Panorama Zeeuws Vlaanderen

Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, NL

What opportunities does a flourishing economy offer in an ageing society?

The Zeeuws-Vlaanderen region has more jobs than it has working people. The local population is ageing and declining.

The government has designated the North Sea Port District – the area around the merged ports of Vlissingen, Terneuzen and Ghent – as a NOVEX area. Attracting and retaining new residents, and investing in improving the quality of life throughout Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, can make a crucial contribution to the success of the North Sea Port District. Conversely, making industry more sustainable can contribute in many ways to creating a more attractive living environment in the three municipalities.

Supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL, DZH, together with the three Zeeuws-Vlaanderen municipalities – Sluis, Hulst and Terneuzen – investigated what this could look like in a  design study: A Panorama of Vlaams-Zeeland, a borderless region in balance.

Sandwiched between industrial clusters and panoramic landscapes

Recognisable rich Delta Culture

Quiet island in Europe, with boundless agglomeration potential

Vast landscapes

Fishing villages and settlements without harbours

Accessible from outside

Investments in quality of life contribute to achieving sustainability ambitions

Zeeuws-Vlaanderen occupies a central position in the Delta Metropolis and is a border region of the Netherlands. The region is defined by the hard boundaries of water and land, so that the three municipalities depend on each other to work closely together. Cooperation across the border is obvious, because of a shared Flemish cultural identity. Population growth is not unlikely due to the proximity of Ghent, Antwerp and Bruges. The region has expressed the ambition to grow by 25%. Such growth is only possible if it goes hand-in-hand with strengthening the quality of life in the region in a broad sense, by making the region resilient to visitor peaks and troughs, weather conditions and other external influences.

The region’s large employers note an increase in vacancies and also that population growth is lagging behind. Together with the three municipalities, they have drawn up a regional vision. A work agenda has been formulated for the North Sea Port District with ambitions for the future. Interfaces between existing ambition documents have been investigated. Eight themes have emerged from this that contribute to a resilient living environment. These have been applied to six locations; three specific places with location-specific issues, and three more generic landscape locations.

The municipalities of Sluis, Terneuzen and Hulst are dealing with a declining and ageing population, but also growing job opportunities and challenges in sustainable agriculture.

Making the industry more sustainable creates jobs, residual heat and support for facilities and a sustainable living environment. This makes an attractive living environment and attracts new and existing residents to fill the growing employment opportunities.

Recommendation 1: Ensure that interventions are rooted in a rich identity.

Recommendation 2: Deal consciously with boundaries.

Recommendation 3: Invest in quality of life.

Investments in quality of life contribute to achieving the region’s sustainability ambitions and are therefore essential. Although not all the issues have a local origin, it is important that spatial interventions are always locally rooted in order to make a difference. Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is defined by the boundaries of water and land in a physical, but also an administrative, sense. This requires a conscious handling of boundaries by celebrating or softening them. The national governments of the Netherlands and Belgium can play an important role in this.

This research by design shows that the government cannot remain aloof. These lessons may also be important in other border regions:

1. Sustainability and quality of life go hand in hand. The North Sea belongs to everyone.

2. Offers room for experimentation that blurs national boundaries.

3. Consider the potential of the region across the border in decisions that affect the Dutch border region.

Enrich the vast polder and creek landscape with biodiversity, energy transition, and recreation, and bring back elements that characterize Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (such as its cobblestones).

Terneuzen’s new station area entrance represents the diversity of the region. Living, working, learning and making come together here.

In a bi-polar border village, the border can be seen as a place for shared identity where spatial and non-spatial issues are addressed together.

Combine the creation of nature areas with recreational functions and coastal reinforcement.

Take advantage of the region’s landscape, with its contrast between industry and vastness, by combining iconic and intimate places with extreme (sports) activities.

In tourist villages, invest in spaces that bring people together. Look for combinations of tourism and temporary accommodation.

Panorama Zeeuws Vlaanderen

The government has designated the area around the ports of Vlissingen, Terneuzen and Ghent as a NOVEX area. Investments in improving the quality of life throughout the region of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and attracting and retaining new residents can make a crucial contribution to the success of the North Sea Port District. At the same time, making industry more sustainable contributes in many ways to a more attractive living environment in the three municipalities. The result is a borderless region, in balance thanks to its continuous combination of current goals relating to the energy transition, climate adaptation and quality of life. This can be addressed in different ways in different places. Eight overarching themes are intended to ensure that the quality of life in the region is broadly strengthened and made shock-resistant to peaks and troughs, high and low seasons, and ebb and flows. The focus is on the following quality of life themes: landscape quality; culture; level of facilities; mobility and proximity; living – education – working; energy transition, sustainability and circularity; and the effects of the fading national border. Although not all these issues have a local origin, it is important to formulate the answers together with the local community. In this way they are linked to other issues and opportunities, and you arrive at area-specific solutions. This contributes to identity and attractiveness.


Panorama Zeeuws Vlaanderen
Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, NL
Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie
Research, Urban Design
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