Kortrijk is a smaller city in western Belgium which lies along the Leie River, which connects Lille, France to Ghent, Belgium and later to the Atlantic Ocean. Kortrijk sits at the center of what has traditionally been a textile manufacturing region, and the Leie, along with associated canals, has traditionally been the main transportation route for the goods manufactured in the region. Kortrijk has been working for decades on the Leiewerken, a series of construction projects meant to widen and deepen the river, making for easier transport of larger ships. Along with this, efforts have been made to improve the waterfront and make it more than just a transport route, but also an amenity for those who live near it. This is where architect Jordi Farrando comes in. Farrando designed different public spaces on the north and south sides of the Leie (or Leieboorden) at Buda Island.
On the south side of the Leie and the northeast corner of Buda Island, Farrando built Buda Beach as a “landscaped leisure area.” The space is mostly green, a mix of turf and taller, more natural grasses. These green areas are crossed by paths which connect to the road, Ijzerkaai, above, and the new pedestrian bridge, Collegebrug, which connects to the north shore of the Leie. The swerving paths of both the beach and the bridge work really well together. Part of the idea of the park is that sand can be brought in in the summer to form an artificial beach much like the Paris Plage. All in all, I really like this place, although if I had anything to say about it, I would wonder if there is enough seating.
I would think that someone might argue that people could simply seat on the undulating ground which slopes toward the river, much like people often do along the Schuylkill River Trail; while this may work for younger people, older people will not do this and may not use the park. Another lesson from the Schuylkill River Trail could be to use some sort of non-traditional seating, like boulders, to provide a place to sit without looking like something out of a catalog.
On the other side of the Leie is Diksmuidekaai, which has a much more urban and hardscaped feel than Buda Beach. Starting at the west, it integrates well with the existing bike and pedestrian lanes.
These are divided by a row of trees which will become more beautiful as they grow taller and fuller. In every other gap between trees there is a fashionable light fixture which is set at a good pedestrian scale. However, as can be seen in the images above, the bike lane and row of trees later switches, with the bike lane in the center. The architect argues that the benches separate the pedestrian path from the bike lane, but there aren’t enough benches to form a serious divide. A better technique may be to use slightly different pavers or colors of concrete.
I have a few issues with the benches. First of all, as I mentioned above, there aren’t enough of them. They could be bunched together into small groups so that people could sit near each other without necessarily being right next to each other. The benches themselves are the exact type that Jan Gehl warms against: concrete benches with no back and no sort of rear protection, which may not necessarily face the action. They should be given backs, and though it may be best to face the river, it could be good to have some that face the other way so people could watch cyclists on the other side. There probably is no good way to create some sort of backward protection for for those siting on the benches, although if the row of trees remained at the center it could create somewhat of a wall.
All in all, I really like this project. Buda Beach is great, and Diksmuidekaai is really good and could be improved with simple changes in the future. These projects do a great job of improving both sides of a river without being repetitive mirrors of each other, but providing unique, complimentary amenities.