On the second day of the New Europe City Makers Summit, City Makers visited eight different Dutch cities. One of them was Utrecht. The City Makers from Utrecht welcomed both Dutch and international City Makers – from London, Prague and even Australia – to their city, showing them a few of the best practices of the city.

First stop was the Campus Party, a technological fair revolving around innovation, creativity, science, digital entertainment, and entrepreneurship. Here we were welcomed by the municipality of Utrecht, the province of Utrecht and the director of Campus Party. There was lots to been seen and plenty of visitors, but there was a small separate programme for the City Makers.

Markku Markkula. Photo by Quirine Winkler.

After leaving the Campus Party, we met up with our guide for the day, Heinz Schiller (representing Nieuw Utrecht), who started the tour with a brief visit to the roof of Hoog Catharijne (part of the train station), where a small rooftop vegetable garden was started. Since the train station is still under construction, and many high-rise buildings have been built in its proximity, the view from the roof garden offered a good look at all the work that had been done in this area. The rooftop garden is a way of claiming a part of the area.

Rooftop garden at Hoog Catharijne. Photo by Quirine Winkler

Then, in true Dutch style, the group travelled by bike to the next initiative, Food for Good, a beautiful city vegetable garden. It is an oasis of green tranquility within the city, where people with a distance to the labor market can work, garden and get used to a routine again. Neighbourhood residents also help in the garden and everybody who helps gets a part of the produce of the garden. The rest of the produce goes to Resto VanHarte, a neighbourhood restaurant, and whatever is left is sold. That way, the garden helps to provide healthy foods to the neighbourhood.

The Food for Good garden. Photo by Quirine Winkler

Next up was Vechtclub XL, which literally means ‘Fightclub XL’, but is actually inspired by the name of Utrecht neighbourhood The Vecht, so not involving fighting. Vechtclub XL is an inspiring meeting place with workspaces for creative entrepreneurs, a garden and exhibition spaces. The building of Vechtclub XL has been completely refurbished and made to fit the special needs of different creative entrepreneurs.

The most important aspect of Vechtclub XL is, however, that the entrepreneurs form a tight network and there is a balance between their professions. The whole link from creating ideas, production, marketing, etcetera is represented in the building. That way collaboration is facilitated. Next to their own network, the cooperation is seeking collaboration with the municipality, which is going really well so far. The initiators of Vechtclub XL can rent the building for a good price, but they are allowed to rent it for ten years, and now they have this place, they don’t want to lose it.

Instead of fighting municipality decisions, they are providing a better option than tearing the place apart, by making development plans. In these plans the buildings that are already on the site are incorporated into the future use of the site, instead of tearing them down, which is cheaper and might even look better. This way the whole site should become a vibrant, creative and cultural place which puts new life into the surrounding neighbourhood.

A workspace at Vechtclub XL. Photo by Quirine Winkler

The day ended at Colour Kitchen, were a great meal was consumed and the City Makers exchanged their thoughts on the day. The Colour Kitchen is a hospitality concept with a social drive. Here people who are distanced from the labor market learn the trade of hospitality.

All in all, the city expedition showed that there is a lot to learn from different initiatives in Utrecht, for instance that when an area isn’t used, it can still be very valuable for the city, neighbourhood and citizens, by providing green space, work space or even both.

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