(re)CYCLE Limburg 2 , A co-design approach for transforming public spaces in Kerkrade West.

Abujidi, N,  Sap, H. van de Weijer , M. (2017).

In a moment of socio-economical and urban transition processes taking place in Europe, an increasing number of cities and territories are today facing population decline and its consequences. Population decline is indeed associated to widespread issues: unemployment, declining of property values, fragmentation of the urban environment, lack of participation in the city and neighbourhood life. Moreover with population change social bonds among neighbours are under stress and a sense of community is getting lost. According to the literature, this lack of interaction is clearly manifested in the use or under use of public spaces and infrastructures. In context of post industrial shrinking territories public authorities, stakeholders and designers therefore wonder on how to intervene in public spaces, and which kind of strategies are need to enable them to mobilize local communities. Research shows that public spaces that are designed even with small-scale, low-cost infrastructures, but following the real need of the inhabitants (users), play an important role in social inclusion in neighbourhoods and cities. Therefore, by listening the city how to develop smart low-cost urban design interventions guidelines to reactivate public spaces and to facilitate social inclusion, vitality and wellbeing?

This article aims to reflect on the results of one-year education-applied research activity developed in the city of Kerkrade located in the southern part of the Dutch Limburg (NL). Since fifty years this region is living a process of economic and social transition from mining region towards post-industrial economic developments. That resulted in: declining economic activity, selective migration, aging population, loss of identity, decay of housing and infrastructures and vacancy problems.

By focusing on Kerkrade West, the paper describes the co-developing of place-made design strategies for low-cost interventions in underused public spaces. The paper shows how the transformation with low-cost intervention through a co-development process can be positive solution for local communities experiencing socio-spatial shrinkage. Moreover this serves to develop alternative tools and methods for local stakeholders to traditional strategies to facilitate social cohesion and a dialogue with the inhabitants of the city. Therefore this paper is divided in two main parts according with the two main phase of the process.

Firstly, after a short review of the main causes and consequences of shrinkage in three neighbourhoods of Kerkrade West, the study presents the original site-based analysis of socio-spatial dynamics in public spaces and need of local community. This analysis consisted of explorative research with inhabitants, local stakeholders and multidisciplinary team of students, going beyond governmental national and regional statistical data and representation.

Then the resulted observation and need of inhabitants lead to development of low cost, temporary and place based urban intervention to reclaim public spaces. Therefore in the second part, the article presents and evaluates the design interventions on public space lands based on place-making approach. The design experiments developed during one-week design workshop developed by multidisciplinary team of students and young designers, in constant discussion with local stakeholders and inhabitants.