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Architecture Workroom
Brussels

Antwerp— Mapping the shift of metropolitan phenomena in Berchem extra muros

The City of Antwerp is pursuing a renewal process for the city. The strategic Spatial Structure Plan for Antwerp (s-RSA) will be reviewed using three thematic pillars: Flowing cityCooperative city, and Liveable city. The Liveable city component consists of a study of the prerequisites and levers for mapping the liveability in districts, and was carried out in 2017. Building on the insights obtained as a result of this study the City of Antwerp District Berchem subsequently launched a study on the 'Shift of metropolitan phenomena in Berchem extra muros'. For this assignment Architecture Workroom Brussels is working once more with anthropologist and pedagogue Ruth Soenen of Simply Community and social geographer Christian Kesteloot from the geography department at KULeuven.

Various policy documents call for the population increase Antwerp faces in the coming years to be viewed as an opportunity to renew the city as well as to boost social life in the districts. There is also a special focus on the 20th century belt, which offers relatively greater potential than in the city centre for achieving this ambition. This potential is found at the point where the spatial and the social domains converge.

In order to steer and anticipate the change processes already in motion more actively, developing sufficient insight into, and knowledge of, the way in which social relationships evolve in this very specific urban space, and which in turn can leave their mark, is crucial. These social relationships are changing considerably.

This is reflected, for example, in the fact that for a long time the 20th century belt was considered the home ground of people that had fled the city, whereas today an increasing number of people are moving there, who in principle, would like to live in the city centre but for diverse reasons can no longer do so (due to the shortage of family housing with gardens, affordable homes, etc.).

The mapping study into 'liveable districts' demonstrated how outsiders quickly perceive 20th century neighbourhoods as being 'dead' while in reality they are often home to extremely liveable streets or neighbourhoods. It is just that this liveability is often less visible and of a different order than that associated with the city centre. These kinds of insights form important reference points when we have to examine new ‘residential environments’ for the future.

This study builds on the conceptual and methodological framework that was set out in the 'liveable districts' mapping study. Following a quick scan of the 20th century belt, the study focuses on Berchem extra muros. This area serves as an operational base, firstly by identifying 'families of challenges' using design research, and elaborating the associated change scenarios. We will go on to connect the design research to the everyday level and the socio-geographical analysis. This will result in a 'reality check' through several small-scale, but heterogeneous research situations that will be analysed retrospectively using the 'horizontal ethnography' method.

The idea is to devise more action-oriented proposals by linking spatial insights and proposals for change to the social dimension, namely the everyday experience of residents and more structural social processes.

The 'Living in Berchem extra muros: Is the city getting (too) close?' workshop served as the kick-off for this study. During this event policymakers, urban professionals, experts and other parties involved were invited to bundle their knowledge, and engage in dialogue. As a follow-up we are continuing our work using design research, cartography, observations and discussions with diverse parties. This is our approach for examining the way in which ongoing urbanisation in the 20th century belt can be mapped out, what the opportunities and possibilities are, and how these insights can then be translated into a different type of socio-spatial, urban development pathway.

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Antwerp— Mapping the shift of metropolitan phenomena in Berchem extra muros
With structural support from the Flemish government and regular support from the Brussels capital region and other regional and local governments.