Leuven is a centrally positioned city both within Belgium and Europe. It is a historical city with a rich cultural heritage, known for its high-ranking university and Belgian beer. Leuven has become a dynamic international community, with over 170 nationalities and many students living in the city centre. In 2020, the city was elected as the European Capital of Innovation and offers several opportunities for co-creation.
The pilot area for VARCITIES is a former hospital site in the medieval centre of the city called ‘Hertogensite’. This fully built area will be transformed into a green district, where the river the Dyle and the Aa will be re-opened and the connection between the city centre and the river landscape will be re-established.
The area will become a multifunctional neighbourhood with different housing typologies, economical functions like hotels, shops, restaurants and cafés and co-working spaces. Cultural attractions like the new performing arts hall for the city (with a capacity of 1500 spectators) and a museum site on the history and future of health care will be the heart of this area. The construction of several buildings has begun, just like the opening of the Dyle River. If all goes according to plan, the Dyle would be visible again by 2025 over a length of 300 meters. By 2026, most of the site should be finished.
VARCITIES will finance and develop five different Visionary Solutions in Leuven.
Several co-creation events were already organised:
- Workshop 1 on June 24th 2021: online workshop with 26 participants including 7 city officials from different domains (health, urban development, neighbourhood work …) and 19 external participants (citizens, developers, knowledge institutes, health sector …)
- Workshop 2 on November 25th 2021: online workshop with 20 participants including 5 city officials and 15 external participants from different domains.
- Town Hall Event ‘Benedenstad op zondag’ on June 12th 2022: open space event where around 300 people who participated in guided tours across the site where VARCITIES solutions will be implemented and 50 people visited VARCITIES’ information corner and interacted with a city official about the project.
The Visionary Solutions
VS 1: The Moving Wall
Leuven is building a moving wall and creating an urban living room on the former hospital site, the ‘Hertogensite’. The city wants to promote encounters between residents and help people improve their overall health and fitness. The moving wall is part of an exercise trail throughout the city. The location of the wall refers to the former location of the medieval city walls.
VS 2: Smart lighting with built-in sound sensors
Leuven is installing smart lighting poles in the new park on the Hertogensite. The lighting poles have sensors to measure noise in the surroundings. Noise pollution is a major cause of well-being problems for residents living in busy urban areas. Our aim is to respond to noise at night-time by changing the intensity of the light.
VS 3: Opening up the Dyle River
Leuven will open up the Dyle over a length of 300 metres. Sensors will measure the effects of this, and of the construction of a new park on local climate-related conditions, such as the quality of the water. For example, we want to examine whether making the site greener and reducing its hard surface has a positive effect on biodiversity and the health of residents. The measurements teach us more about the impact and usefulness of nature-based solutions such as reducing hard surfaces, planting new trees and opening up water courses, etc. We take samples to measure water quality.
VS 4: Exercise trail
An exercise trail—a kind of loop through the park—stimulates exercise and at the same time connects a number of interesting places in an easy and accessible way: green places to spend time in the park, a number of information panels, play areas, exercise benches along the Dyle, like the sports wall, etc. They are also connected to a network of other exercise benches outside the Hertogensite. It connects a wider network of hiking routes and parks in the area. Sport and exercise are important for your physical and mental health, especially if you can do it in a green environment
VS 5: Measuring sustainable mobility
The Hertogensite has many new crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. They connect to existing networks in the city centre. Together with VARCITIES, the City of Leuven wants to measure how these crossings affect how we move around. This not only helps us understand the impact of this project, but also gives us experience we can use in other projects and interventions in the public domain.