Turning an old Belgian coal mine into a green recreational park

Update

February 12, 2021

Social

Turning an old Belgian coal mine into a green recreational park

Update

February 12, 2021

Social

As more and more people move from rural to urban areas, municipalities face the challenge of keeping urban environments liveable. Public green space, such as parks and forests gives people extra breathing room for the city. It has a profound effect on our physical and mental health and bring communities together. With that in mind, Dutch designer Carve and Omgeving and contractor Krinkels transformed part of an old mine in Belgium into an adventure playground.

From coal mine to cultural hotspot

The history of the city Beringen is closely connected to that of the coal mining industry in Belgium. For most of the twentieth century, mining defined the daily lives of its residents. When the Beringen mine closed in 1989, mother nature slowly reclaimed its place in the mining site.

The be-MINE project is an initiative of the Beringen municipality and tourism board to revitalise what is Flanders’ largest industrial-archaeological site and turn it into a new cultural hotspot. To this end, old industrial buildings and spaces are given new purposes. The Director’s Park became a public park, the old thickening unit was turned into an indoor diving paradise, and the former power station became a climbing hall. In 2015, Carve and Krinkels won the international competition to redesign one of the rubble heaps into a playground.

Adventure playground be-MINEAvonturenberg2

With its hiking, walking and mountain bike trails and adventure playground, the be-MINE adventure mountain  offers a great variety of attractions for young and old. The 60-meters high playground is accessible by stairs and consists of three parts: a pole forest, a prismatic play surface on the flank, and a coal square at the top. What unites them is not just the physical challenge, but also the need to work together. According to Carve, they encourage children to collaborate and encourage each other, just like the mine-workers back in the days.

In the playground, historical past and recreational present come together. The pole forest is a reference to the poles used for underground mining tunnels. Today, the 1,600 poles form an adventure circuit. The prismatic play surface is inspired by underground pits and offers slides, climbing surfaces and stepping stones. The higher you get, the more narrow the route gets – heightening the challenge. The coal square is an area offering well-deserved rest as well as panoramic views and information about the history of the place.

 

A lush green ecosystem

Nature connects the playground to the rest of the mining site. The former Kolenspoor provides a green connection between the coaling harbour, various mining sites and the residential areas. Everywhere, natural vegetation has ample space to grow.

The entire mining site was turned into an ecosystem, where flowering meadows and a variety of bulbs and trees provide food and housing for insects, birds and mammals. A newly constructed wadi attracts plants and animals that thrive in humid environments. Beringen stands by its commitment to plant a few dozen new trees each year, making the place even greener, and bluer. As a blue network of water-permeable clinkers, loose pavement and perforated pipes are installed to regulate groundwater levels and supplies the wadi.

Avonturenberg3Treasuring heritage

Since 2009, public-private partnership be-MINE is responsible for the redevelopment of the site. Managing director Jeroen Huysmans: “Subsidising heritage is a temporary solution. To retain it for the long term, it is better to make it economically meaningful. That is the best guarantee that investments in the buildings will continue to be made”.

Greening the former mine has significantly enhanced the liveability of the neighbourhood. Back in the 1990s the former Director’s Park was rundown and a source of many complaints. The ‘green upgrade’ has turned the park from a place that fend off residents to a spot where families enjoy recreation and relaxation. 

In December 2020, be-MINE’s achievement to turn an industrial area into a green gem were rewarded with the first-ever Green Cities Award. A fitting recognition for a project that not only provides people with an enjoyable place for recreation, living and mobility, but also offers abundant space for plants, flowers, and local wildlife to flourish.

 

Photo credits: Toerisme Beringen