Like it or not, Holland’s port city has been developing non-stop for years. And Rotterdam looks better as a result, says vice mayor Chantal Zeegers. Though she spent several years in the Big Apple, Rotterdam is the only place that truly feels like home, Chantal says. Since going into politics, she has also finally found a way to give back to her city. Today, she sits on the city council and holds the portfolios of construction and housing as well as climate.
YOU WERE BORN AND RAISED IN ROTTERDAM. WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PARTICULARLY LIKE ABOUT THIS CITY AND THAT MADE YOU STAY?
“Growing up, Rotterdam was really a cold and windy city with not much going on. You had to know where to look. Then it was an exciting place. I lived next to the railway bridge, later the tunnel, and so saw the transformation up close. The city has only become more attractive and nicer to live in since then. We are very active in Zuid, the subway to the beach is a great addition and the diversity is wonderful. So many different people live in the city and I love that about it, too. There’s never a dull moment in Rotterdam. To me, that sense of home, the diversity and the vibrancy are what make it such a nice place.”
HOW DID YOU GET INTO POLITICS?
“Tolerance and diversity are very important to me personally and I wanted to be part of a party that values those things, so I joined D66. I started out as a passive member but gradually rolled in deeper. I became a party board member for the borough of Hillegersberg-Schiebroek and discovered I really enjoy politics. You can make such difference for your city. In the cut and thrust of politics you have to contend all sorts of opinions. That makes it interesting, and it’s great to see your own ideals shaped within that. After a short break from my political career I joined the municipal council, and have been the lead candidate and party chair these last four years. Becoming vice mayor has been the icing on the cake.”
YOU HAVE A BIG PORTFOLIO AS VICE MAYOR. IS IT FEASIBLE TO COMBINE IT ALL? AND WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR MAIN CHALLENGE?
“Thanks to my experience as an administrator and official, I know the ropes. I’ve also worked in management and am used to shooting for results and efficiency. All the same, it is a lot and I am well aware of that. How do you keep a handle on your work? By setting priorities. As I see it, that means plans for the city need to be framed for the long term. To focus on generating wind power, solar power and renewable energy. This then goes hand in hand with the housing issue, because sustainable area development is the future. We need to be thinking about climate adaptation, effectively integrating energy and circular construction. These portfolios align very well, since a challenge in the climate question of course extends to the built environment as well. Combining all three may even help me to speed up the process.”
PLANS ABOUND FOR RCD. FOR HOUSING AND CONSTRUCTION, BUT ALSO FOR PROJECTS LIKE THE REDESIGN OF HOFPLEIN. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON PLANS FOR THE AREA AND THE FUTURE OF RCD?
“Maximizing green space is essential to keep this city liveable. At Hofplein that means more planting and more space for bicycles and pedestrians, with plenty of broad pavements. This is necessary for climate adaptation and for the comfort and happiness of residents and visitors. I am also a proponent of reducing car use in cities and doing more with shared mobility, public transport and bikes. As the city grows denser, there won’t be enough room for every single person to have a car. This would have a negative effect on the quality of life in the city.
THE MUNICIPALITY IS PLANNING TO DEVELOP QUITE A FEW LARGE TOWERS AROUND HOFPLEIN. WHY HERE, SPECIFICALLY?
“We need to build more to deal with the housing shortage. There are so many young people in their twenties looking for a place to live, and who want to live in Rotterdam but can’t find anything. I think it’s important for us to provide that affordable housing. The question then is: where do you build it? We prefer in the existing city so the surrounding area stays green. The other main idea is to cluster development around public transport points so people are less dependent on cars. From that perspective, Rotterdam Central District is perfect, with all public transport coming together here at Centraal Station. To give another example, the development of Alexanderknoop is based on the same thinking.”
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SCHIEKADEBLOK ALSO FALLS IN YOUR PORTFOLIO. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD?
“Everyone is a little bit in love with Schiekadeblok as a social and cultural spot. It’s an edgy and noholds-barred piece of Rotterdam, but also one that’s crucial for new housing and offices. The municipal council recently discussed and approved the new zoning plan. The social and cultural function are pivotal in that, but it will change. Two housing blocks are planned here, one 70 metres high on the site of Perron, for social rental housing, and another up to 200 metres high next to the Schieblock. The Schieblock and reconstruction-era buildings along Delftsestraat will stay and will house the original creative entrepreneurs. There will still be bars and restaurants and nightlife, but less than now. The future will look different, with more housing for a good mix of people, but still preserving the cultural history, the edginess and nightlife as much as possible.”
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH READERS OF RCD MAGAZINE?
“I hope that readers of this magazine will keep loyally visiting this area. we really want people to be on board with us. We are developing this city together and are keen to engage all the businesses, locals and visitors active here in potential plans and developments. All suggestions are welcome!”