Navigating the Merwevierhaven project: stakeholders, sustainability and societal impact

Navigating the Merwevierhaven project: stakeholders, sustainability and societal impact

In the bustling city of Rotterdam, the Merwevierhaven (M4H) redevelopment project promises to be a beacon of hope for a more prosperous and sustainable future. However, we cannot ignore the potential impact such a big-scaled project might have in the broader area. Moreover, the project’s success hinges on the collaboration and interaction of diverse stakeholders, including local residents, government agencies, developers, and community organizations. In this blog, we will discuss the dynamics of these stakeholders, their roles, and the critical balance between economic and social sustainability in the context of M4H. We will also explore the challenges and potential threats the project faces and provide recommendations for a more inclusive and sustainable development process.

Stakeholders’ Interaction and Collaboration

State – Market – Civil society

M4H is a unique project in many ways, with the state actors; municipality and the port authority, as its main initiators and agents who typically have different interests, now share a common vision for the port area. Their collaborative “do it together” approach laid the foundation for a mission-driven urban redevelopment strategy. With the municipality owning a significant portion of the land, it wields considerable control over the project’s future. This collaboration in the project’s development is important in achieving the shared goal of economic renewal. In addition to the state actors, market actors; businesses and entrepreneurs, play a vital role in the project. Traditional port businesses and newer, temporarily located entrepreneurs must cooperate to create a diverse and innovative environment. This collaboration is essential for the integration of new entrepreneurs in the area, in order to create a smooth transition from temporary tenant-ships to permanent. This creates valuable partnerships within the M4H ecosystem. Civil society actors, including private landowners, existing communities, and bottom-up initiatives, make up a smaller proportion of the stakeholders involved in the strategy planning for M4H. However, there is a recent growing awareness and recognition of the need to involve the surrounding neighbourhoods in the project’s development. This involvement presents a significant challenge but is crucial for a smooth and inclusive transformation. This has started with bottom-up initiatives like the Food Garden and Keile Collectief which have stood out over the years that created a unique environment in M4H. The Keile Collectief, a determined group of entrepreneurs and artists, actively participates in the development process. Their proactive approach regarding the actions and the placemaking in the area has proven to be a critical element of their success as stakeholders. Yet, these groups are not formed from locals and immediately affected populations, which is something to consider regarding their effectiveness and the representation of the real, local demand. These relations and interactions of those three different groups of actors are illustrated below:

Economic vs. Social Sustainability

In the past, the M4H project primarily focused on economic sustainability, driven by the goals of the Port Authority and the municipality. However, in recent years, the importance of social sustainability and the role of the community have gained increasing attention. The project now seeks to integrate social sustainability into its main prioritised narrative of innovation and growth. A prioritisation that might itself be proven less inclusive and potentially calls for a nuanced approach, through the social sustainability lens.

Opportunities and Threats

The M4H project holds the potential to revitalize the entire economy of the port and the Rotterdam region. While this may not directly benefit neighbouring communities, it could create a significant number of jobs throughout the region, securing employment opportunities on a wider scale. Nevertheless, how well do these job opportunities take into account the level of education and the skills of the existing community? Additionally, another critical social threat in M4H is the potential for displacement and a different type of “gentrification”. Given the absence of long-time residents living in this area, the traditional form of gentrification, whereby current residents are forced out, is not applicable. Instead, another group is at risk of being displaced. Cultural art-groups and pioneering entrepreneurs contribute to the area’s identity and play a role in elevating its profile, but they may face displacement as developments progress. This could negatively impact the area’s vibrancy and innovation. Moreover, vulnerable communities in the surrounding context may face “traditional” gentrification, potentially displacing long-time users and residents while altering the authentic character, with a bigger impact and sensitivity on the cultural qualities of the area.

What we see as a way to collaborate in the development of M4H

To ensure that this collaboration is interactive and multidimensional, we recommend incorporating the capability approach into the decision-making process. This approach emphasizes individual autonomy, self-esteem, and responsibility, which are essential values for promoting sustainable development.

Autonomy is the ability to make autonomous and conscious individual decisions. Self-esteem is the ability of fulfillment, self-confidence, and self-acceptance. Responsibility is the ability to pursue social goals. These values can be incorporated into the M4H project by ensuring that existing users have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the decision-making process and to shape the development of the project in a way that meets their needs and aspirations.
We emphasize the importance of tailoring interventions to meet the specific needs of different sub-areas and groups of people. This can be achieved in the M4H project by conducting a thorough assessment of the capabilities of existing users and using this information to develop interventions that address their specific needs. By creating a more demand- and capability-driven vision that realistically increases opportunities from the local level to the larger scale, we can ensure that the M4H project is inclusive and holistic.

Nuanced governance framework incorporating the capability approach, own work (2023) adapted by Paidakiki and Lang (2021)

For example, the assessment could identify areas where existing users need support to improve their autonomy, such as access to information and resources, or opportunities for civic engagement. The assessment could also identify areas where existing users need support to improve their self-esteem, such as access to education and training, or opportunities for social connection. Lastly, the evaluation could recognize areas where existing users need support to improve their responsibility, such as access to employment opportunities that match their capabilities and capacities, or opportunities to productively participate in community decision-making, neighbourhood councils.

Continuous monitoring and evaluation of the decision-making process and the policies will be needed within this approach, adding to the strategy’s flexibility and adaptability, since people’s needs iteratively change over time. Incorporating the capability approach will help strike a balance between economic and social sustainability and lead to a more inclusive and holistic development of M4H.

The M4H project is primarily mission-driven, with a focus on innovation, economic regeneration, and sustainability, rather than demand-driven. We see the need to harmoniously integrate social sustainability into the existing narrative, recognizing the importance of balancing economic and socio-cultural sustainability. The largest challenge is to protect and enhance the opportunities and capacities of the current cultural and entrepreneurial community. Bottom-up initiatives completely incorporated into the official regeneration plan and planning will contribute to a stronger, demand-, community-driven, inclusive strategy that formally recognizes and encourages the contributions of the individuals.

Authors: Auas Bamarni, Daphne van Dorth, Eefke Huisman, Evangelia Telli
Master students of Delft University of Technology

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