Park Spoor Noord: the place to feel safe and clear your mind
Since the year 2009 lies in the north of Antwerp (Belgium) the beautiful Park Spoor Noord. Where there used to be a large former marshalling yard, which had not been used for years, there is now a 24-hectare green, sustainable park. The park is used for sports facilities, catering, and culture. The reason for the construction of the park was to give a boost to the deprived areas around the park – such as Schipperskwartier, Dam-Eilandje and Sint-Amandus.
Currently, the park is used for the culture, sports, and events industry. But previously it was an area that had no function for years. For a century, numerous trainsets were parked, locomotives maintained and repaired on this industrial site. Railway workers also received their training there. The NMBS (Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen) stopped its last work in 2001. In the regional plan (spatial plan in which an exact functional use has been assigned to the entire territory), the area of the NMBS was colored as a zone for urban development. In the beginning there was a lot of skepticism about the idea for the construction of Park Spoor Noord. Partly due to the abandoned and unmaintained site for years, but also because of the negative reputation of the neighborhoods around the site. But a neighborhood survey showed that there was a great need for greenery and space.
And with this confirmation of the neighborhood survey, Park Spoor Noord was born. Where the original idea was to create more greenery and a more spacious feeling for the neighborhoods around it – the park now also serves for athletes, catering facilities and cultural events. Pepper is a fanatic skater who often uses the landscaped skate park in Park Spoor Noord. Pepper: “You can really see that it has become much more active since the construction of the skate park and the opening of the catering industry, I have been coming here for years and it is getting busier and busier. The wonderful thing about the park is that there are never violence incidents and that the police hardly ever must intervene. I have seen something different in other skate parks.” When asked if Pepper experiences the park as a place where young people ‘hang out’, he has one clear answer: “No, in many parks young people are spending time together and bored – many (skate) parks also serve to deal in certain types of drugs. But that is not the case in Park Spoor Noord, or I really do not realize it.” according to Pepper.
Runners Ellen and Youke also feel safe in the park. Ellen: “We are both fanatic runners and sometimes make a round through the park in the evening. But I (and I speak from the female perspective) hardly ever feel unsafe during the evening in the park. There are hardly any trees or shrubs so it is an incredibly open space, so you are very aware of – if something happens, the residents will see it.” Youke adds that on either side of the park is a busy road, where there is always traffic – and on the north side of the park there is also a huge university that has a view of the entire park. “Sure, there are madmen walking around the world – but most will think twice before they do something in the park,” according to Youke.
And that safety was chosen on purpose. Mainly because of the negative publicity that the surrounding neighborhoods had – a huge green meadow with play facilities for the youth, two fountains, a skate park and cycling and walking facilities, was chosen to limit the feeling of insecurity. And not only the feeling of security seems to have received a boost, but local entrepreneurs are also seeing economic growth. For example, the new catering establishments in the park are extremely popular, especially with good weather. But also, outside the park there are local shops, bakeries and supermarkets that attract more consumers. Youssef is the owner of grocery store Youssef Jan on the edge of the Park Spoor Noord. He also experiences the positive effect of the park on his shop. Youssef: “Previously, we had locals, students and workers who made purchases from us for a quick errand, breakfast, or lunch. But since the construction of the Park Spoor Noord, we have received many more customers. Young people who want a quick snack while skating, athletes who want to buy a bottle of water or students who want to sit in the grass in the park, after their studies, with some food and drinks.” The park also has a positive influence on the attractiveness of the adjacent neighborhood, resulting in an increase in house prices. The entire economy of the surrounding districts has therefore improved compared to the period before the design of Park Spoor Noord.
Park Spoor Noord has had a positive influence on its surroundings. The project was even awarded the Thuis in de Stad in 2009 – a prize for innovative projects. Whether Park Spoor Noord will continue to have its positive influence in the future, only time will tell. There are plans to make the park even more sustainable, what these plans are is not yet known. In any case, Antwerp benefits from its new acquisition and let us hope that more of these projects will be developed in the future, to make the world a safer, economically responsible, and sustainable place.