In 2012, the city administrations of Aalst requested a grant for an urban renewal concept for an upgrade of ‘Kern Rechteroever’, a working class neighborhood on the right bank of the city. The aim is, by means of design in dialogue, to formulate a long-term plan and a locally-oriented approach for the wider surroundings of the Moorselbaan and the carnival halls.
At present, ‘Kern Rechteroever’ is often negatively perceived as a difficult part of town. On the one hand this is the result of historical developments, on the other hand it is also due to a changing urban landscape. Aalst is increasingly exposed to a metropolitan dynamic whereby the affordable but low-quality housing stock in the vicinity of the station has become a magnet for new, less well-off residents who want to live cheaply, but still in the proximity of Brussels.
This dynamic organizes a specific and fragile economy around the Varkensmarkt, which finds a home amidst the existing retail. For this reason many local departments and socio-cultural groups have already focused their wishes and resources on this neighborhood, but in a fragmented, project-based manner. Looking at the intense dynamic of the metropolitan flux, there’s a need for a more appropriate urban concept, one that is more ambitious and radical.
We propose to unite the many and varied users of the space and the spatial and socio-economic challenges by means of a Common Ground, that will serve as a new cross-connection through the district. This vigorous and in some ways ‘extra large’ public space adjoins a number of strategic development locations that can act as an engine for urban renewal in the neighbourhood. The large scale of the Common Ground gives it a metropolitan dimension: not only serving the neighbourhood, but also turning it into a possible destination for outsiders and visitors. On top of being a space, the Common Ground is considered to be a program, triggering at once a sense of initiative, stronger retail, cultural and popular activities, and public services with a more robust residential environment. Linking those aspects (also in terms of governance) is like weaving the neighbourhood into a single multifunctional fabric, fostered through and rendered visible by the Common Ground.