For an apparently abandoned village, Doel certainly seems to have a life, and it’s not just tourists. Despite many inhabitants taking up offers of cash premiums and selling voluntarily around 2000, Doel still has residents who have endured, residents who are once again legally allowed to stay there.
“Court bailiffs appearing at doors used to be a fairly normal occurrence; and so was dealing with vandalism because the municipality wouldn’t provide the appropriate measures to help,” said Brian Waterschoot. Waterschoot is a member of Doel2020, a group responsible for promoting and representing the village through dialogue discussions about its future. “Looting, arson; these were all things that Doel regularly had to deal with, with little done to prevent them from happening,” he explained. While there might not be many of them, the village’s few remaining inhabitants have a certain pride in their houses. As a result, there is a surreal contrast in the village between quaint homes and buildings left exposed to the elements and the whims of vandals. “We settled with the authorities to stop further deterioration of buildings and vandalism by allowing people to live there. Metal plates have been installed to prevent access to abandoned houses, and a barrier that requires a Belgian ID card has been set up on the main road. People now feel a bit safer,” said Waterschoot. There are many buildings that could be habitable or that could be assigned a new function with a minimum of effort, he added. “The current situation is that we’re just trying to live in relative peace. Everyone has different reasons for being in the area, but we all share a common concern,” said Waterschoot. That concern is crystal-clear: What comes next?
The future of Doel
While it has existed in a state of administrative deadlock for years, progress is being made on the issue of Doel with a view towards the long term. After years of uncertainty, some things have changed for the better. One important reason for this is the “complex project”, which aims to create a framework to be implemented by 2030. This is the first opportunity we’ve had in years to sit together and discuss Doel, said Waterschoot. In May 2019, the Flemish government announced that it had selected the so-called ninth alternative for the expansion of the port of Antwerp, which combines a limited new dock that connects to the existing Deurganck dock with new container capacity via a more compact building strategy. In this scenario, Doel is safe, said Waterschoot. The future of Doel and the form the village can take are now the things that need to be researched carefully. Doel can never become the village it once was but the potential is enormous, explained Waterschoot. Its location close to the River Schelde, the port, the history of the village and the historic buildings that are left are all important features which a future Doel could be proud of, he added. One further plan for the future of Doel is a project being developed by the architects of the University of Leuven. The students have prepared detailed repair schedules for three valuable historic buildings in the derelict village. In this way, the students hope to warm the government and the people from the neighborhood to the idea of the reconstruction of the village.
Another question that is yet to be answered is what would be done with the destroyed buildings. “In a way, it could make sense to keep some of these buildings in their current state, as they indeed show the impact of a government failing to act,” said Waterschoot. This decision may have given a reprieve to the people of Doel, but what happens next remains unknown. For now, the future of the village is similar to its past, uncertain, hopeful and well supported by a few loyal residents refusing to give it up.
ROTTERDAM, August 19 -- The Maastunnel in Rotterdam reopened again in both directions after two years of renovations.
During the work, the tunnel was closed in the direction of Rotterdam-Zuid. Since 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning, traffic can fully use the tunnel again, Dutch media reported. The renovation to the tunnel started in July 2017. In the two years that followed, concrete rot was dealt with on the roadways and the floor beneath, and the technology in the tunnel was updated so that it meets the latest safety requirements. The two sides of the tunnel were tackled in turns. One of them always had to be open in a northerly direction, in order to keep the city center and Erasmus MC accessible. The Maastunnel has been connecting the banks of the Nieuwe Maas for some 75 years and is the Netherlands oldest tunnel. The renovations on the tunnel is not yet complete. From December on the Maastunnel will be temporarily closed for pedestrians and cyclists.
SHENZHEN, August 19 -- China’s hi-tech capital just over the border from Hong Kong that was the original site for the country’s reform and opening-up experiment 40 years ago – will become a new special economic zone to carry out bolder reforms as a model for other Chinese cities.
The first I was in Shenzhen it was in 1999. Shenzhen was as every other province city. It was crowded, with narrow streets, like the old Hong Kong. But the first plan of Beijing to modernize the city was already in progress. A new airport and skyscrapers were already build. The base was there. But now Beijing unveiled a detailed plan for wide-ranging reforms to be implemented in Shenzhen, including in the legal, financial, medical and social sectors, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV. Under the plan, Shenzhen would become a model of “high-quality development, an example of law and order and civilization, as well as societal satisfaction and sustainability”. The goals were to make the city a leader in terms of innovation, public service and environmental protection by 2025, the report said. The plan also aimed to make Shenzhen competitive in the world in terms of comprehensive economic abilities by 2035, and a global “benchmark” for competitiveness, innovation and influence by the middle of the century. International organisations and big companies would be encouraged to set up branches or headquarters in the city, and it would be allowed to “make flexible changes to laws, regulations and local ordinances according to authorization and based on Shenzhen’s need for reform and innovation”. Political change would also be allowed, with the guidance of the ruling Communist Party. According to the report, the plan would “expand people’s orderly political participation under the guidance of the party” while improving the work of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature. Special emphasis would also be placed on integrating Hong Kong and Macau into the Greater Bay Area scheme, which aims to link those cities with Shenzhen and eight others in Guangdong in an economic and business hub. That would include promoting connections between Shenzhen’s financial market and those in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as expanding financial regulation and the portfolio of financial products available to trade bonds and foreign exchange.
The report stressed that a “big data” center for the Greater Bay Area would be located in Shenzhen. People from Hong Kong who lived or worked in Shenzhen would be granted residential status, with new cultural activities launched in Shenzhen in coordination with Hong Kong and Macau, “enriching compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau’s sense of belonging and cohesion”. The report was released amid unprecedented tension in Hong Kong, with anti-government protests taking place for the eleventh consecutive week. The mass protests, and the violence that has accompanied them, have raised questions over whether Beijing might downgrade Hong Kong’s place in the Greater Bay Area plan. Guo Wanda, executive vice-president of the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, said Shenzhen had been exploring reforms in various economic areas. “For example, in the Qianhai Bay Free Trade Port Zone, it has already explored [reforms in] foreign exchange management and cross-border financing, including financial cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, so it’s not odd what the report says about having an open economy,” he said. Guo noted that the report mentioned development of a “legal business environment” that would be considered first-rate internationally, which would require emphasis on building a city based on the rule of law.
It's amazing that a plan that was started 20 years ago is still in progress, but with drastic consequences for the people of Hong Kong. The protests are not only against the Extradition Law. No, there is much more to fight for.
BEIJING, August 12 -- Less than 50 kilometers south of China's capital, there's a massive construction project underway that, once finished, will officially become the world's biggest airport.
With the opening currently planned for September 30, 2019, the construction of Daxing Airport in Beijing has cost just shy of $12 billion so far. On completion, the new airport will simply act as a second international airport for Beijing, to relieve existing pressure on Beijing's Capital International Airport. The Chinese government wants the airport to be a magnet for businesses and an attraction for locals as well as travelers. “The airport paves the way for, and guarantees, Beijing’s long-term economic growth,” says Yu Zhanfu, a partner at consulting firm Roland Berger GmbH. Yu says he expects it to boost the city’s role as a connection point for domestic travelers and those flying abroad.
Daxing is one of many airport projects under way in Asia, collectively costing more than $100 billion, to accommodate a surge in travel fueled by the region’s rising middle class. The International Air Transport Association forecasts Asia’s travel demand to surpass that of North America and Europe combined by 2037. About two dozen airports are slated to open over the next six years in cities ranging from Beijing to Mumbai, while many existing airports are adding terminals or runways. Daxing will increase Beijing’s capacity for travelers by more than 70% and alleviate congestion at Beijing Capital International Airport, the world’s second-busiest last year with more than 100 million passengers. By year’s end, Shanghai will unveil a $3 billion, 83-gate terminal that will be separate from the airport’s main building.
According to Reuters, carriers such as China Southern, China Eastern, and Beijing Capital Airlines will be relocated to the new Daxing airport, while airlines including Air China, Hainan Airlines and Grand China Air will remain at Beijing Capital International Airport. Here's what the huge construction project looks like at the moment.
BARCELONA, June 9 -- Construction of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia basilica may have started 137 years ago, but the emblematic monument got a building permit only last Friday.
The Spanish seaside city council awarded the licence to a committee in charge of finishing construction of the Catholic church for €4.6 million (S$7.1 million), Ms Janet Sanz, in charge of urban planning, told reporters. In a quirk of history, the authorities discovered only in 2016 that the building which draws millions of visitors every year had never had planning permission since construction began in 1882. Ms Sanz said the council had finally managed to "resolve a historical anomaly in the city - that an emblematic monument like the Sagrada Familia... didn't have a building permit, that it was being constructed illegally." According to the committee in charge of finishing construction of the not-yet-completed basilica, designer Antoni Gaudi had asked the town hall of Sant Marti, a village now absorbed into Barcelona, for a building permit in 1885 but never got an answer.
Some 137 years later, it is finally legal. The new building permit states that the basilica will finally be finished in 2026, with a maximum height of 172m and a budget of €374 million. Designed by Gaudi, a famous Catalan architect also known for the Park Guell, another tourist magnet in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. Construction, financed solely by donations and entrance tickets, is due to conclude in 2026, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the death of Gaudi, who was run over by a tram. The basilica is Barcelona's most visited monument, with 4.5 million visitors in 2017, and one of the main tourist landmarks of the country.
THE HAGUE, May 29 -- The Holland Garden pavilion, a mini green city, has fascinated many at the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing.
For Chinese and Dutch actors in sustainable urban development, a shared passion for doing it green brings vigor to bilateral cooperation. With state-of-the-art developments showcased at the Beijing expo, the Netherlands has again proved itself to be a global trend setter in Green living. Over the past more than 30 years, the Dutch and the Chinese have worked together to introduce a variety of Dutch native plants and flowers and new planting technologies and management into China, said the Chinese embassy in the European country. Bernard Oosterom, president of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, said China's horticultural industry has grown rapidly, with some of its domestic enterprises at the forefront of new technologies. "I firmly believe that the Beijing expo will bring the attention of the world to what China is doing to help the environment and improve the lives of citizens," the veteran Dutch gardener added. "It is my hope that this will lead to collective action that will lead to a better environment and greener cities through the use of plants and the landscape," he said.
A green city is much more than green plants, and horticulture is not the only area where the Dutch and the Chinese people are conducting cooperation to promote sustainable development. For example, in the field of urban water and land resources management, a consortium of Dutch institutes and businesses was created in September 2017 to promote joint research programs and commercial, tailored solutions with Chinese partners. Its many well-known members, including Deltares, Eijkelkamp, Priva and Tauw, boast expertise in areas ranging from sponge city design and planning, environmental big data monitoring and simulation, environmental and urban housing research to intelligent buildings technology and environmental control systems. As regards waste management and circular economy, the Netherlands likes to call itself "a small country with big ambitions." It has committed itself to becoming a zero-waste economy by 2050, wherein the economy will run completely on reusable raw materials. A Dutch group on waste management comprising research institutes and leading business players has already started working with the Chinese side to develop innovative plans on how to handle the problem. "China, with the largest population on earth, has a tremendous opportunity to turn waste into valuable resources and the Dutch partnership for waste management is eager to contribute to China's goal to create a proper waste management system as a crucial building block toward achieving that goal," said the Dutch Sino Business Promotions.
