Port of Antwerp
Annik Dirkx (1978) studied romance languages and international politics. After her studies, she started to work as a journalist for the Belgian national news agency, reporting mainly on the politics and economics of Antwerp. During that time she became familiar with the port of Antwerp, unknown to her up till then. In 2008, she applied for a job as spokeswoman for the Port Authority of Antwerp, the public authority that manages port infrastructure and promotes the port (amongst other tasks).
The port of Antwerp has developed over decades alongside the city. There was a time when the residents of Antwerp would see ships passing whilst they walked along the quay, but that time is long gone. Economic activities, the heart of the port, now take place (at least) some ten kilometres from the city centre. The port employs thousands of Antwerp residents, but those that don’t work there no longer know much about it. The port authority has realised that greater familiarisation and a stronger appreciation of the port by local residents is crucial for it to benefit from a "license to operate, license to grow". During recent years, a fair few initiatives have attempted to unite city and port: the organisation of port days and bus tours for citizens, the opening of the port pavilion as a visitor centre and the publication of the port journal "Haven en Goed", to name just a few.
Havenland -feel free to translate it as ‘Portcountry’- stands for "Plan for Welcoming and Recreation for the port of Antwerp." This project was created by order of the Flemish Government to draw the future development of the port of Antwerp up to 2030. All studies showed that the growth of the port is crucial for the prosperity of Flanders, but that this development should be accompanied by a number of key conditions in the area of quality of life, mobility, nature, agriculture, sustainability, heritage ... In other words, there is no problem with a ‘license to operate’ and a ‘license to grow’ but everything should be framed in a much larger whole. All this resulted in a vast ACTION PROGRAMME overarching a number of concrete projects, one of them being: "Developing recreational opportunities in and around the harbor", on its turn crystallized in 'Havenland', an ambitious project with the port of Antwerp, the Flemish government and several regional and even European authorities in the driver’s seat.
The port itself is about 130 square kilometers but Havenland will be approximately 280 square kilometers. That's because all the surrounding communities, even the ones across the border in the Netherlands, are invited to participate under the umbrella of Havenland.
Havenland will be far more than another theme park. It will become an unique site of interplay between past and future on the left- and the right bank with the river Scheldt as the artery binding economy to leisure.
Now, how far are we? Two international offices were asked to draw out the entire project. Their final report is scheduled for April 2015, when Havenland will be concretized step by step.
Undeniably, the added value that the Antwerp Port Authority in Havenland should pursue is the creation of a solid social support. If the general public in a few years will find that Havenland is a worthy asset, then the public will judge more nuanced about the ‘license to operate’, which is an equivalent to ‘license to grow(th)’.