Experiences Smakkelaarsveld gathered in a guide to complex area development – Ruimtesontwikkeling.nu

Analysis A shipyard, a roundabout, a parking lot, a cluttered area of ​​greenery, a warehouse for building materials and a public bicycle shed. Smakkelaarsveld on the east side of Utrecht Central station has changed destination quite often. But that will come to an end in the coming years with the Smakkelaarsparken. A complex area development, for which the municipality of Utrecht has registered the experiences from the planning.

For a long time it was a rough part of the center of Utrecht, an area you would prefer to avoid. A residual place, a place without a clear meaning. But that should certainly change in the coming years if – in all likelihood – a new part of the city is added to Utrecht in 2025.

‘The situation in 2008’

of the Utrecht Archives
(source: Utrecht Archives)

The task from Utrecht municipality was quite ambitious, to say the least. Because Smakkelaarsveld is being transformed into Smakkelaarspark. And that means a lot. For example, the water in the Leidse Rijn will be expanded, and there will be a city park containing two residential buildings with approximately 150 homes, an office building and a catering pavilion.

Complicated location

The Smakkelaarsveld location – barely 13,000 square meters in size – is already complicated by all the traffic flows, including the railway line. There is also a tangle of cables and pipes underground which are essential to the city’s functioning. And then there is – not unimportantly – a bus and tram that cross the area. In order to realize the intended programme, it has therefore been decided to place the buildings partly on the bus and tram tracks.

Current situation Smakkelaarsveld of Utrecht municipality (source: CU2030)

‘Current situation Smakkelaarsveld’

of the municipality of Utrecht
(source: CU2030)

The development of the Smakkelaarsparken – called ‘Spark’ by the developer Lingotto – is therefore a rather complex and ambitious affair. And there is also the requirement from the city council in Utrecht that this project must be budget-neutral for the municipality. Ergo: it should not cost society anything. This then led to the municipal council’s decision not to build public housing on this land. New residents will soon be the cheapest in a rental property in the middle segment.

Utrecht’s experience with the development of the previously undefinable piece of the station area is fodder for area developers working on complex projects.

And then there is the political sensitivity that plays a role in this project. Before the idea of ​​Smakkelaarsparken came, the plans for a library (Bieb++, designed by the architectural firm Rapp+Rapp) at this location did not make it. The difference in the city council of one (!) vote means that the development of any new plan for this place is closely watched. It is not without reason that this is the last major construction site on the east side of the station area in Utrecht.

Download lessons

Now that the actual development of this feat has started (first phase, the crossing over the bus/tram track was completed at the beginning of 2021, the second phase has been delayed), the Municipality of Utrecht has asked Marije van den Berg to share experiences from the planning process from Smakkelaarsparken. This resulted in the Smakkelaarsveld Guide (pdf). It is emphatically not a literal guideline for complex area development, because according to Van den Berg “the approach to Smakkelaarsveld is not Business for complex area development. You cannot copy the ‘method’. What is possible is to use experience as a guide.”

Trust and equality must be confirmed and shaped again and again. According to Van den Berg, it was complicated to move along, especially in cooperation with the city council in Utrecht

It does not change the fact that Utrecht’s experience with the development of the previously undefinable piece of the station area is fodder for area developers working on complicated projects. It is no easy task to give form to the high ambitions and the complicated location. To achieve this, the project team made a series of choices that ultimately led to a supported plan. And that within the tight framework of the city council.

A bird's eye view of Smakkelaarspark, precise urban planning next to the railway through Lingotto (source: Lingotto)

‘A bird’s eye view of Smakkelaarsparken, precise urban planning next to the railway’

by Lingotto
(source: Lingotto)

For example, it was decided to explicitly involve the city in the development, to do this together with the chosen developer and also to actively involve the city council.

The developer was therefore selected in the first round of tenders based on willingness to cooperate (and not just on a design). In the second round, the municipality did not give the remaining three developers a hard and fast final picture, but instead offered the space to create a feasible plan within the tight financial framework. Also important was the municipality’s intensive process management and attention.

ask why questions

Although we may not see the lessons learned from Smakkelaarsveld’s planning as lessons that can be directly copied, Van den Berg nonetheless mentions some particular features of the approach that she believes have been valuable – at least in this complex area development. For example, according to Van den Berg, it is important to constantly ask the why question. In order to achieve quality, it is always necessary to clarify why something is of real added value for an area. It helps to make sharp choices.

The researcher also finds it of great value that ‘trust as an instrument’ has been used. Not as some guard that arises, but as a rational choice. “We have chosen to trust the market’s innovative strength and efficiency in the recognition that, at the same time, as a public organization, you must ensure that the prerequisites are monitored.” According to Van den Berg, it was also about trust in the people on the Stadstender team. Van den Berg sees that because of that trust – in each other’s role and expertise – extra attention has been paid to the relationship between the parties involved and less to the technical side, which is mainly the responsibility of the client.

Cycle sea on Smakkelaarsveld, 2018 by Utrecht municipality (source: CU2030)

‘Sea of ​​bikes on Smakkelaarsveld, 2018’

of the municipality of Utrecht
(source: CU2030)

Choosing trust and choosing equality between all parties (city, market, project organization and municipal council) means constant reset. Each step produces a new – and sometimes unexpected – situation. In this regard, trust and equality must be confirmed and shaped again and again. According to Van den Berg, this move has proved complicated, especially in the cooperation with the city council of Utrecht.

Uncharted territory

According to Van den Berg, this happened at times when choices where ‘everyone’s wisdom weighed’ collided with a different way of making decisions. The researcher refers to another view with a political majority after a debate in the city council. “This is still uncharted territory and good forms have yet to be discovered.”

In the Smakkelaarsveld Guide, Van den Berg goes even deeper into the planning of the Smakkelaarsparken; in conversation with those involved, she understands the process that has gone through. It thus provides an interesting insight into the planning of a new part of the city that is as special as it is complex in the heart of Utrecht.

Here you can read the complete Guide Smakkelaarsveld (pdf), which Marije van den Berg wrote on behalf of Utrecht Municipality.

Front page: ‘Smakkelaarsparken with the new residential and work buildings’

by Lingotto
(source: Lingotto)

Portrait - Joost Zonneveld

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