Tuinwijk Jan Verhaegen in Merelbeke (BE) is a typical post-war working-class neighborhood built in the early 1950s. The wide street profile was in function of the king’s car, including plenty of parking space.

The region is groaning under great urbanization pressure, which increases the need for greenery. Although there is greenery in the streetscape, it is very fragmented and the excessive paving is particularly noticeable. Part of the superfluous paving was removed centrally in the district and replaced by high-quality greenery. In addition to measures that increase the climate resilience of the district, natural play elements were also introduced. For example, a new, cool meeting place and playground for residents is being created on a former (double) thoroughfare.

Climate adaptation and climate resilience

Climate change is causing more extreme weather phenomena. Heat waves and droughts, but also extreme rainfall leading to flooding are the other side of the same coin. Removing excess paving and creating green zones can make built-up areas climate-proof. This limits heat stress and allows more water to infiltrate, which helps to avoid both flooding and the effects of drought.

More greenery means a lower temperature in built-up areas. In heat, the evaporation of moisture from the plants and tree leaves lowers the air temperature. More sunlight will also reflect, which means that the area heats up less and the trees provide a pleasant cooler shade. That is why investing in green infrastructure such as urban trees and forests, parks and green squares, private and public green spaces is so important. Hardening, on the other hand, exacerbates heat stress.

  • In Tuinwijk Jan Verhaegen, no less than 1000m²(!!) was softened and made green.
  • New trees and shrubs were planted.
  • All rainwater is locally buffered for infiltration via a wadi (Water Discharge via Drainage by Infiltration). This wadi is shallow and has sloping edges, so there is no safety risk for children playing. Parking spaces were redeveloped in grassy valleys.
  • On both sides of the new park, a narrow road was constructed in cart track (concrete strips with grass dales and/or gravel lawn in between and along them).
  • Where a wide turning circle was required for emergency services, this was built slightly elevated in recovered curbstones with a wide green joint.
  • Planters in the main street were expanded and also got a layer of shrubs.
Trial setup and participation

In order to increase support for these interventions and to better estimate the impact on local residents, a two-step procedure was used. A test set-up was placed on top of the existing pavement. This allowed local residents to get used to the idea in the neighborhood without invasive and/or costly work being involved. In this way, the plans could be efficiently adjusted through various participation moments. A “weekend of the garden district” was organized with workshops on the redevelopment and all kinds of activities in which the neighborhood got to know each other.

As soon as there was consensus on the refurbishment plans, work started in September 2019. The final plan retains the possibility to reach the adjacent houses via cart tracks from both sides and retains parking space in front of the door.

Cool Towns

The province of East Flanders carried out heat stress measurements. The cooling effect of the various climate-adaptive measures was measured: shade from new plantings, shade from existing trees, grass and grass beds versus original asphalt, etc. There was no financial intervention from Cool Towns or Interreg in the redevelopment works.

The municipality of Merelbeke received subsidies from Flanders – Agency for Nature and Forests.

The pilot is discussed as a case study in which more details can be found.