When traditional and creative industries blend: a case-based discussion of the implications for urban design

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As economic interests in an urban society develop, functionally determined zones of production become zones of transition and pose challenges to urban design as an instrument for organizing competing or contradictive spatial interests. This contribution centres on such a zone of transition, an industrial site in the Belgian city of Hasselt which is progressively enveloped by urban development. Interestingly, this area is part of a larger industrial area along the quays of the Albert Canal. This canal was developed in the 1930s to connect the Campine coal basins, the maritime port of Antwerp and the steel basin in Liège to one another (Van Acker, 2014). The Hasselt Canal Zone thus exists on the interstice between two very distinct systems: the radial-concentric pattern of the (medieval) city, characterized by two concentric ring roads; and the linear development of the Albert Canal, a national backbone for industrial and commercial development. Due to their subsequent development and saturation, these distinct systems increasingly influence each other here. Hence, the Hasselt Canal Zone demonstrates a gradual transition which includes the introduction of new programmes, creating a public and urban élan on the south bank of the Canal. This process has started in 1997, when the Muziekodroom, a local non-profit organization for musical education, band practice and concerts, settled in a partly abandoned slaughterhouse. In the ensuing 20 years, other new users have followed by appropriating obsoleted industrial infrastructure: two shared office buildings, a college of advanced education in pop and rock music, a dance club, a repair service for electronics, and catering businesses. In branding the core zone of transition with the name Quartier Canal, this new generation of occupants manifestly propagate a cooperative and synergetic agenda. New occupants also coexist with traditional Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), mainly light industries, building merchants and traders, which have not left the site, some still depending on the Albert Canal for transportation of building materials and petroleum products. Their interests are advocated by several public entities involved in maintenance and exploitation of the Flemish waterways, and entrepreneurship along its shores. As a consequence, very diverse spatial claims and expectations come together.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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