10 Years of Rotterdam Central District
TEXT: EDUARD VOORN | PHOTOGRAPHY: PAUL STARINK
The Rotterdam Central District Association is the driving force behind the developments of the area around Rotterdam Central Station. The Association was founded exactly 10 years ago. It has been 10 years of ups-and-downs, but we can now look back at some great results. The question now is how the Association can contribute to the further development of Rotterdam Central District.
It is barely imaginable, but from 1987 to 1994, there was a shelter for substance abusers next to Rotterdam’s old Central Station. They could get methadone and use their heroin freely at ‘platform zero’, the name of the space between the station and the Groothandelsgebouw (then written as one word). What a difference to the new station and the area now. The amazing architecture of the station and the attractive square in front of it with the raised grassy lawns and specially cultivated trees have created a pleasant place to be. A few buildings dating from before 1987 fortunately survived the economic crisis of 2008 and are still standing. They are now important in showing Rotterdam Central District for what it is – an area of contrasts.
Bringing these changes about called for an organization that would work with the Rotterdam Municipality, tenants, building owners and developers to work on the development of the square kilometer around the train station. That organization was the Rotterdam Central District Association. The intention was for the area, a rough diamond, to retain its Rotterdam roughness, but it did need a few shiny facets. On 17 April 2009, in the presence of Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and the then Alderman Hamit Karakus, the deed of formation was signed and the then Association Chairperson, Hans de Boer, currently chair of the employers’ federation the VNO-NCW, appointed. At the time, he said that the Rotterdam Central District and Amsterdam’s Zuidas were the most important locations in the Netherlands. “We will consolidate the potential that is already here.” Association board member Nicole Maarsen of the Maarsen Groep said that the population of the area needed to be densified and the space made more pleasant to spend time in. Ten years later, urban planners from the whole world are coming to see the ‘miracle’ that is RCD. But is it finished? No, not yet. But what there is now is already fabulous. It is a fabulous gateway to the city that is also the engine for the economy of the city center.
In 2009, De Boer was still the Director of LSI Project Investment (Luc Smits Investment). He took over from the founder, Luc Smits who, in the past, had managed to lay his hands on the former post office on the Delftseplein and turn it into Central Post. The building is seen as the first refurbishment in RCD. It was a great success and is now completely rented out to various companies including the publishing giant Persgroep, Swisscom subsidiary NGTI, Zonneveld Ingenieurs and the chemical company LyondellBasell.
Looking over the shoulders of De Boer, Maarsen, the Alderman and the Mayor during the signing of the deed of formation, was the high ranking civil servant, Fons Meijer, then the process manager for what was then called the Stationskwartier (Station District). He looks back with a ‘warm and happy feeling’ at what has been achieved. “What has happened is scintillating and much of it is thanks to the Association, in which I was involved right from its inception. The Association’s objective was, and still is, to involve property owners and tenants in the developments of the area. Up to that point, they were not that involved. Just imagine, we were involved in the building of the new train station, extending the metro station, laying the Randstad light railway and building a huge parking garage since 2004. We were the cause of much disruption to users such as Unilever and ING. But we arranged it in such a way that everyone ‘owned’ the development and this brought about the development of an area that was unique in the Netherlands at the time. Our shared goal is ultimately to put RCD firmly on the map.”
At the time, one of the documents that the Association referred to before starting its work was a provocative study by the Rotterdammer Carol Hol. His agency, Concire, dumped the old name, Stationskwartier, and stuck the label Glocal City District on the area. He also named the study ‘Weena | Glocal City District’. The word glocal turned out to be a strong unification of global and local. “Glocal expresses synergy between the global and local economies, making it the most long-lasting type of economy,” said Hol in October 2007. This was in answer to the question whether the area could be compared to Amsterdam’s Zuidas where ever more multinationals (globals) located. “Glocals are the international players that are also meaningful for the local economy.”
The current Chair of the Association, Hans de Jonge – Director of the Brink Groep that is located in the Groot Handelsgebouw (now written in two words) building – has kept the principles of ‘Weena | Glocal City District’ in mind right from the start. “These have turned it into a wonderful area with a great atmosphere. Glocal has become a buzz and attracts everybody. There are multinationals next to high-end startups, homes, businesses and culture. It’s unique. We hosted the famous American urban advisor, Bruce Katz, who advised Barack Obama’s homes and urban transition team, at the end of last year and he was amazed at the dynamism in the area. He had never seen it anywhere else in the world.”
De Jonge is nowhere near done with the Association, and he wants greater commitment from users. He is looking for a mark 2.0 of the area to make sure that future developers, occupants and tenants join in and support the unique power of RCD. “Now that the economy is booming, real estate is hot, with all the good and bad that this brings. It may be good to have an investor in a faraway land, but that person only sees figures on a spreadsheet. We are looking to see if the area can be turned into a Commercial Investment Zone (Bedrijven Investeringszone (BIZ)). This model does place more demands on users but is one in which most users can invest in a better business environment. A BIZ is not only a financial model, it also enhances civic awareness. It creates a stronger sense of community.”
Fons Meijer, who has been involved in other station developments in the Netherlands, goes a step further. He believes that the Association should have more control over who comes to the area and what happens there, and who should be in dialogue with the municipality. “You can initially make a fast buck, but if there is no cohesion, it will stop there. You need to ensure that occupants and building owners continue to be involved in developments to avoid there being any undesirable developments.”