Although most TU/e students have been living in Eindhoven for quite a while and some may already go as far as to call themselves ‘Eindhovenaar’, the cruel reality of the Urban Secrets Tour showed practically all participants how little they actually have seen of the city and how much there still is to learn and explore.
Set up by one stubborn ‘Eindhovenaar’ in VIA’s activities committee, and based on his 14-year long experience with the world’s smartest city of light, the Urban Secrets Tour took us to places that lie miles away from each student’s familiar world between the university, the student house and the pubs of Stratumseind. The tour focused on hidden treasures in neighborhoods outside the city centre, and besides the exploration of Eindhoven’s suburbs it was also an exploration of the history of Dutch urban planning and residential architecture.
Furthermore, we invited professor Sergio Figueiredo to help us elevate the tour from hop-on hop-off sightseeing to a valuable lesson in critical observation of the urban design concepts around us. His contribution consisted in providing us with background information and contexts of the urban principles in each location, as well as asking critical questions for us to think about.
Our tour started in ‘t Hofke in Tongelre, where we explained how the city of Eindhoven as we know it now came into being. A tiny historical town without possibilities to grow, Eindhoven in 1920 needed to devour the neighboring municipalities in order to provide room for the explosively growing industrial activities of Philips and necessary workers’ housing. Tongelre was opposed to being annexed by Eindhoven and therefore wasted municipal money on building a new town hall to prevent the funds from being transferred to Eindhoven. Sergio drew the parallel with recent examples of affluent communities which have detached themselves from a larger municipality in order to keep tax revenues for themselves, thereby creating all sorts of consequences in terms of social inequality.
The next stop was the neighborhood Geestenberg in Tongelre, which is illustrative of Dutch housing concepts of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. It is a so-called Bloemkoolwijk (cauliflower neighborhood), designed as a response to the quantity-driven modern planning which was dominant in the years before. The cauliflower frustrates the use of the car and aims to make the street into a cozy social catalyst, but it is evident that the practical implementation of the concept is outright disappointing. But also in the example of the typical 1960’s modern neighbourhood, which we later visited in Gestel, we can see that the implementation of modern planning principles derailed into a sober thinking method that regarded people merely as numbers. Nevertheless, such examples form an important part of urban planning history and it is essential to learn from them and draw your own conclusions.
Besides the characteristic historical expansions of the city, which clearly shows the spirit of each age in urbanism, we also visited neighbourhoods which have been reshaped in the context of gentrification. In the neighborhood of Lakerlopen, we visited a gate-like building which is the last remnant of a 1930’s neighborhood. The area has recently been reconstructed but this one gate-like cluster of houses was spared from destruction. It illustrates an essential design question: what should be saved as an urban artifact and why? In the case of the VoltaGalvani project in Woensel-West, nothing remains from the original working-class housing that previously occupied the spot. This gentrification project brought a great jump in the quality of housing and overwhelming Mediterranean-style colours to Woensel-West. But gentrification does not only give, it also takes. As the working class is pushed out of the area, the local culture is doomed to disappear. So even the bright colours cannot conceal the lack of life in the renovated neighbourhood’s streets. Hopefully a new local culture can emerge in the years to come.
While some areas of the city had become so deteriorated only to face obliteration and replacement, the 1930’s neighbourhood Tuindorp in Strijp turned out to be a belated but overwhelming success. Initially criticized by some for its ‘soullessness’, the white-painted garden city gradually gained much appraisal. The 1990’s extension of Tuindorp copied the original scheme to such an extent that the older and newer parts of the neighbourhood can be hardly distinguished from each other. However, not only the architecture is inherent to the image of Tuindorp; also the abundance and variety in the greenery contributes to its appeal. Moreover, aspects of urban design such as greenery and infrastructure could not be left out from our tour. We visited the Stadswandelpark and Genneper Parken – major parks which are showcases for artificial urban nature. And for the infrastructure theme, the tour brought us to one of Eindhoven’s real secrets. The railway house on the Hoogstraat in Gestel reminds us that a railway line between Valkenswaard and Belgium once existed in these whereabouts. After its abandonment, the line was adapted to a residential street but it still remains visible as a scar on the city plan that cuts through the radial roads. As spatial designers, we must be aware that a changing infrastructure demands other requirements in public space. In addition, challenges for us will inevitably arise with the next infrastructural revolution, perhaps the introduction of the self-driving car.
The Urban Secrets Tour certainly showed us that food for thought and learning about urban design can be found just around the corner. We gained lots of knowledge about Eindhoven, we intensively trained our critical observation skills, and it was a fun experience too! It is only a matter of time when another nearby city will be the object (or victim?) of our thorough exploration.