Wageningen University & Research (WUR), a Dutch global knowledge leader in areas like water resource management, climate change and urban farming, also has broad experience in developing green cities. "We do several projects on landscape architecture and nature-inclusive design of areas in China in order to create more liveable urban development," Tim van Hattum, the leader of the WUR's Green Climate Solutions program, said. "WUR is strong in a bottom-up co-design approach by organizing tools and services to co-create integrated solution together with stakeholders. We have knowledge of nature-based approaches, landscape architecture, and China is strong in large-scale pilot projects (such as the sponge city program) and large-scale implementation and urban development," he said. "The WUR green city approach could be of added value for urban development in China and there is definitely potential for future collaboration on the topic of green city development," he added. Zhang Guosheng, economic counselor of the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands, agrees that with the previous fruitful projects paving the way, the Sino-Dutch cooperation in building green cities is promising. "The Dutch are strong in green growth, and we Chinese are eager for a greener life," he said. "Cooperation in this field will offer not only a bigger market for Dutch enterprises, a better life for Chinese people, but also good cases for others to study."
BANGKOK, April 29 -- A village in western Japan has taken five Thai college students under its wing, training them in wooden architecture as the Southeast Asian country hopes to put such structures back on the map.
Mitsue, a village located in Nara Prefecture, aims to revive its aging yet key forestry industry through a plan to export model homes using local timber to Thailand, where wooden architecture has become a dying industry. Forest occupies about 90 percent of the area but, due to a prolonged drop in the price of timber and depopulation, the village where the forestry industry once thrived began seeking alternatives to make use of its abundant natural resources, according to the crowdfunding website for the project. The idea was hatched when the village reached out to professor Shin Murakami of Sugiyama Jogakuen University in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, on advice for a town renewal project. Murakami had been conducting joint research with Bangkok's Sripatum University on environmentally friendly wooden architecture.
Although timber has been a predominant building material in Thailand in years past, there has been a noted decline, mostly due to a lack of good quality teak wood and coarse timber, which is easily infested by termites brought on by the country's tropical climate. Most of the buildings in Thailand are now made of reinforced concrete, and the culture of wooden architecture has not been properly handed down through generations due to a lack of technology to support the industry, according to the project website. At Murakami's suggestion to export model homes using the local timber, the three parties signed an agreement to collaborate on the project focusing on popularizing wooden architecture in Thailand. The five Thai students, who study architecture at Sripatum University, later came to Japan. The students' three month training from March includes learning about the designs of stilted houses for Thailand, as well as gaining an understanding about construction processes through observation.
Oros Loasantisuk, 26, one of the five students in the program and an aspiring architect, touted the advantages of the village's hands-on practical approach. "The designs of wooden architecture may differ from country to country but wood is environmentally friendly," the student said.
"We hope they learn about the brilliance of wooden architecture, Japan's high technology, and the high quality of housing here," said Takefumi Nakako, who works in the department of community development for the village. "We'd be happy if (the experience) leads to the spread of wooden architecture in Thailand," he said.
CHENGDU, April 20 -- Dukezong ancient town in Shangri-la, a resort county in Southwest China's Yunnan province.
An ancient town in Shangri-la, a resort county in Southwest China's Yunnan province, caught fire on Jan 11, 2014. The blaze was under control by 2 pm, without causing injury or death. According to the local government, a total area of 40,000 square meters, with 335 households, was affected by the fire. 242 houses were destroyed.
CHENGDU, April 18 -- Gongchenlou in Weishan county, Southwest China's Yunnan province.
A fire broke out Jan 3, 2015, at Gongchenlou, an ancient tower built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), in Weishan county, Yunnan province. Although no casualties were reported, the conflagration destroyed most of the 600-year-old landmark, which was listed as a provincial-level cultural relic.
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 16 -- National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
A huge fire engulfed Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, lighting up the night sky with towering flames as firefighters and museum workers raced to save historical relics from the blaze. The esteemed museum, which houses artifacts from Egypt, Greco-Roman art and some of the first fossils found in Brazil, was closed to the public at the time of the fire, which broke out at 7:30 pm Sunday local time, it said in a statement.