Atelier East Flanders Core Region

Population Growth as Leverage for Sustainable Spatial Development

2018 - 2020

The IABR–Atelier East Flanders Core Region investigates and tests how population growth in the region can create opportunities for the sustainable spatial development of the entire East Flanders Core Region. The East Flanders Core Region is a network of cities and municipalities around Ghent. The population in this area is expected to have grown by 15 to 25 percent by 2050. In other words, an added 100,000 to 160,000 people will live here. To accommodate this growth, the region will need new housing, workspaces, and facilities.

The Atelier went in search of ideas, initiatives, projects, and partnerships that were relevant to the entire region. The aim was to develop projects that, in a specific location, provided feasible and replicable solutions to the spatial problems of the entire East Flanders Core Region. The Province of East Flanders wants to use its space in a smarter and more diverse way to achieve a climate-healthy and high-quality living environment by 2050. Innovative and creative solutions will help to achieve the high level of ambition of policy documents such as the Policy Plan for Spatial Planning Flanders and the Provincial Core Document.

Part of the results were presented at the 2020 Biennale exhibition ‘Down to Earth’.

Photo: Sis Pillen
    • Credits

On 17 January 2018, the Atelier East Flanders Core Region launched a Call for Projects in the region. From the submissions, the Atelier selected three demonstration projects in various locations: Lievegem, Merelbeke/Ghent and Eeklo. Next, it commissioned design firms to work on specific challenges in the selected municipalities. Thematic perspectives included, respectively, open space and water, mobility, and energy. The common denominator was how challenges in these areas could be used as levers for local development while both providing solutions to local problems and addressing the issue of overarching regional demographic growth.

Image: Architecture Workroom

The Atelier found that the East Flanders Core Region focused on three substantive themes and eventually used these to give direction to its housing policy: Productive Landscape, Circular Economy, and Connected Figure.

Productive Landscape

The key ingredients of a productive landscape include not only agriculture, but also the fertile soil of the East Flanders Core Region, its rivers, canals and polders, the strong economy in the city centers and the port, and the various possibilities for generating renewable energy. Individually, these are drivers of development that provide important ecosystem services to society. By mapping the key ingredients for a productive landscape in the East Flanders Core Region and using them as a starting point for the classification of different areas, the Atelier was able to make clever connections between different spatial functions and qualities.

Vier woontypologiëen voor energiewijk in Eeklo. Beeld: plusoffice, enprove
Productive Landscape. Photo: Sis Pillen

Circular Economy

‘Circular economy’ is high on everyone’s agenda, but what does it mean and how can we achieve it? Many of today’s economic activities take place isolated in industrial parks. Relocating these productive activities to cities will create new opportunities for sustainable development and facilitate the search for the smart integration of different drivers, including economy, energy, and water, with the residential fabric.

Connected Figure

In addition to mobility, water, energy, economy, and a caring environment can also contribute to the creation of a ‘connected figure’: by thinking beyond transportation, shared mobility can be addressed in innovative ways. For example, intersections between the slow road network and energy facilities can provide interesting charging points for e-bikes, which in turn can drive residential development. If we do this in a smart way, the East Flanders Core Region can make a name for itself (inter)nationally as an innovative metropolitan region.


The Atelier East Flanders Core Region organized three webinars to discuss different sites and challenges. These included the reconstruction of roads, the redevelopment of train stations, marketplaces, and schools, the redevelopment of classic subdivision districts and the redevelopment of residential expansion areas.

The first webinar, held on 14 May 2018, focused on the open spaces that are under pressure in the region. How can municipalities secure this valuable open space, while still encouraging added spatial development?

The second webinar, on 28 May 2018, focused on shared mobility. Building on the many small initiatives, how can systemic change be achieved and what new types of spaces should be developed for this purpose?

The third webinar, on 11 June 2018, focused on energy districts. How can we use the energy transition as a lever to create spatial and social added value? This webinar was linked to Atelier Rotterdam, which has been exploring for several years how an energy transition at the district level can contribute to a more socially inclusive form of city making.