Play Brussels

Public Space around City Junction

Play Brussels is a negotiation and design game played to help policy makers get in touch with engaged local stakeholders around Porte de Ninove.

Swimming pool, Porte de Ninove, 1952

purpose: informing policy by re-imagining of the Porte de Ninove by locals
client: Pyblik
local partner: Brusselse Raad Voor het Leefmilieu -BRAL
engagement: Over 40 local players in a week long game session
project duration: July-September 2013
area size: 4 hectares

Urban Challenge

Many European cities are taking up the challenge of reacting proactively to their urban wastelands and vacant buildings. Berlin is an inspiring example, although no single project or city is a template for change: every city has unique potentials and handicaps. While officials in Brussels do their best to manage the unmanageable, we at Play the City have designed a city game to tackle the temporary public use of Ninoofsepoort/Porte de Ninove.

How can an urban temporary intervention help to connect the site to local organizations, entrepreneurs and residents? How can it adjust to unexpected developments? Can an alternative use survive to become part of the permanent plan? It is a car-centric site that needs transformative thinking: Will cyclists and pedestrians have access to the new initiative?

Process

In July 2013, our team was briefed by the researcher director of Pyblik and were introduced to our local partners, BRAL. We worked on engaging local players until September 2013, when a group of 40 local stakeholders and designers met on site to play a one week Play Brussels session.


Looking over the fence into the chosen site, Porte de Ninove

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Project Results

The Play Brussels process was synthesized into a list of potential actions: small interventions which can be implemented independently in the short term and a list of bigger interventions which require some support from land owners and other parties, and which can be realized in the medium term.

Breaking the gates
A prêt à jouer spatial framework was the first result the stakeholders agreed on: "Opening up the gates around the ABP hangar and La Parfumerie, and creating provisional pedestrianized spaces using paint on the road is something we can do right away, boom pat at!”

The Connectivity Team saw a coherent spatial framework as vital to the success of temporary use at Ninoofsepoort. They therefore proposed to ask the Region for funding to develop a spatial plan for the temporary management of the site. Many players were skeptical about the time this would take: weeks, months, even years? The effectiveness of the other groups’ proposals depended on this. The Area Manager concluded that no game pieces should be allocated to connectivity: the first six months of the game would see that team busy with bureaucracy! Faced with this prospect, they came up with a backup proposal that could be implemented immediately and would open the site up to other interventions: opening up the gates around the ABP hangar and La Parfumerie, and creating provisional pedestrianized spaces by painting the road, as a guerilla action.

Windows onto hidden nature
Discovering and revealing an urban wilderness was the next step. Washing machine doors were inserted into a temporary fence, opening it up to reveal the beautifully wild plot of nature that is the Besix construction site. The unplanned patch of wilderness on the Besix site caught the attention of many of the participants, prompting the group decision: "If we cannot make this natural urban wilderness accessible to the public, we can at least make it visible." The Green Team proposed creating the viewing holes in the fence, to make this spontaneously flourishing nature visible to passers-by. At first this could be done as an independent action using waste products, such as abandoned washing machine doors, to make the value of the view visible to the authorities (and speed up the process). The action could later be made ´official´ by using plexiglass fences, and perhaps even become a publicly accessible patch of green in time. The emphasis was first placed on making the value visible, and could later be followed through with a future vision.

Cherry tree nursery
Tapping into the local brewing tradition: Locally grown cherries could be harvested and brewed into local Ninoofsepoort Beer. This temporary use project from Play Brussels is easy to implement and offers the public a shady refuge from the city that yields an aromatic after-hours treat. Cherry trees will be planted along the Boulevard de l'Abbatoir, harvested and used to make the cherry beer for which Ninoofsepoort is already known. At this stage, players also proposed the demolition of the ABP hangar, already falling apart, to turn the site into a flower field. Wild butterfly-bushes growing on the Besix site will flourish here. This site could support urban farming on wheeled boxes or straw-bale lined patches of earth. A rolling kitchens festival and a beer festival would attract people and make the site part of a regional food network. Public toilets and showers in the building of La Parfumerie support these events, and connect temporary use and productive activities to the site's existing permanent structures.

Consequently, participants wrote down a public letter to the Prime Minister of the Brussels Capital Region.

Open letter to Rudi Vervoort

Prime Minister of the Brussels Capital Region

Dear Rudi,
As you know, the 4 hectares of Ninoofse Poort are awaiting definite development. The recently adopted masterplan by Xaveer de Geyter -XDGA foresees the conversion of the wasteland into dwellings, a cultural venue, and - most importantly - a green space. This urban park is of utmost importance in the context of the surrounding neighbourhoods, home to a population who needs, and calls for, green space more than anyone else in the Brussels Capital Region.
However, due to the complex administrative situation, 25 years of traditional planning have not resulted into any tangible result. The XDGA masterplan expects to start construction by 2018, but people living around Ninoofse Poort still have no guarantee of any change even by that date. For everyone involved, the current status quo is an unacceptable situation. We cannot afford to waste precious time and space by leaving Ninoofse Poort the concrete eyesore that it is now.
The people of living around Ninoofse Poort are ready to make decent use of the space. Starting tomorrow.
In the framework of the ]Pyblik[ Masterclass of Temporary Interventions in Public Space, in cooperation with BRAL and Play the City, a group of concerned urban designers has created a temporary use plan for the site, focusing on public accessibility, social inclusivity, low environmental impact, biodiversity and artistic creativity.
Instead of being a forgotten corner of your city, Ninoofse Poort can become a landmark, a symbol of the revitalisation of the Brussels Canal Zone.
Virtually no budget is needed, and there will be no nuisance caused to any users or property owners of the site. On the contrary, the temporary project will be a joyful test case for definite future land use. So far, Ninoofse Poort is the major missing link the Brussels Green Network. Please let us create this link.
Hereby, we kindly demand your (passive) cooperation in helping the inhabitants of the Ninoofse Poort neighbourhoods to take this chance, for which they have waited too long. We look forward to the opportunity to explain the Ninoofse Poort Temporary Use Plan to you in greater detail.
Sincerely,
The participants of the Challenge of Temporary Public Spaces Masterclass
September 2013.

Media Coverage

Order Play Brussels booklet here, reported in a detailed format by pyblik

A secret garden in Porte de Ninove
Mapping site owners, users and stakeholders
The game begins...
Ekim Tan playing with local temporary-use experts
Voting results

The increased visibility of the green Besix site gets the most votes.

Cherry trees proposed for Ninoofsepoort
Sofie Van Bruystegem in debate