People. People involved had vision, organizing power, a position in the city and the city center, and had convincing business skills. They were committed to starting a coalition of stakeholders to ‘get the job done’. Jan Verspaget and Thieu de Wit[i] were the key players from the beginning when they formalized a tight-knit city management organization with a clear mandate to act. The first step they made was to start the conversation with the responsible politicians. By doing so they created trust in their ambitions and plans to upgrade the city center in an integrated way, but also in a short amount of time, at low costs, and with more support of all the people who are going to be affected by the interventions. They also promised to realize a made-to-measure image for Helmond.

Trust. The city government quickly became partners and invested their trust in the management organization. This represented a huge step for the government, who were willing to ‘let things go’, quite against the Dutch planning tradition and eagerness of wanting to be in control. The next step was to ensure trust and cooperation from those concerned.

Process. Imagine the traditional way of reconstructing a shopping street from obsolete and desolate to a street that ‘works’ and is enjoyed by many. The process is often delayed by numerous construction and infrastructure projects, budgets are exceeded, street furniture and landscape assessed and installed, and finally the street manager who asks the shopkeepers to work on their exposure to the street and the public, the plinths and the facades. It is usually a time-consuming, expensive, and bureaucratic process.

The ‘Helmond method’ consisted of a ‘chain gang’: a parallel process that eliminated several limitations and responsibilities and resulted in a coordinated, time-efficient and cost-reducing approach. The first finished street showed that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and soon after the rest of the streets followed the example.

City management

The question remained: what to manage? During interviews we discovered the answer.[ii] “First we managed the recently regained trust from the city government, the entrepreneurs, and the involved citizens. Managing these partners started in 2002, and from the beginning we knew it had to be done in a different, unconventional way. We also had to involve various responsible city departments, which are usually managed in a top-down method. In order to save time and reduce costs, we also closely managed the budget.  With the many stakeholders involved, our management style was an intelligent way of building coalitions and trust in order to realize collective ambitions for public and private shareholders.”


How it looks

The first strategic decision was the selection of the core investment area. This area should not be too large. Visitors, especially pedestrians have a limited reach (in time and budget) when visiting a city center. The area outside the core is not less important but different, with unique conditions for development and investment.

The next strategic decision was to present a visualization of the character and materials to be used. The visualization, a proposal made by a professional office[iii], was very convincing; it underlined the ambition of the project and the effects on the public realm and adjacent real estate.

Starting in 2003 and over a period of 10 years, the entire city center was designed and realized street by street. Not in a sequential order (sector after sector) but as one unit. All the necessary interventions occurred in one move. Support by local entrepreneurs has since grown, and there has been very little interruption in their businesses. The visual results are very convincing.


Spin offs

  • A regained local pride by the citizens. The city center is a place to be once again.
  • Living in the city center became interesting again, while supported by high-quality streets and squares.
  • Real estate values rose as a proof of these qualities, allowing for opportunities of future investment.
  • A greater catchment area and support for enhanced shopping. Competition with other shopping centers in the region continues.
  • While vacancies in real estate for shopping have not diminished, it has been easier to find alternative uses such as new formula services, workplaces, cultural and social activities.

5 foto5

What’s next?

Even though the stakeholders are celebrating the results of the past 10 years, they know they must consider the future. “How do we proceed for the next lap? A broad discussion is needed to explore the possibilities for a strategy based on a continued form of private-public coalition, which preserves the present results as well as explores new ambitions for the next ten years.” This is the next challenge for Helmond’s policymakers.

Conclusions and recommendations

A few of the most relevant and significant conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

  • The Helmond method is unorthodox, not to be copied as such but easy to learn of.
  • You need ‘local heroes’: people with vision, organizing power and persisting drive.
  • People/entrepreneurs with a well-understood private interest, but at the same time an eye for the greater public interest.
  • City government must be willing to give credit where credit is due, trust and room to move, but all under the condition that they stay responsible for the application of public means.
  • The scope should be based on how people experience the center on eye level: because this determines their behavior and appreciation.

[i]    Local entrepreneur and retail manager

[ii]   Interviews with: Jan Verspaget, Thieu de Wit, Gerard Lutters

[iii]  Proposal: Bureau de Twee Snoeken


A new plinth strategy in De Pijp | Amsterdam at eye level

The North-South metro line is slated to change Amsterdam in many significant ways. It is the first metro in the city that will move people on the 9.2km axis and under the Ij river, to Amsterdam Central Station, and then on to Amsterdam Zuid Station. Zuid Station could potentially become the major transportation hub in the city, over Central Station. The line will run every 4 minutes in the day and every 10 minutes at night, with about 180.000 passengers per day. The €3.1 billion project has had several set-backs, budget adjustments, and delays. It is now slated for completion in 2017.

source: www.railway-technology.com/projects/ns_metro/
source: http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/ns_metro/

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What does this project have to do with the city at eye level?

