North Limburg hosts the second-biggest concentration of horticultural businesses in the Netherlands: Greenport Venlo. The horticultural sector is of huge economic significance for North Limburg but retaining this significance calls for innovation.
The Province of Limburg and the regional municipalities want to develop the area sustainably. With this already in mind, almost ten years ago it was decided to bring the World Horticultural Expo – Floriade – to the region in the hope that it would stimulate this development. In the provincial regional plan, an area of 66 hectares strategically located at the junction of the A67 and A73 motorways was set aside as a site, with a clustering of horticultural businesses on the other side of Fresh Park Venlo. The Province asked Jo Coenen Architects & Urbanists to produce a sketch for the selection phase. Arcadis was involved because of its experience with Floriade 2002 in the Haarlemmermeer. However, Floriade 2012 would have to focus on a more sustainable use. After the expo, the area would have to retain its function as a parkland working environment and thus act as a catalyst for bigger regional developments.
From its inception, the sketch combined both the development of the Floriade Park for the short term with the creation of a business park embedded in the countryside for the long term. As a third layer, the authentic landscape with its cultural history like the St. Janskapel, its archaeological discoveries including prehistoric burial mounds, and its old buildings and green structures were blended with new structures and additions.
With minimal intervention, Coenen was able to create a number of exhibition fields from the open spaces available, bordered by a 125-year-old forest that was originally planted to supply the mining industry. The biggest open space is a hand-shaped field functioning as a compact entrance area at the side of A73 and fanning out on the west side to finally end at the Mierbeek stream, which Coenen widened to emphasize the countryside quality of the area. The park can be accessed by a footbridge over the A73.
Landscape architect John Boon of Arcadis worked out the detailed plan for the Floriade Park in close collaboration with Coenen, who took on the responsibility of developing the master plan for the Venlo GreenPark business park. The plans for the short and long terms are both based on the same layout and infrastructure. The main green structure is designed to facilitate maintenance in the future too. The principal additions are an amphitheatre and a central square near the main entrance with facilities and direct access to the exhibition fields. Each of the fields has its own theme, such as health or education, and is designed appropriately.
Three permanent buildings have been built on the Floriade site at the initiative of the various government bodies. These are intended to provide an essential stimulus to regional development at a time of economic crisis. Jo Coenen was commissioned by the province to design the iconic tower on the A73. Venlo municipality commissioned Villa Flora, designed by Jón Kristinsson, in which a variety of different innovative, sustainable products and processes have been used. It has also been decided to assign a permanent place to the Rijkspaviljoen – the Dutch government's pavilion designed by the firm 2d3d. In fact, sustainability is the main theme of many of the temporary pavilions created for countries and organisations. Venlo has embraced the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy in developing the plan. For example, the site also features collective heat and cold storage.
When Floriade closes its gates at the end of 2012 and the site is cleaned up by removing some of the buildings, pavilions and plants, what will remain will be an accessible, high-quality park environment with a number of well-integrated buildings. To facilitate the successful transition from Floriade to business park, the management of Venlo GreenPark is investigating the possibility of allowing some of the buildings to remain there longer, as accommodation for start-up companies, for example. In addition to that, plots will be allocated for building according to the conditions of Coenen's quality plan. The area will be very low-density with educational and recreational activities in addition to businesses. This will enable it to develop into an environment where economics and ecology go hand in hand, as the heart of the Greenport development.
The planned developments and the investments in Floriade have enormous added value for the region and will be a source of inspiration for other regional developments. In contrast with so many soulless industrial estates and cluttered outlying districts, this will be a high-quality, parkland working environment that preserves the cultural-historical values of the landscape. And that has been made possible largely because of the ingenious move of using Floriade as a flywheel. Certainly at times such as these, creative approaches are needed to get regional developments off the ground. The Province of Limburg and the municipalities in the region deserve praise for their courage and perseverance in adopting such a plan and perhaps providing the region with the crucial impetus that it needs.