Transforming Urban Curaçao
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Curaçao, a Caribbean island part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands situated 65 km north of Venezuela, is a fascinating island. Known for its beautiful beaches matching the colour of its liquor Blue Curaçao, its most unique asset is its capital Willemstad. Founded by the Dutch in 1636 at an excellent natural harbour, Willemstad at the time grew out to be an important regional trading centre. The remarkable architecture with Dutch and Caribbean influences earned the city the title of UNESCO World Heritage. Papiamentu, the native creole language formed by Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, African and Native American, is a testimony to its multicultural society.
Yet, this heritage is under serious threat. Extensive suburbanization, social unrest and modernization have led to large destructions and a depopulation of the Inner-City. Once home to 15,000 inhabitants in the early 20th century, less than 2% of the island’s population of 160,000 inhabitants currently live in the Inner-City. The remaining population is among the poorest on the island, struggling to maintain their houses which decay rapidly due to its salt-rich corral materials. Vacancy and underutilization of space is high in the area. Meanwhile, Curaçao’s extensive low-density suburban sprawl is extremely inefficient due to the necessity of maintaining large infrastructure networks. The significant dependency on cars results in high emissions and road congestions. New large shopping-malls in the suburbs are also outcompeting commerce in the Inner-City. While Curaçaoans are continuously leaving a deteriorating historic Willemstad, the sprawl is continuously expanding, absorbing much of the limited natural areas of the island. This results in an unsustainable urbanization. Unilateral interventions and insufficient coordination and data have challenged effective sustainable interventions so far.
As part of the Curaçao Resilient Infrastructure Programme, UNOPS and the Curacao Ministry of Traffic, Transport and Urban Planning collaborated with ISOCARP to advance with the application and implementation of the New Urban Agenda. To complement Community-Based visioning activities, an Expert-Based visioning workshop was organized between 12 and 16 November 2018, in which a team of four local and three international planning experts, including Tjark Gall from UMD14, participated and created a vision to transform urban Curaçao.
As an intern, my role before and during the workshop was to ensure that the experts have a thorough evidence-based understanding of the current context of urban Curaçao, and especially historic Willemstad. As such, I dug deep to find data on Curaçao’s current urban situation and challenges. Part of this task was organizing meetings with stakeholders to gauge their perception of challenges, visions, data and knowledge. I also met with community leaders, attended community events and spoke with locals to know more about their perceptions of the Inner-City. By living in the historic centre, I was confronted with the opportunities and challenges of the area daily. Delving into history books and historic photographs of Willemstad, I learned how the area was much more occupied and human-scale, and what has been lost in architectural and cultural heritage. Through IHS, and especially the Strategic Urban Planning & Policy specialization, I developed a more social perspective on planning: how planning should be adapted to complexity, how locals use and perceive spaces and are impacted by urban design, the importance of a Right to the City approach, and how placemaking could benefit and gentrification could negatively impact liveability. This knowledge was applied in my internship. During a walking tour, I guided a group of experts and the local Minister to raise awareness on the challenges and opportunities of historic Willemstad. I was also invited by the experts to participate and provide this valuable input during the planning process. Finally, I have written relevant parts of the Transforming Urban Curacao Report that UNOPS will publish soon.
In return, I learned how to organize and perform a “Planning Charrette” action plan, to write reports in a team and, finally, that Curaçao should make the urban more urban, the rural more rural, and develop a more sustainable land use regarding urbanization.
A publication of the Expert Vision Report with more detailed results will be accessible on the ISOCARP website in February 2019.
About the Author: Caspar Tromp is an urban planner with a main interest in urban revitalization in inner-cities, in which he can combine his passions for urban heritage, planning sustainable cities and seeking inclusive alternatives to aggressive forms of gentrification that are impacting many cities. Dutch with Netherlands’ Antillean and Belgian roots, he currently works in Curaçao as an intern for UNOPS where he is applying valuable knowledge gained from his masters at IHS (UMD 13).