Expert article
Edit 17 December 2023
by Birgit Georgi, UIA expert

Green Quays from a citizen perspective

people watching the opening ceremony
Image: Birgit Georgi
Green Quays offers valuable lessons for harmonising urban developments with the desires and needs of their citizens. It has been a radically innovative project in the centre of Breda by bringing nature and urban green spaces into the city despite the densely built-up area and scarcity of open space. This should increase the quality of life around the area and the overall attractiveness of the city. This specific inner-city situation required new technologies for greening going beyond the tested standard solutions. A new design and technology – the Nature inclusive quays (NIQ) - has been developed and built. Will this solution suit the residents’ needs? Will they like it? And how could they influence the process of developing the GreenQuays?
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The GreenQuays project itself is a result of earlier citizen participation

For a long time, a four-lane road and a parking garage was built on top of the original river Mark at the edge of the medieval centre. In a first attempt in the 90s, the city decided to reduce the road to two-lanes and built back the garage, a smaller part of the old harbour was reconnected to the existing water ways, and further parts received shallow ponds mimicking the river. But citizens expressed, that the solutions favoured by the city were too grey. Also, the recent well-being and health survey in the area done in collaboration with the regional health organisation GDD West-Brabant, revealed that 97% of the respondents think it is important to have green spaces in the neighbourhood, but only 31% think there is already enough green space in the neighbourhood. Several rounds of citizen participation finally led to the idea of the GreenQuays project.  

At the core of the project is the Nature Inclusive Quays (NIQ) technology, designed to naturally green vertical quay walls. The structure and materials incorporated into the design allow native plants to invade and provide shelter for local wildlife. Though the construction that was finished in September 2023 is appearing predominantly grey at the moment, nature needs its time to take possession of the offered canvas. 

group of people talking at the quays
Image: Birgit Georgi

How do the citizens feel about it? During the opening of the finally built-up GreenQuays on September 23rd, 2023, citizens' response to the new site was overwhelmingly positive expressing their satisfaction and excitement about the result, which actually will only fully unfold in a couple of years when it will go from the grey structure to the greened quays. According to the well-being and health survey, the most appealing aspect of the project is that it enhances nature in the city -richer plant and animal life (54%) followed by providing more cooling in the city on hot days (17%) and restoring a navigable Mark (15%).

Of course, over the course of the project, also some critical voices and doubts surfaced, like on traffic disruption, noise, and other nuisances during the construction period. The high costs of the project have been mentioned too, but the expected future gains and high funding by the European Union have offset these concerns. Hence, despite major challenges that the project faced due to restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic and the resource and energy scarcity due to the war in Ukraine, this major investment maintained broad support from both the city of Breda and its citizens. GreenQuays emerged as a source of pride, promising an attractive and usable space with greenery and open water in the city centre.

Citizens Voices from the opening of the quays:

This space is very nice, actually nicer than the older parts of the harbour. I’m excited about the opportunity to get around by boat soon. It’s been an expansive project, but with a very appealing result.

Nel (76) and Theo (78) living 10m away.

I’m very pleased about the place. Sure, it’s still grey, but in simulations on YouTube, we can already see the wonderful place as it will transform soon. I can’t wait to see it flourishing. This iconic place will also be good for Breda as a city and attract tourists too.

Jo (65) living at the quays.

It’s nice to see Breda becoming greener and greener. This will go on. I’m sure about it.

Joop (35) passing by.

Child at the quays
Image: Birgit Georgi

This area is also great for the kids. We love the part with the stairs. And they have chosen the brick design that we’ve loved most. Sure, there has been or still is a bit of nuisance during construction work. But soon that will be over.

Martijn (40) and Anouk (38) with Emma (3) and Finn (8) living close by.

We love to explore Breda. The quays are much nicer than before! The city is greening other neighbourhoods too and connects all these areas. This is great for the liveability in Breda.

Daan (58) and Lotte (54) from another part of Breda.

State of citizen involvement over the course of the project

Effective communication over the whole development process played a crucial role in keeping the community informed. Flyers, posters, and the use of the deBouwApp ensured that neighbours were constantly updated on project developments. This transparency contributed to a shared understanding of the challenges and benefits associated with the construction period.

Ton van Beek from the project partner BLASt has been responsible for citizen participation. Beyond the flyer, posters etc., what has enabled this very positive uptake by residents? The start wasn’t easy. The original plan for citizens participation was messed up by the pandemic. Workshops were not possible instead the team had to shift to online events. Due to the format these became rather information and awareness building than co-creation events. As unfortunate as this was, they have been helpful because information and awareness is still a necessary foundation for other levels of citizen involvement. The online format also allowed to reach out to other people, in particular younger ones - a group that hardly showed up in comparable events before. However, an advantage had been that co-creation activities had taken place already in advance of the GreenQuays project, thus, making it less urgent to have them during the project. 

citizen workshop
Images: Municipality of Breda

Happily, after the pandemic, co-creation activities in the form of a city safari, workshops producing a map of opportunities and monitoring of the area’s biodiversity by volunteers have enabled the project to catch up to a certain extent with the original intentions. The GreenQuays area had, however, been designed already and project work focussed now on developing the NIQ technology. In this situation the trick was to stretch the activities out into the surrounding neighbourhood. 

 

Important lessons for the future

There have been a couple of important lessons that we have learned from the project for further participation processes.” says Ton. “Having me and my colleagues as ambassadors for citizens in the area made a huge difference. We cared for proper participation. All kind of neighbours – and not only the loudest of bravest - should be heard, and indeed, people talked to us. We should have such ambassadors in other city development projects as well.”

group of people discussing
Images: Municipality of Breda

Currently, this approach is used in another neighbourhood - De Bloemenbuurt in Vlissingen. Here, citizen involvement has started much earlier. Co-creation activities have been kicked off at a time when plans for the development of the area had been still very open. “At first, residents could not even believe that we had no fixed plans and ready solutions.” explains Ton. "After a while and with our support, they came up with their own solutions, solutions they really liked. From nowadays perspective, I think we should have started co-creation in the GreenQuays at an earlier stage during the design-making process.

The experience gained during the project also suggests, that not necessarily a big portion of neighbours is needed for co-creation but a relatively stable working group that ensures continuity over the course of the project may have been helpful. Participation should be an integrative part of a design process from its start.

In conclusion, Green Quays stands not only as an example of successful citizen participation but also as a beacon for future urban development projects. The project's technical innovations, combined with effective communication and community engagement, showcase the potential for transforming urban spaces into vibrant, green, and liveable environments. As Breda's city centre evolves, GreenQuays serves as a blueprint for Breda and other cities looking to harmonise development with the desires and needs of their citizens.

 

See also: 

City safari and Map of opportunities – testing new co-creation forms in Breda
Volunteers play an important role in GreenQuays’ biodiversity monitoring 

 

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