Our assignment was to analyse the plinths in the area around the future metro stop at Ceintuurban, located in the vibrant neighborhood called De Pijp. De Pijp has a long history of being Amsterdam’s “Latin Quarter” and a melting pot of cultures and people. More recently, the neighborhood has begun the gentrification (and hipster-cation) process and more young and established professionals are moving into the area, which is undoubtedly changing the fabric of the neighborhood.

Our preliminary analysis, as usual, consisted of personal, one-on-one key stakeholder interviews from all types of fields in the area: shop owners, residents, developers, street managers, municipal officials, and users of the area. These are the people involved with De Pijp at eye level. It is important to get a well-rounded understanding of the current situation in order proceed with any further physical or social analyses of the plinths.

The analysis built up to an intensive, one-day “game” with about 40 other stakeholders. For the game, we used our Spider Graph method to assess the current plinths. This method is useful for identifying the priority areas among a host of criteria regarding the buildings, street, and context of the area (laid out in the book). It is also useful for identifying the “quick-wins” (easy solutions) and the longer-term gains.

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Right now, the plinths show the character of a diverse, multi-cultural neighborhood. Their design (or lack of) vary from cozy, organic feel to a stoic or tousled look. The variation can be charming and offers a ‘real’ neighborhood vibe. De Pijp also has a strong sense of local entrepreneurship, clearly visible in its plinths. Ferdinand Bolstraat, a main commercial street that crosses with Ceintuurbaan, has a good mix local shops and small and larger chains. The smaller streets that branch off from Ferdinand Bolstraat boast a number of high-quality local shops, cafe’s, and restaurants. On these streets, there are also a number of local artisans who are part of the network “Ambachten de Pijp” (Made in de Pijp).

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So, what are the impacts of a new metro line on this neighborhood’s plinths? In terms of design, function and programming?

The Ceintuurbaan metro stop expects to bring in about an extra 40.000 people per day to the area (about the population of the neighborhood itself!). We believe that a coalition of stakeholders must be formed (soon) in order to maintain the character of de Pijp. Large developers and investors are licking their chops at this type of opportunity and are waiting for the perfect time to make their proposals.

Our main questions to the group were: what should be cherished on these streets, what could disappear, how will those things happen and who will take responsibility and initiative to see to it?

Stay tuned for the results.



Plinths in ZoHo {part 3}

The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam

This is the final part of the ZoHo plinth trilogy–but by no means is it the end of the story. So far we’ve discussed the historical context of the neighborhood, the challenges surrounding plinths, the assets in the area, and the plinth strategy. Now we are on to the solution and results.

Multi-layered solution

Strategically re-activate the plinths using innovative and creative tools such as temporary use and incubator strategy is a main tactic. The partners focus on quality over quantity, experiment, and taking calculated risks. We default towards an organic development and placemaking process, underlining the neighborhood’s industrial and “maker’s” origins.

Key players

The two main players in the project are Havensteder, as the developer, and Stipo, as the urban strategist, advisor, and network purveyor. Many tertiary parties are involved in the project, both within and extending beyond the neighborhood boundaries. These parties include the municipality and local/neighboring art, urban, and cultural organizations.

Outcomes of the plinth strategy

Meetings among the partners and various others in the network slowly determined a set of values for the ZoHo project that focused on preserving the industrial character and manufacturing uses of the neighborhood, support businesses that promote local production of goods and services, and fostering creativity, openmindedness, collaboration, and flexibility.

Through no outside funding sources nor advertising, we have a growing list of over 300 diverse parties that have shown keen interest in relocating to ZoHo, on a temporary and permanent basis. By the summer 2013 the partners have successfully found two new major, high-quality tenants for the ground floor, securing over 1,000m2 of space in 2 out of the 5 buildings, of which a majority is public or semi-public space. We worked closely with the new tenants to encourage the hardware objectives listed in the previous post.

Image 8_temporary use after Image 7_temporary use before

Above: before and after temporary use plinth strategy


To continue momentum and build an identity for the neighborhood, branding and communication is a necessary step to take. Complementing the ZoHo brand identity, the partners will organize an on-going marketing campaign. Events, festivals, meetings, etc, will be held in the neighborhood, all high-lighting its capacity as a “Makers Quarter.”

Image 9_New tenant beforeImage 10_new tenant after

Roodkapje, a Rotterdam-based cultural and music venue secured over 600m2 and brought 2.000+ people to their opening party.

For more information on the ZoHo project please see http://www.zomerhofstraat76-90.com.


