This open ended design research analyzes Willemstad on three different levels: Willemstad as whole, Otrobanda as district and Kurá Hulanda as a characteristic neighbourhood. Willemstad has had many decades of decay. Though it now seems to be in a positive slope, Mente Kaweta wants to change the depopulation of the center of Willemstad. Not only do we want to see buildings become more sustainable and revitalize into vibrant places. We want to transform the city regeneratively i.e. taking care of its redevelopment and especially its adaptive capacity.
The three levels, see image above, were studied at different times during the project. First of all, is the scale of the city/Willemstad. This is the urban research level in which major political influences and global developments play a role in the field of circular economy, climate adaptation, stakeholder networks and spatial (master) plans. This is the top-down approach. The second level is the scale of the bario (the neighborhood) Ser’i Otrobanda as part of the larger Otrobanda. Here it is about the context of the area. It is the relation between top-down interests and bottom-up reality. The complex middle must become the ‘happy middle’ where the interests of various stakeholders come together. The third scale level is the level of the building or part of the neighbourhood (Kurá Hulanda) and can be considered the bottom-up perspective. The main focus here is on the wishes and needs of the most local stakeholders. In this case, this was not only our client (the owners of Kurá Hulanda), but also current local residents, future residents and entrepreneurs and visitors to the neighbourhood, such as tourists. Various (at times contradicting) interests play a role on this scale: personal or business; individually or collectively. The issues are multiple: survival of a neighborhood feeling, safety, exploitation, liveliness, collectivity, profits, cooperation and community.
Kurá Hulanda has been bought by BMG Asset management (henceforth BMG). BMG consists of three groups of local entrepreneurs: the Bonita group, the Jan Thiel Beach group and the Infotrans/IT group. BMG has an ambitious plan: to make Kurá Hulanda a vital city district again. Their slogan is Ban Bario Bèk (back to the neighborhood). Kurá Hulanda offered us a real-life case for downtown revitalization, not just because there was no demolition. The new owners wanted to start development quickly to breathe new life into this part of the inner city in the fall of 2022 (within a year of purchase).
Zarja Architecture is responsible for the urban design of the entire district of Otrobanda but the process and eventual implementation of was not yet crystallized when we started the project. There were only some values the owners wanted to work with: To reopen and diversify the former resort. Other values were to transform the area into a place for living and recreation, with medium-sized plots for retail and catering, cultural locations and office spaces. And finally to allow Kurá Hulanda to develop into a lively and vital city neighborhood for young and old, wild and mild, tourists and digital nomads.
The starting point of Mente Kaweta’s research was that we only knew something about the nature of the outcome that the new owners of Kurá Hulanda, BMG, envision. The slogan they were using at the beginning of the project was “Ban Bario Bèk”: back to the neighborhood. However:
- What is the bario they are looking for?
- What types of activities should take place in this bario?
- What are we exactly going back (bèk) to?
- Similarity to which other bario on Curaçao or abroad?
- What do tenant-applicants want provide as services?
- What values and activities do they bring?
To feed the three levels of our research from the specific location of Kurá Hulanda, we started working with Kees Dorst’s research method: Frame Innovation.
The challenge is to figure out ‘what’ of new elements to create, when there is no known or chosen ‘how’, a ‘pattern of relationships‘ that we can rely on to achieve the desired outcome of BMG. So this design research looks at both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and to create or choose a pattern of relationships. Dorst calls this process design abduction.
At the same time, the design research offers various stakeholders (government, entrepreneurs, future neighbors and residents) time and space to get to know each other better. Because all these parts are quite dependent on each other, we made sure that our various activities fit together in the midst of BMG’s pace of development.
INVOLVING LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS
In the promotion campaign for the open day, we introduced Mente Kaweta to entrepreneurs through press releases, the launch of the website and a social media campaign. We asked the entrepreneurs who registered for the open day to fill in a questionnaire in order to get a good impression of their ambitions and plans for Kurá Hulanda. By implicitly incorporating the values we represent into the campaign and the questionnaire, we wanted to attract entrepreneurs with sustainable, innovative, cultural and/or social concepts. During the open day, the entrepreneurs were immersed in sensory, creative experiences for inspiration.
Most applications focused on the hospitality and leisure economic sector (about a third of the applications). This showed that the top-down driven ‘tourism and real estate investment frame’ of the inner city exerts a lot of influence on ideas for inner-city business. The diversifying concepts are precisely not in this category (think of co-working spaces, children’s lunch cafe, health-related businesses and activities in the local art and culture). These other themes can change the frame of Kurá Hulanda as an exclusively tourist destination to the image BMG envisions: a real urban neighborhood.
