The quay to the future


“I think it’s important to foster the unique aspects of what we have today on the Scheldekaaien,” says Philippe Teughels. “Take a walk alongside the river, feel the wind, step out of hectic city life. That’s more important than development.”

Antwerp Waterfront
Antwerp Waterfront

Antwerp unveils its ambitious plan to transform its waterfront

“I think it’s important to foster the unique aspects of what we have today on the Scheldekaaien,” says Philippe Teughels. “Take a walk alongside the river, feel the wind, step out of hectic city life. That’s more important than development.”

Teughels is talking about the seven-kilometre stretch of quays along the Scheldt River next to the centre of Antwerp. He’s the project manager of the “Masterplan Scheldekaaien”, or Scheldt Quays Master Plan, the port city’s hugely ambitious 20-year plan to reinvent its harbour side.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who initiated the idea of straightening the river quays and the expansion of port activities along Scheldt. By 1880, the quays had become an essential element of Antwerp’s economic prosperity, with constantly growing cargo and passenger traffic. Millions of emigrants embarked on ocean steamers heading for the Americas; the walkways attracted crowds to watch the ships moor and follow port operations.

But as a result of the ongoing northbound expansion of the harbour area behind the newly built locks, port activities on the river quays were drastically reduced – sheds were replaced by parking lots catering for visitors of Antwerp’s burgeoning downtown.

From 2003, the city has been investing in infrastructure like the building of a cruise terminal and the renovation of the Steenplein boat landing area.

The “Sigma-plan” – aiming at safeguarding the city and river perimeter from inundation during storms and spring tides – was preceded, in 1977, by the construction of a concrete dam over the full length of the quays. “It’s the combination of the Sigma-plan, which recommends a ‘safe’ altitude of 2.25 metres above sea level, and the idea of completely rethinking the public domain alongside the river that resulted in the launch of the Master Plan,” explains Teughels. “One of the challenges is not to use a simple concrete wall, but to integrate the required 2.25 metres in a qualitative public space and restore the link between the city and the river, bringing people closer to the water.”

Teughels is deeply concerned about the future of his city’s quays and their current under-utilised function as a great big parking lot. “Hence the importance of participation,” he says. With a preliminary plan on the table, “we invited the population to give their input, discuss the ideas and comment on the future of the quays.”

Community dialogue is encouraged via projects like information sessions and guided walks. The recent “Quays on the Table” public session has resulted in a full inventory of comments and suggestions that will be handed over to architects and designer later this month. All of this will be moulded into a more definitive Master Plan by the end of the year.

One of the essential elements surrounding the €135 million investment is communication, the city having learned a lesson from the controversial Oosterweel Link bridge plan, which officially fell apart earlier this month under the weight of public protest. (See Flanders Today, 11 March.)

The non-profit organisation Antwerpen Open was assigned to take on a number of elements within the communication plan. Their organisational background with events like the Summer of Antwerp and Winter Fire make the team a natural partner in the whole process.

The most ambitious plan on Antwerp Open’s dialogue and outreach agenda is KAAiLAND, a major programme of cultural and arts events that begins this week and continues until 21 June: exhibitions, theatre, movies, guided tours, trips on the Scheldt River. A strategic vantage point near the Cockerill Quay combines a unique view of the river quays with concerts, food and drinks.

“We’re happy that we were asked to take this on,” says Michel Uytterhoeven, coordinator of Antwerpen Open. “We think it’s important that the Scheldt quays get more and better use. There’s more to the quays than parking.”

Uytterhoeven cites the ongoing Zonsondergang (watching the sundown from a tribune near the water) or the weekly tango sessions near the old Kattendijk dock to illustrate the wealth of light and space that creates what he calls “bi-functions” of the port landscape.

“When people spontaneously decide to watch the sundown – enjoy the view with a glass of wine or an impromptu barbecue – this brings the quays closer to the community,” he says. “One of the events in KAAiLAND is a boat trip – I had forgotten how beautiful the quays are from the river. It’s like the quays make up the stage for the city’s parade.”






The quay to the future

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