Making cities great places to live, work and play – with John Jorritsma, mayor of Eindhoven

15 November 2019

The EUROCITIES Annual Conference is just around the corner! We hope you have reserved your spot, but if not – hurry up!

While we still have a few days before delegates meet in Prague, we took the opportunity to catch up with a speaker at one of our political debates, and ask him a few questions on urban renewal.

John Jorritsma is mayor of Eindhoven, and one of around 70 local politicians who will be taking part between 20-22 November.

1. What is Eindhoven doing to make the city a great place to live, work and play?

Jorritsma: Let me give you an example of our adaptive reuse of cultural heritage. We have a former gas factory area in the heart of the city. Situated near the downtown centre area on one side and a residential area on the other side. The buildings were of historic value. But they were in a very poor state. And the soil over there was heavily polluted due to years of gas production.

But we managed to shape it into a new mixed city district by redeveloping its cultural heritage with grassroots initiatives since 2013. You will say: What’s new? But we had quite a few challenges in doing so. We had no real estate developer involved. Only very motivated end users. And there was not a pre-defined urban development plan as well. Plus, negativism on board; we had to clean the polluted area and the Eindhoven local council decided to clean more than the legal minimum. So quite an expensive task. And finally, we wanted to do that in an organic way. This seemed impossible, but now I can honestly say now that this cooperation with the end-users really worked out well. We succeeded in all challenges. And found lots of energy from new citizens involved

2. But how did you ensure that circularity and sustainability principles were met?

Jorritsma: We designed a zoning plan for it. We wanted as little regulation as possible. Nothing new as well but the starting point was to exclude as little as possible for usage and future functions. While the buildings were vacant, we offered them in temporary use to artists and craftsmen for several years. And thanks to these first residents the former gated area got a new friendly reputation and awareness during major cultural events in the city.

It was clear that the soil had to be contaminated and that the municipality was responsible for cleaning up. But for the rest our intention was that the city would only facilitate the process and let the end-users do the main part of the work. Although the starters were all very willing to cooperate, they, of course, had lack of knowledge and experience. So, from the city side we provided them with additional guidance to do the job instead of letting them go.

3. How did you renew this area while preserving a sense of neighbourhood and community?

Jorritsma: our challenge was whether we could find enough end-users who were interested in buying the buildings and start the process with us. Given the crisis, the poor condition of the buildings, the pollution and the uncertainty of this corporative project, this was an exciting step, but it worked out well. We asked for ‘What is your dream’ and we received 48 dreams in return: very serious ones but also outstanding creative ideas. All these collective responses gave us confidence to start and open up the process. We selected 5 parties not only for their bid, but also on their plan and willingness to cooperate with us in the years to come. Now everything is sold and the development and construction activities are in full swing. It has become a tailor-made urban renewal project that required only a little more time and attention than with a traditional project developer. The total budget required for this project was €10,00,000, with a direct allocation of 24%, from the city mainly for depollution of the soil.

But the best outcome of the process was this community building. Working intensively and with the many ups and downs lead to a very positive achievement. None of the participants dropped out of the project in 3.5 years. The first residents have moved in their homes and are welcoming newcomers now. Looking back at the process we succeeded in creating an urban development plan and the zoning plan together. The temporary use of the buildings in combination with the cleaning of the soil was quite a puzzle but, by executing it at the same time (we could not be more open and transparent) gained a lot of positive feedback.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer