From vacant to vibrant: the power of temporary use

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Reflection by Ilke van Engelen and Joyce Vlaming on the Westplein-Lombokplein Picnic

On May 23, 2024, Gemene Grond, in collaboration with local residents and Perron West, organized a picnic. In addition to the early supporters of the neighborhood network Development Group Lombok Centraal, several officials from the municipality of Utrecht also attended to share what we can expect in the future for the new ‘Lombokpark’. We asked the co-organizers how they experienced the afternoon.


Ilke van Engelen (organizer, local resident, and former initiator): "We thought it would be nice to showcase the different initiatives from various groups of people at different times by placing them side by side on a timeline. For me, it was about meeting, getting to know each other, and exchanging stories and experiences between new and old initiators. Area development is a long and complex process where the land or buildings involved often remain vacant or unused for extended periods. Temporary uses typically have a shorter duration, but they can offer significant value and meaning to visitors, residents, and other stakeholders during that time. They give the location temporary significance and value and can reveal the site's potential and opportunities. Additionally, these spaces often provide room for initiatives that are more challenging to realize in commercial settings or regular public spaces due to regulations or high property prices. The dreams, wishes, and ideas of the initiators become visible to the residents and visitors of the place and the city. This invites them to enjoy and think about the best use for the space. They might even feel encouraged to share or realize their own ideas, which can be included in the neighborhood plans. This increases residents' involvement and influence in their city. It also leads to enjoyable encounters between city dwellers and the sharing of knowledge and dreams."

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Did you have good conversations?

“Yes, we had some great conversations. It’s wonderful to see that over the years, new people have embraced the place and added their own unique value and meaning to it. I’ve been less involved lately, so it was nice to hear about everything that has happened. I’m looking forward to the period leading up to 2030, when the water from the Leidsche Rijn will be extended to the singel. Additionally, the first traffic adjustments will be made, which will change and improve the place and its isolated position in the traffic network. I’m very curious to see what this will bring.”

An important insight

Joyce Vlaming, curator at Gemene Grond: “The event was both enjoyable and useful. I thought the timeline and the treasure chest were well-chosen and effective, making the shared aspects clearer. I heard various stories about safety, and spending a few hours there made me notice even more things. Besides the cheerful and busy side of Westplein, it’s also a place where homeless people take shelter and sometimes use or deal drugs. This is important to keep in mind for future plans. It was great that Carla Mesman, the area coordinator from the municipality of Utrecht, could provide an explanation. Her explanation was clear and much appreciated by the group. She also brought visual impressions and a large map, which were very helpful. Whether or not a fly-over will be built is crucial for the park, making it an exciting prospect. One participant’s protest banner is now in the treasure chest. It was heartening to see that many attendees still feel a strong connection to this place. This shows how important it is, as people have been coming together and caring for it for so long. Those I spoke with found the event to be warm and pleasant.”