The social housing company Goedkope Woning at Kortrijk initiated a comprehensive upgrade of its outdated assets in 2008. It intentionally put the emphasis on healthier homes, rational and more efficient use of space, lower energy consumption and low maintenance costs. At the same time, it also aims fundamentally to reorient the liveability of the neighbourhoods, to integrate into the existing social setting to the greatest possible extent. Thus, for example, it has been ensured that each neighbourhood offers a variety of house designs in keeping with the big changes that tenants and their families will experience over the course of their lives. It offers residents even more opportunities to take responsibility for their own living environment, and to be more socially engaged in their own, largely multicultural, neighbourhood.
This highly ambitious project was one of the entries competing for grants of substantial European Concerto subsidies for energy-efficient construction in 2009. The proposed “ECO Life Project” was chosen from the many international entries - for the first time in Belgium. The project at Kortrijk was submitted along with the Danish project at Høje Taastrup and another project at Birštonas, Lithuania. Goedkope Woning’s local partners are the architects B2Ai, Ghent University, Eco-power, EVR architects, E-ster and the City of Kortrijk. The project period runs from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2015.
The ECO-Life project comprises various sub-projects in Kortrijk: the Pottenbakkershoek, Venning district and apartment blocks at Drie Hofsteden. The project aims to prove the feasibility and profitability of thoroughgoing sustainable construction and CO2 neutrality within the social housing sector, provided there are sufficiently experienced designers and contractors, sufficiently strong political will in favour of redevelopment, and strong support from the residents, both during and after the completion of work.
Venning garden city was built in the 1960s on the far side of Kortrijk–Bossuit canal. It comprised 163 homes for rent, many of which were smaller than 30m2. From the January 2010 start, the neighbourhood was split into three zones so that temporary relocation of residents could be co-ordinated with the advance of building and reconstruction work. After one year of preparation, during which the plans were prepared and permits were issued, 34 houses on the canal side were demolished in the spring of 2011 and replaced with 70 new energy self-sufficient apartments and 12 granny-flats. On 11 June 2013, the first phase was inaugurated and occupied. In the meantime, a second phase of 64 new homes had already been launched, while the third phase was launched the next autumn, with the renovation of 50 existing homes.
At present - after 4 years’ work - all 196 homes in the neighbourhood are ready for occupation. From early 2016, public areas of the project will be further upgraded with the construction of a cycleway/ footpath that will pass through the neighbourhood, as well as a renovated, greener Juweliersplein. In this way, the social ‘ghetto district’ of Venning will soon be transformed into the first CO2-neutral neighbourhood in Flanders. It now features its own heating system, which is maintained at the appropriate temperature by a heating plant powered by wood chips. During summer 2013 the University of Ghent began its research project, under which energy consumption in the neighbourhood will be constantly monitored and measured. The project will run until 2016. Its findings are expected to prove to Europe the actual fulfilment of the promised performance of these homes. The study will provide us with much information on how residents handle the new facilities, and which facilities they find more suitable than others. De Venning is the first large-scale research project in which different construction and ventilation systems are studied, tested and compared against each other. During and after the study, discussions will be held with the residents to find out how optimal results can be achieved.
Needless to say, ECO-Life is more than merely an energy-efficient project with well insulated, well ventilated houses that use solar power to the full. Among other things, Goedkope Woning pays a great deal of attention to the outdoor communal areas which it is responsible for building and managing in consultation with the residents. A network of paths makes garden storage and communal parking accessible to everyone. A large number of fruit trees, berry bushes and walnut trees were planted in the communal garden. These are mainly old varieties that can no longer be found in supermarkets. Solar panels help limit the energy costs of the collective LED lighting. The opening-up of the homes with their own private gardens, also smart design of the environment, also encourage social contact. The ecological nature of the neighbourhood is evident in WADI (Water Drainage through Infiltration) and the buffer canals, while the white houses and apartments have a sunny feel of a holiday resort rather than a social housing estate.
The prejudice against ‘disadvantaged areas’ of bygone years has completely disappeared, yielding to a more optimistic perspective on individual and communal life. In recent years, much effort has been expended in order to ensure a fundamental transformation in a completely individual manner. The fear of total renewal is now a thing of the past, even at local level. The neighbourhood has become a benchmark not only for other neighbourhoods of Goedkope Woning, work at all of which will be commencing shortly, but for all the neighbourhoods in Flanders, irrespective whether they be residential or dubbed ‘social’.
The upgrade of Venning district cost around €35 million, of which subsidies from Europe accounted for about 10%. It seems a lot, but this should be enough to function well for the next 40 years. The neighbourhood expanded from 163 to 196 homes, many of which are for large families, with 21 specially-adapted homes for wheelchair users. The diversity of home types makes it possible to continue to live there permanently. Energy consumption declined by approx. 12.5% compared with previous consumption.