Post-conference tour of the Hague Housing Conference
“Transvaal: better don’t go there, it’s not very safe”. This is what I heard when I moved to The Hague (Netherlands) as an international newcomer. Today, finding my way on the map to the meeting point of the post-conference tour “Transvaal Redevelopment”, I realized how close to my previous apartment this neighbourhood with the famous Haagse Markt (The Hague Market, biggest open market of Europe) is located. Still, it was a place I only passed by tram or visited briefly for the Haagse Markt. Not surprising when you get this warning.
The Transvaal shows the characteristics of an “A-Stadt” in German Urban Planning terms. A city where Arme (poor), Arbeitslose (unemployed), Ausländer (foreigners), Auszubildende (in education), Alte (old) people live. Not surprisingly, social problems like criminality come along with this accumulation of backgrounds and a concentration of these groups. An old housing stock (built around 1900), very small apartments, no public spaces shape the built environment for its inhabitants.
How to change these living conditions into a more attractive, safe neighbourhood?
The approach here is driven by Staedion, one of the bigger Dutch housing associations, which owns the majority of the buildings. Together with the City of The Hague, a framework agreement was worked out, including e.g. investments, a development plan, cultural aspects, education, public space and the local economy. Residents, other land owners or local entrepreneurs, however, were not involved: participation was not part of the redevelopment process. Staedion had owned about half of the housing stock already and bought up even more before they started to renew street by street, area by area in 2001. The procedure repeats itself: demolishing the existing dwellings and build new bigger houses. Here, less is more. Besides new housing, public spaces have been created, a school was built, and a residence for elderly next to a school. This strategy is expected to achieve a safe neighbourhood with a better quality of life to finally attract a mixed population (both low and higher income), both owners and renters. An exemplary case for the phenomenon of segregation.
Now, where do the existing residents move when their apartments are pulled down to make space for bigger dwellings?
Most have moved to the adjacent neighbourhood of Schilderswijk with similar characteristics. Some have come back after the renewal. Most of them stay nearby. In their community. Where they can continue doing their grocery shopping at the Haagse Markt in Transvaal. Fortunately, the sense of belonging to the community, seems to be strong enough to handle the moving of many of its residents.
As a previous resident of a neighbourhood not too far away, I kept away from Transvaal in general, but still went to the Haagse Markt occasionally for some grocery shopping and enjoying the diversity of produce at low prices. Closely watching my purse. The redevelopment efforts will hopefully lead to a safe neighbourhood with a positive image.