The Koningin Astridplein in Antwerp, the first view many visitors to the city have once they leave the Central Station, is to be completely renovated, and the people of the quarter will have a say.
“Travellers coming out of the Central Station should get a wow feeling again,” said Claude Marinower (Open VLD), city councillor in charge of the public domain.
It is a fact that Antwerpen Centraal is one of the most striking views in the world presented to new arrivals to the city. Unfortunately the main square in front of the station leaves all of that magnificence behind.
The square has the Zoo tucked away in the corner, the Queen Elisabeth Hall on one side, some fast-food restaurants on the other side and, for the rest, nothing of note.
The last overhaul came in 2006, and unfortunately appears to have been carried out without any consultation of users.
The square, designed by the Spanish plaza architect Jordi Farrando, was paved with natural stone, which is a nightmare for cyclists when it rains – a factor Farrando may have overlooked.
Cycle paths were marked out by steel studs in the surface, but nobody including cyclists knew what they were for, and further confusion ensued.
“The square now has a somewhat run-down appearance and is regularly a victim of vandalism,” said Marinower.
“We initially planned to stick to a makeover. But research shows that more is needed. The natural stone, used during the renovation in 2006, regularly causes headaches.”
There is also a need for something to fill the vast space between the station and the main public transport hub along the Carnotstraat facing the station.
The first phase will begin in September, when people in the area will be consulted regarding what changes they think should be made. That promises to be a lively debate, assuming the users of the Queen Elisabeth Hall are not at one with the snack bars on the opposite side of the square.
But the actual work will not begin until 2022, when the present city council is still in place. The budget is fixed for the time being at €3.8 million, and Councillor Marinower is not alone in wondering if that will be enough.