‘Light, air and space’; this was the motto of Dudok, the architect of the 1950s district The Hague Southwest. Like many other Dutch urban areas built in the post-war reconstruction era, these neighborhoods are now full of outdated social rental properties and are still struggling with ‘urban issues’. The municipality of The Hague intends to redevelop these neighborhoods in the coming years: replace obsolete housing, add more green spaces and offer residents a better quality of life. Dreven, Gaarden and Zichten are the communities chosen to lead the redevelopment. The municipality, the house corporation Staedion, and the development firm Heijmans came to us, asking: “Help us realize this radical transition working closely with the residents and businesses.” In brief, they asked us to develop a strategy to encourage them to play a meaningful role in the redevelopment plans over the next twenty years.
The three neighborhoods are scheduled for a dramatic transformation. A large portion of the outdated homes rented by Staedion must be demolished. Which will take a lot of time. Many tenants will have to wait as long as 10 of 15 years before their home is knocked down or renovated. Yet other, who love their home, community or local area, will need to find a new place to live. While this creates new opportunities, it also instils fear and insecurity. Conversations on the renovation of the three neighborhoods have already been held. Residents and businesses have shared their opinions and ideas several times. But, because many of plans that announced in the past have failed to materialize, people have lost confidence in the council and other bodies.
We take a personal approach, talking and listening to residents and entrepreneurs. Their views, questions and concerns are our jumping off point. They need to know, at the earliest stage, how they’ll be affected by the plans, and what kind of help they’ll receive to handle the changes. We also ask for their views of the plans, and how they think the neighborhood could be even better. Since the outbreak of corona, the obvious way to connect with locals and business is online, but we deliberately chose to engage in in-person dialogue. And to connect in a style that resonates with the communities: one-on-one conversations on the residents’ home ground.
To do this, we organized a traveling open-air exhibition with a difference and toured it through the neighborhoods, accompanied by representatives from the three major actors. We set up our exhibition at different hubs in each of the three communities. A mini-army of staff from these organizations gave each visitor a personal guided tour, and a tailored breakdown of the plans. This helped to break the ice and was a great way to chat with locals about their questions and concerns.
The exhibition visited each neighborhood three times. There was a total of nine exhibitions each one well attended: overaal, we spoke to more than 1,500 residents. Some people returned several times to hear the plans explained again or to ask another question. Many children also visited the exhibition, because they also wanted to have a say in the future of their neighborhoods. In short, the residents were very enthusiastic, and so were the three partners.
The exhibition gave us many insights, not only into residents’ concerns and what they thought of the redevelopment scheme – we now know that people really appreciate this kind of personal attention and that, despite the massive transformation, many residents and business owners are excited about getting involved in shaping the ongoing development plans. Ideas that we’ll include in the long-term strategy. And for all those residents and entrepreneurs who are interested, there are still opportunities for having a say in their neighborhood’s future.