Have you heard of the UK's Center Parcs? They are a network of vacation villages that require you to do only one thing: leave your car outside the park and get around the village by foot or bike. This is a bit of the philosophy that has been adopted by the Matexi group, developer of a new project of 114 housing units on the Poteresse Plateau in Bouge, Namur, Belgium. The project will be brought to completion by the Arbre d’Or Studio. The neighborhood will contain 68 houses (115 to 150 m2 / 1,237 to 1,615 square feet), 46 apartments, and an estimated 250 new residents. This will, in all likelihood, add up to a lot of vehicles whose parking must be considered.
“In 2011, when the first draft of the project was presented, the existing citizens of Bouge worried that new arrivals would come and park their cars on other people’s streets,” indicated Bernard Voglet, Associated Architect. The project was revised. Except for several reserved underground parking spaces beneath apartment buildings, the area’s parking will be spread out in pockets of parking structures on the exterior of the new neighborhood, a space of 3.75 hectares. Therefore, people will not park in front of their homes; there will be no garages attached to the houses.
This unprecedented real estate development in the Namur Municipality aims to make the new neighborhood a place where pedestrians and cyclists will have the complete right-of-way, even though it will be possible to stop in front of one’s house with a car to load or unload people or supplies. “At the same time, we have designed parking structures that will line the periphery of the properties. The inhabitants can leave their cars there and return to their homes via their yards.”
Beyond the peculiarity of the design approach, which seeks to create a place to live where children can still play in the street, the plan brings with it another surprise. At a time when many developers are developing land in Namur for luxury housing, the Matexi project aims towards the middle class, responding to the needs of young property owners whose numbers are growing in the city.
The project’s construction calendar, structured in three phrases, could permit the existing neighborhood to welcome its new neighbors in 2020. However, certain citizens of the Poteresse Plateau look at the arrival of a new neighborhood with a critical eye.
Murial Pianet is the project’s urban planner and developer at Matexi’s Namur office. She recounts the fears of certain citizens who live in the neighborhood onto which the new development is to be “grafted.” These citizens worry that 114 new housing units, with a calculated number of about 1.7 vehicles per house, will lead to other peoples’ cars being parked in front of their properties in the older part of town.
“It is for this reason that we modified the project as it was presented back in 2011. We now propose that only bike and pedestrian routes connect the new neighborhood to the existing one.” But even in this positive light, the concept disturbs certain citizens of Bouge. “We were very shocked,” said Muriel Pianet, “to hear someone tell us, during the obligatory public environmental impact study meeting, that they would refuse even these bike and pedestrian links. That was a first for me.” The urban planner refuses to place a value judgment on those commenting, but gently expresses regret at these citizens’ fears “that are more about provocation and emotional reactions.” She explains, “We have come to understand that it is a bit of an inward-looking neighborhood. But at the same time, other citizens seemed reassured by our propositions. We did not face an immense public outcry.”
One hundred and fourteen housing units will welcome new families and their children on the Plateau, who will, without a doubt, want to play with their neighbors. Are connections such as these impossible from one neighborhood to another? Matexi is making efforts to allow for them.
Do you have any neighborhoods in your city where pedestrians and cyclists are given complete right-of-way? How are pedestrians and cyclists treated in your community? Share your thoughts and city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.