Plinths in ZoHo {part 2}

The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam

ZoHo is a small neighborhood just north of Rotterdam Central Station. It’s an edge neighborhood. There’s not a whole lot to do here (yet). And in terms of the plinths–they’re just awful.  The area suffers from vacancy, poor neighborhood image, low performing real estate, inactive plinths. The plinths in particular suffer from:

  • Lack of landmarks or anchors
  • Few places to meet and gather
  • No clear way-finding or signage
  • Discontinuous and/or unsafe plinths
  • No public functions
  • Closed-off, hard corners
  • Lack of eyes on the streets, especially at night
  • Dominating, single-use office space

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Even though ZoHo has terrible plinths, the neighborhood and its surrounding has an incredible amount of assets, an important part of any analysis.

Key assets: Though many of the key assets, as in institutions, organizations, and popular initiatives lay on the borders of the Zomerhofkwartier, the neighborhood also has a lot going for it already. Some of these include:

  • Young, creative, diverse students walking in and around the Zomerhofkwartier from neighborhood educational facilities
  • Two major bicycle routes moving non-motorized traffic through
  • Existing gathering places, at the edges of the neighborhood
  • High quality social and neighborhood capital, including creative industries, makers, schools, and cultural initiatives
  • Popular initiatives nearby that highlight user-based, DIY, crowd-funded urbanism

Image 4_partnerships

Components of the plinth strategy: By systematically assessing each street in the ZoHo and combining the networks of the partners, we were able to identify priorities in each of the softwarehardware, and orgware components for the plinth strategy.

Software priorities included maximum use corners of buildings and the ground level for public functions; a solid mix food, fashion, design typologies; and maintain the local ‘maker’ and light industry uses.

Hardware objectives included using maximum transparency; maintain buildings as non-specific, multi-purpose, flexible; maximum use of hybrid zone.

Orgware objectives included continual updates and communication of lead Zoho partners; high quality maintenance of public functions and programming; presence of holistic ‘street logic’.

The next section, part 3, will focus on the strategy and outcomes.

For more information on the ZoHo project please see http://www.zomerhofstraat76-90.com.


Plinths in ZoHo {part 1}

The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam

In the beginning of April, the Stipo office moved in to a big yellow building in the Zomerhofkwartier, a little neighborhood tucked away in Rotterdam, just north of the Central Station. The 4.000m2-building has been mostly empty for the past several years. We’re taking on the challenge, along with our partner and owner of the building, Havensteder housing corporation, to strategically fill the building with interesting tenants (people we’d like to work with or along side…or just have lunch with). But that’s only the beginning.


The other part of our task is to get this neighborhood back on the map in Rotterdam. But first, a little history lesson, past to present.

The area that is now called the Zomerhofkwartier dates back to the 15th Century and located in the northern part of the city, adjacent to the central train station and the city centre. It consists of a mix of warehouses, storage facilities, light industry, and low-income housing—activities that have no place in the city centre. From 1875, the number of industrial workers increased in the neighborhood. Around 1900, the Zomerhofkwartier and the adjacent neighborhood, Agniesebuurt, were fully built-out. Small businesses were wedged between the residential homes and along the River Schie stood older family homes and offices. It was a lively, vibrant neighborhood.

1935 Vijverhofstraat- Teilingerstraat Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam
1935 Vijverhofstraat- Teilingerstraat
Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam


1922 Zomerhofstraat  Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam
1922 Zomerhofstraat
Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam

The bombardment of 1945 devastated the neighborhood and the entire city center, leaving only rubble and dust. In a short period of time, about 10 years, the neighborhood (and city center) was rebuilt. The new buildings in the Zomerhofkwartier were traditional office buildings of that era—large-scale buildings, some with blank plinths, few doors, and activities focused inward or indoors. Residential homes were not evenly incorporated into the fabric of the neighborhood, the quality of the public realm was sidelined and open space shelved.

1940 Zomerhofstraat Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam
1940 Zomerhofstraat
Source: Gemeente Archief Rotterdam

As industrial uses left the city, the Zomerhofkwartier continued to be a predominantly office, small business, automotive, and light industrial area. It’s proximity to the centre and train station provide a great benefit to those working there, but it’s often passed over by locals.

Havensteder Housing Corporation is one of the many owners, but responsible for a large majority of the buildings. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Havensteder decided to demolish its existing building stock in the Zomerhofkwartier and rebuild the neighborhood with housing. Slowly, tenants left the Zomerhofkwartier, presuming Havesteder would proceed with their plans. However, the 2006 economic crisis halted everything and thus began the downturn of the neighborhood. Five years later, the neighborhood was even more plagued by vacancy, poor image, disinvestment, and low performance.

In the beginning of 2012, realizing that their plans for a new housing development might never be accomplished, Havensteder sought out partnerships to help turn around the neighborhood, and make the best of it before it gets even worse. We saw the potential of the Zomerhofkwartier (also called ZoHo) and jumped at the chance.