How to start a project (1)

Last week I went to Utrecht. Utrecht is the fourth city of the Netherlands, centrally located. A friend, Emilie, asked me to help her start up a project. Emilie finished her studies on the Utrecht School for the Arts (HKU) a year ago. Today she calls herself a location marketeer. Finding new uses for derelict spaces and places. That seems like the right thing to do these days. Before she started to think about this meeting Emilie contacted the City of Utrecht. They were not interested, having other priorities. Which is strange, I started to understand, on my way up to the site: less than two kilometers away from the city centre. On one side of the site is a huge canal, the Merwede canal. The industrial area is called the Merwede area. This place is very well located. It can be easily reached by car, train, bus and bike. Nevertheless, getting out of the bus the main thing I saw was fences. The entrance to the main building was easy to find, so up I went. The room was filled with people. Emilie managed to get everybody of any importance there. City officials, owners, renters, neighborhood people, friends. There even was interest form the national government.
The meeting started with Emilie discussing her proposal for a strategy. Which was very basic and simple: work together. Not top down, not bottom up, but together. She told the audience that she is planning to organize a couple of meetings in the next months, to define a strategy and to define future goals. It all sounded so easy. After Emilie I did my presentation. It was about the need of program and people. My main point is that these strategies can work everywhere. Success comes from people. The main thing is to bring all the energy you can find together and turn it into something that works like a laser beam. That is what has been done at the Noorderpark kamer in Amsterdam. That is what we did in the Casablanca abattoir, at Westergasfabriek and at all these other places. That is what can be done everywhere. Of course, it helps when you have some nice buildings. It helps when you have some money. It helps when you have permits. But the main thing is the mind set, the will to work together. It is urban acupuncture. After my presentation there were some questions and  three presentations by people that were already having activities on the site. And this is where things started to get really interesting. Astrid from Vechtclub XL (Fightclub XL) did a short presentation. And she told us  that the most amazing collection of creative businesses is already there. On site. What is going on here? Creative and young people have started to use the place. It started a completely new life. The city was not interested. Did they now what was happening here? Did they facilitate it? Who in Utrecht knows this?
In a small group we went to see the Vechtclub. An amazing collection of businesses. Astrid and her friends organized under the name of “Stortplaats van dromen” (Dump of dreams) invested a lot of money out of their own pockets to reuse this building. They now host more than 100 businesses there. All on a temporary lease. Before we went home we had drinks. We all agreed that this should go on. What can we do? How can we help? Everywhere in our country, on derelict sites, people have decided to take their future into their own hands. Started a small business, sat together with others and did something. Created a place. I have to go back. I think there is a lot more I can learn from them than they can from me. You can all join me.

Meer Merwede on Facebook

Vechtclub XL (Fightclub XL)

Stortplaats van Dromen (Dump of dreams)

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