The objective of Venning ECO-Life was to transform the most disadvantage district in Kortrijk into the most sustainable, not just focusing on energy performance, ecology and CO2 neutrality, but also on a turning Venning into a pleasant place to live, stripping it of its social stigma. We wanted to use this project to show that extensive sustainability in construction is also feasible in the social housing sector, and not just for the environmentally-aware and wealthy middle class. Discussing issues such as energy consumption and ecological lifestyles with residents is a far cry from the traditional operating methods in the social sector, and it was a refreshing experience for all parties involved. This social engagement is a great opportunity to address healthy living and living together in a neighbourhood. As a result, the residents and even the designers underwent a transformation along with the district. Thanks to the European programme ECO-Life, it was possible to implement this project in collaboration with a range of partners, and to also pay sufficient attention to research and monitoring, both at universities and with the residents themselves, while keeping an eye on the local policies in the participating countries.
The neighbourhood of Venning was built in 1960 in a low-lying area beside of the canal. With its 163 residences, this district looked like a garden city, but this pleasant surface hid the fact that many of the little homes offered less than 30 m2 of living space and were barely habitable. Under-investment for over led to homes falling into disrepair, low standards, neighbourly disputes and vandalism. Interviews with the residents, many of whom were quite senior and were often the original tenants revealed a lot of enthusiasm for a thorough neighbourhood upgrade with 90 per cent pledging to
return after renovation, even if this meant moving out for 2 years. A building team was put together and asked to shape the strategy. The team partners successfully submitted an application to the EU
Concerto programme to secure vital additional finances to add to the limited funds at the disposal of the Flanders social housing programme. The project was called ECO-Life.
▶ Large, general meetings and small informal workshops with tenants;
▶ Development team and a local and international Coordination board, local and international;
▶ International meetings: ‘Training the trainers’ and others;
▶ The ‘Commons’ platform;
▶ University research and PhD on energy monitoring inVenning;
▶ An online tool to track energy consumption in two or more comparable apartments with the same number of inhabitants. Tenants can learn about their energy behaviour by comparing and competing with their neighbours.
▶ Coordination and guidance of the planners in the other districts
▶ Demonstration and discussion with other social housing companies in Flanders, Belgium and France.
▶ Communication and dissemination, interviews, reports
The approach (and results) followed in the neighbourhood is shared with the different design and engineering offices engaged for renewal of the other districts being managed by the housing provider Goedkope Woning. Technical, financial and social aspects are considered in parallel. The ECO-Life partners have a new role as supervisors and promoters of the approach for the entire stock. The social impact of the project in the neighbourhood is also monitored. This involves mapping the changed opportunities resulting from the sustainability-centred approach, making
adjustments where necessary and tracking developments.
This was not an element included in the EU program. A socalled ‘COMMONS’ platform was set up to creatively capture and capitalise on all the initiatives that in combination create ecological neighbourhoods. These initiatives are mainly focused on promoting good neighbourhood relations among residents of all ages and cultures. The platform brings together a diverse range of partners, building on experience and input from across the public and private sectors.
The emphasis is shifted from the notion of building costs for the owner to living costs for the tenants. Living costs include the effects of low standards: not only the energy and water
costs, but also the bill for the doctor and the pharmacy. The living cost decreases as a result of the project because of the lower energy bill and the healthy environment, including contribution to the maintenance of the community garden.
✚ Complex project addressing vulnerable people and the elderly
✚ Courageous investment in a very deprived neighbourhood
✚ Decreasing living costs for the local population
✚ Demonstrated positive environmental impact, especially in terms of energy savings
✚ Collective garden as a meeting place