What are the possibilities to revitalise an area with sport facilities? How important is sport to attract and connect talent to your city. I try to answer these questions in my newest Amsterdam project.
In the Southern part of Amsterdam, between the new business district the ‘ZuidAs’ (South Axis) and the ‘Amsterdamse Bos’ (Amsterdam forest), there is an opportunity to create a three kilometer long park strip: the Sport Axis.
I have been asked by the city of Amsterdam to develop a new strategy for the Sport Axis. In January of this year I started to work on this project. Last Friday (June 15, 2012) I took part in a public debate where the Sport Axis was discussed in relation to the plans for the South Axis and the possible Amsterdam bid for the Olympics in 2028. The debate took place at Arcam (Amsterdam Centre for Architecture).
Functionalism in city planning is completely based on separation: living, working, recreation and transport are put in different spaces. Sport was seen as space consuming. Facilities like soccer fields and tennis grounds were pushed to the outskirts of towns. Even though we are all clustered in front of our televisions sets when our soccer teams play in a European Championship or when an athlete has a chance to win a medal at the Olympics, to have sport facilities directly in our living environment, that seems to be an entirely different question. But, like culture, sport plays an important role in the attractiveness of our cities. It might as well be that sport is even a more important factor in many young talented peoples lives than culture will ever be. But how can we integrate sport facilities back in our daily environment? How can we use sport as a program for regeneration?
The Sport Axis runs from the 1928 Olympic Stadium in a straight North South line to the hockey pitches in the Amsterdamse Bos. Inn this strip you can find all ingredients that an attractive city needs: natural beauty, firsts class sport facilities, places to be alone but also places to eat and drink and meet other people. The area is very well located between Amsterdam South and Schiphol airport. But something is missing. That something is the thing that most of these areas that are dominated by sport facilities miss: a basic level of attractiveness, found in the day to day activities, the feeling to be welcome.
Facilities like the Bosbaan (the place where the World Championship Rowing will be held in 2016) and the Olympic Stadium (where the European Championship Athletics will be held in 2014) are world class and already make the Sport Axis a destination. In the Southern part, in Amstelveen three important hockey clubs (Pinoke, Amsterdam and Hurley) are located. They even have a cricket ground there. An enormous amount of tennis fields can be found. Soccer grounds, water sports, athletics, biking, a spa (Spa Zuiver) and restaurants and cafes complete the picture. But again: apart from the people that use these facilities the area is not on the citizens mental map.
It’s not that the program is not there. An important aspect of sports, next to doing it yourself is enjoying it when it’s done by others. It’s the experience of enjoying it, sharing the moments with others. I think the tissue, the element that can bring everything together is missing. This is partly caused by the fact that the facilities were taken out of our direct living environment and placed on the edge. But what once was far away is now in the middle. There are new chances to look at the area. We will have to find out how we can keep on using sport to make the whole area more attractive.
Most of the sport facilities are closed. Not literally closed, their members can go there, and if you really want you as a visitor could even go there and you’re welcome, but in essence they are closed to their environment. If you’re not part of it you don’t go there.
This is why I think the first goal of the new strategy should be to open everything up. To make visible what’s going on there. To use the program and all that’s around it to make the visitor feel welcome and safe. This can be done by taking away the fences. Opening up the closed walls. Invite people in. Use the cafeterias, the restaurants and the other sport related eating and drinking facilities to create shared spaces and to tell something about what’s going on there. Most of these facilities already have a lot to offer.
Another aspect is that everybody is doing it’s own thing. It could be interesting to see how we can create much more synergy. Sport clubs could share certain facilities. Why should every club have a gymnasium for themselves. There is a plan to bring a sport hotel into the area, a hotel that will be mainly there for the athletes. With a 24/7 kitchen that offers high quality food.
The area can be very attractive for top athletes and clubs because there is the combination with the ‘Vrije Universiteit’ (Free University). This University has the Faculty for Human Movement Sciences. They do important research on improvement for top athletes. This is another reason why internationally orientated sport federations could want to be located in the area.
There are also possibilities to bring in new facilities. We will also have to improve the connections, make them nicer, safer, better. An integrated plan for all parking facilities will have to be looked at. Through the whole area from North to South runs a derelict railway line that is used today for the Amsterdam Museum Tram line. We will have to explore the possibilities to bring that line into the cities tramway network and have trams running there all the time. The water front of the Nieuwe Meer is interesting as well and we will have to see how we can use that to make the area more attractive to stay. And in the more urban areas there seems to be new potential for retail. We will have to figure out how to get that there. Perhaps new plans for the garages that are still in use by Citroen on the Stadionplein can offer space for that.
The strategy for the Sport Axis has to be ‘bottum up’ in stead of ‘top down’. We will have to put the program first. This means we will have to connect as much as possible with all future users and investors. This does not mean we can not define a clear goal. The goal here is to create an area that has sport as its main program and is open for everybody: from the bottom to the top. A strip where you want to go to if you are interested to ‘do something’ with sport. And like in sports you can not get quality if you don’t start early and involve everybody. So there will be no Master plan but we will make a Strategic Agenda. It’s the only way to attract talent and the best way to find out what the Sport Axis can be.