Urban rejuvenation, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Like the tides in the port of Rotterdam, the economy of the city has risen and fallen.
It is, and has been for a long time, the most important port in Europe but the benefits of that have not always flowed to the people who live in the city.
As processes in the port have become more automated, less people are now needed to do the jobs in Rotterdam.
And although the maritime business has not been hurt too badly by the economic problems in Europe (in fact, some figures suggest it’s improved), from a financial perspective, it is merely a staging point for the passage of goods to the 220 million people who live within a 1000 kilometre radius.
It means the grand buildings which were built in Rotterdam to provide offices for port-related businesses are no longer as needed as before. As the demand for commodities increase, it turns out space is not one of them.
So what do you these with these buildings? Well, one architecture firm had a vision and now it’s become a reality.
“We’re believers that local economy, local culture, is fundamental for any city to emerge,” Kristian Koreman from the Zus architecture firm tells me.
“Only longing for international and global businesses will not make a city specific and also not attractive so we think cities have a huge role in the development of this.”
This brings us to Schieblock, which translates in English to something like ‘sponsors block’.
Kristian is giving me a tour of the old office block in downtown Rotterdam that his hard work and perseverance has helped bring alive – in a way that goes against everything the city’s economy had previously stood for.
“In Rotterdam we are still depending on the harbour economy for instance,” he explains, “but at the same time we have this local culture and there’s a way to bridge these two economic forces.”
Kristian and his team were essentially squatting in this building for many years before they decided to revitalise it. They wanted it to be accessible to the community and embrace the ideas of a new innovative economy. So this is what they did…
The lower floor became about commerce – but a sustainable local commerce.
A shop full of goods from local designers was set up on the street and, in a deal with the city council, they pay rent based on how much they earn each month.
A tour office with information and bicycle rental was established on the ground floor as well.
And a bar and café became the centrepiece and an area where people could hold events and community functions.
Importantly, these public spaces were connected to a long walkway between the old train station and the new train station. A wooden bridge is part of the walkway and there are plans to further extend this overground option.
The idea is that if people are walking through the building, they are more likely to engage with what is in there.
“We hope that this will be a new vibrant core in Rotterdam,” Kristian explains.
“It used to be like that before the war and we believe because its central location and very specific environment with empty buildings and strange public space that it has a very interesting appearance, things can happen here.”
One of the things Kristian and his company, Zus, are trying to make happen is a growth in small innovative businesses and start-ups. So, above the public spaces of the Schieblock, are office space and desks that can be rented at affordable rates.
If you’re a sole business and just need somewhere to work during the day, you can rent a desk here for 100 euros a month. Slightly bigger (but still small) companies were enticed to come in with cheap rates.
“The only way was to lower the rents which used to be common here – 150 euros a square metre upwards,” Kristian tells me, “and we are renting out for 90 euros a square metre and that was an amount which was affordable for those with their own office studio.”
As he takes me around and shows me some of the small offices, I immediately get the sense that this is a place where ideas can flourish.
It’s a space which inspires inspiration. It’s quite literally a ground-up idea that gives back to the community in a way global companies tend not to do.
There may still be money in Rotterdam’s port but perhaps it’s not the future for everyone. The solution might be right here in the Schieblock – one of the building blocks of a new economy.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Rotterdam Marketing but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.