Other aspects that belong to a neighborhood (mini-markets and tokos, culinary specialty stores, repair shops, children’s activities) have barely presented themselves in the applications. However, companies were present at the open day with an interest in opening a mini-market or toko.
This exploration also revealed that neighborhood target groups are excluded by the various companies. Children were only central to one of the concepts (kids lunchroom), but otherwise kids were not in the minds of the entrepreneurs. Older people are not necessarily mentioned as a group to which entrepreneurs pay specific attention.
We also looked at what kind of spaces and how many people the different companies want to use the Kurá Hulanda area. There are quite a few opportunities for cross-pollination here; cooperation is certainly possible with companies that are looking for smaller spaces. This gives a larger space a unique and varied character.
Striking about the entrepreneurs who have registered was that they work from a purpose. Purpose-driven entrepreneurs have a lot of passion and often a long breath to realize their dreams. This can be a good match with the passionate entrepreneurs of BMG. After filling in the business canvasses, we wanted to rank the companies on business readiness. We ultimately deviated from this because it provides a static picture of the companies (in the making). We did ask them to make it clear to us when they would like to start (ie be open to customers). This gives BMG an idea of how willing someone is to start his or her business at Kurá Hulanda. It also reflects the pace at which the Kurá Hulanda area can be filled with different activities. As can be seen from the chart below, many of the companies estimate their start date in the fall of 2022.
This open ended design resulted in practical instruments with which complex regenerative urban developments can be tackled. Mente Kaweta did not create an ideal picture, no Disneyland in the Caribbean. Focusing on concrete challenges and problems at a local level, the research provides an answer to how the Kurá Hulanda area can become a neighborhood again and thus be added to the urban metabolism of the city at different scale levels.
Make Kurá Hulanda the neighborhood Living-Lab of Curaçao
A Living Lab concept was recommended where the Kurá Hulanda area becomes a testing ground for different types of innovations related to community-building. Culture is essential in this, such as setting up a Creole language museum proposed by the Mente Kaweta team, where the history of Papiamentu is displayed. Kurá Hulanda is an example that things can be done differently in Curaçao. What has not yet been successful in Punda, seems to have been given a good basis here. Urban development can be done bottom-up with the neighborhood, side by side with the government and with purpose-driven entrepreneurs in Curaçao. Mente Kaweta has shown the possibility and methods to realize such a living lab approach to community-building. The activities have increased the diversity of use of the Kurá Hulanda area. For this to be successful, the one-sided function of the former Kura Hulanda Village Hotel and Spa must turn into multi-functional approach, so that the area becomes an actual neighborhood. Neighborhoods usually grow organically, this means that the transformation of Kura Hulanda should leave time and space to unfold itself gradually. That is why we recommend the two innovation frames “revitalize” and “regenerate”:
REVITALIZE, or ‘bring to life’;
REGENERATE, or ‘constant influx of innovation’;
“Revitalize” and “regenerate” have differences in the way they can be brought into the Kurá Hulanda area. Revitalization has a much more social character, the social metabolism as it were. Thinking through our 21st century economics is central here. Consider, for example, the principles of the donut economy. The donut focuses on the multiplication of value. The donut economy is a compass that makes the direction of a place more value-driven. The model prompts us to ask ourselves: how can Kurá Hulanda be a place for human development and where people thrive, respecting each other’s well-being and that of the planet as a whole? Questioning Kurá Hulanda’s position amid local and global dimensions of an economy. It reminds us of the importance of human socio-cultural development, our ability to organize and pay attention to the general education of each other. It values the diversity, dynamism, scale and complexity of the interacting people.
Explicit neighborhood services
Mente Kaweta advised clarifying three roles at BMG: community manager, concierge and a business developer. The community manager organizes small network meetings, connects stakeholders and mediates between interests. Sometimes someone contacts the area out of general interest. The concierge ensures that all activities are well organized on the square.Finally, there are entrepreneurs who knock on the door of the Kurá Hulanda area. This group wants to establish a professional relationship with Kurá Hulanda. Sometimes this group wants to get started right away, sometimes this group needs development or lead time. Some of the entrepreneurs want an open work process where BMG. A business developer is needed to steer the cooperation with starting entrepreneurs in the right direction.
Physical and social connections
The work that the area needs can only be done in partnership with companies and public parties. Think of the work that needs to be done to ensure public saftey, to create connections between different parts of the neighborhood around Kurá Hulanda, to ensure people feel welcomed in the space, and much more. During talks with BMG, interest was expressed about building a bridge over Arubaweg, which can only be realized in a public-private partnership.
KURÁ as facelift to the future
Mente Kaweta proposes to change the name from Kurá Hulanda to KURÁ. In colonial times, the Kurás were named after an owner, but that is too old-fashioned and a bit colonial for a hip new part of the city center in the making.