Rewilding the garden city

The garden city of Winterslag in Genk (BE) consists of five settlements built between
1919 and 1950 for the coal mining company. Inspired by the international garden
city model, today, these settlements are protected as ensembles of great heritage
value. They are also home to many different cultural communities. Many houses have
been renovated and extended, but they still lack energy efficiency and adaptivity to
family dynamics. Public space is still abundant, but it resists a more differentiated
and collective use by its communities. Originally, the design of public space mainly
answered transportation needs. Different social groups were unambiguously allocated
to certain areas. This spatial and social model no longer corresponds with the reality
of contemporary life. Hence, these settlements face major challenges in both cultural
and ecological regard to become the sustainable and resilient cities and communities
we strive for today.
One strategy that can address both cultural and ecological diversity is embracing
actors who have been marginalised in the design of such over orderly public spaces.
We give an explicit role to nature and diverse cultural groups, allowing for diverse
appropriations of public space, and we call this activity ‘re-wilding’. By involving
the local community in the design process, we enhance opportunities for cultural
identification and collective use of public space. At the same time, re-wilding
strategies tackle environmental concerns by introducing a fundamental shift from
grey to green matter.
Workshop participants will build on research that focuses on identifying ‘green’
patterns of differentiated use of public space. Based on this, four international groups
of five students will prototype real-life ‘re-wilding’ interventions with and for the
inhabitants of Winterslag. These prototypes can be anything from (removing) a tile in
the pavement to flooding parts of the open space. Although ‘rewilding’ interventions
subvert the over orderly nature of garden cities, they are first and foremost a
means to encourage communities to gain control and responsibility of their living
After a kick-off event, students will take part in community life with local mentors as
their guides. All prototypes will be documented and presented at a closing event.