Creating space for creativity: the importance of creative hubs in Eindhoven

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Creating space for creativity: the importance of creative hubs in Eindhoven

There are places where you instantly sense that something extraordinary is happening. Sectie-C is one of those places. With 270 creative entrepreneurs, it's by far the largest creative hub in the Eindhoven region. It provides a unique space for designers, artists, artisans, and other creatives to experiment and innovate. However, this space and creative potential are under threat as the city, grappling with a housing crisis, seeks to maximize the use of every square meter. Jur Jacobs and Mats Horbach from Sectie-C shed light on the unique challenges in developing the area and share their perspective on the city's creative sector.

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To start with a broad question: how is Sectie-C doing currently?

Jur: Sectie-C is thriving! Within the ecosystem, exciting collaborations are emerging. Young and established creators are connecting, leading to new opportunities. We've noticed increased utilization of Sectie-C's design prowess by regional companies, resulting in collaborations that make the city more innovative, beautiful, and sustainable. With our cultural program, events and exhibitions are attracting new people, integrating Sectie-C even more into the neighborhood and the city.

Mats: Simultaneously, it's a challenging time. Sectie-C was sold in 2019, and real estate developer Focus Real Estate has plans to redevelop it. However, the details of this development and its impact on our creative space remain uncertain. There's concern that the area might transform into predominantly residential spaces with limited room for creativity, restricting maker spaces to minimize disturbance for residents.

‘‘If our city doesn't invest in design and creative prowess, we risk losing part of our identity.’’
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Does this scenario only affect Sectie-C's entrepreneurs, or does it have broader implications for the city?

Jur: Eindhoven positions itself as a city of TDK – Technology, Design, and Knowledge. The "Design" element is crucial for the city's future, but it's not guaranteed. Many designers are leaving for the Randstad or other cities where affordable workspace and projects are more accessible. This applies to both established names and emerging talent. Sectie-C houses nearly 300 entrepreneurs, and finding an alternative space for them is challenging. If the city doesn't invest in design and creative prowess, we risk losing a part of our identity.

Mats: While there's growing recognition for the value of designers, makers, and creative hubs in the city, the position of creative makers remains uncertain. Decisions by the municipality and developers sometimes prioritize other interests over ours. For instance, the idea of placing makers on the ground floor of new buildings citywide sounds good in theory, but in practice, it falls short as a viable solution.

Integrating designers and makers into the city center's new buildings seems logical. What are the drawbacks of this idea, in your opinion?

Mats: Providing more space for creative makers is beneficial, but the power of physically being close to each other shouldn't be underestimated. Collaboration and quick access to various talents within Sectie-C facilitate unique outcomes. The High Tech Campus, for example, clusters companies for effective collaboration. It's counterintuitive to disperse the creative sector across the city. This undermines the magic of places like Sectie-C.

‘‘Breeding grounds where young talent can flourish are so valuable for a city that holds design in high regard.’’

Jur: Additionally, separating makers diminishes cross-pollination. On Sectie-C, you find both new and established makers. When established designers get projects, they often involve young talent, fostering learning, connections, and simply helping them to pay their rent. Creative hubs are invaluable for a city that values design. You can’t achieve the same with a workshop on the ground floor of a new apartment building. Furthermore, a workspace in a ground-floor setting is suitable for only a few makers.

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Which types of makers are suitable for ground-floor spaces, and which are not?

Jur: A graphic designer or photographer can easily occupy an office on the ground floor – a desk, laptop, and a bike hook on the wall. Done. However, someone crafting interiors has no place there. Heavy machinery noise would disturb the residents living above. Many makers also require substantial space. Visit Hal G, Oost-C, or Nacho Carbonell's studio on Sectie-C, and you'll realize these spaces can't fit into a ground-floor setting. Not to mention transportation – Sectie-C often receives large deliveries that can't be accommodated in a traffic-calmed city center.

Mats: Moreover, a ground floor often serves as a showcase location with cafes and trendy shops. It's like being in an aquarium. Most makers don't want to be observed all day. In their studios, they can experiment, make a mess, and express themselves freely. Constant scrutiny is undesirable. People passing by gain little from seeing a graphic designer in the ground floor – it doesn't enhance the connection between the creative sector and the city. People appreciate creativity when something happens – something quirky, unexpected. Sectie-C provides that. There's always something to see and discover.

When houses are eventually built on Sectie-C, there might be tension between the entrepreneurs and residents. How do you see that?

Jur: Having residences on Sectie-C is fantastic, but we fear that the creative space might be an afterthought, rather than the other way around. Flattening the terrain, building houses, and only later considering workshop spaces could strain the relationship between residents and entrepreneurs.Mats: Ideally, we'd prefer workshops to be built first, followed by houses. Then, it becomes living amidst creativity, a genuinely innovative approach. If residential buildings come first, residents often have more rights than makers. Finding a balance is essential, making it a pleasant place for everyone. However, people who move to a creative breeding ground will likely have a different perspective on creative activities than those who suddenly have a workshop open next to their home.

‘‘If you're not careful, you can change the essence of a place with housing.’’
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What does it mean for Sectie-C if residential development becomes the top priority?

Jur: Everyone agrees that a high-rise in Genneper Parken is unacceptable as it would mar something beautiful. However, a high-rise in the middle of Strijp-S, the NRE-terrein, or Sectie-C is somehow more acceptable because it's an exciting place to live. Without careful consideration, prioritizing residences could change the essence of a creative place, making it less appealing.

Mats: Look at Strijp-S – it used to be a hub with many creative entrepreneurs. A place for vibrant events and with extensive room for experimentation. Nowadays, regulations have tightened to limit disturbances. It's still a nice place but has become more ordinary, with less room for spontaneity.

‘‘There's a misconception that we rely on subsidies, but that's not the case. We are all entrepreneurs.’’
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What can the city do better to support creative hubs and maintain their unique character?

Mats: Rather than asking what they can do, let's start with what they don't have to do. It's not about money. There's a misconception that we rely on subsidies, but that's not the case. We are all entrepreneurs. The crucial point is for the municipality and developers to realize that they don't need to provide the solution. That's something we, as designers and creatives, can contribute.

Jur: Creative hubs and entrepreneurs in the city possess extensive knowledge of the sector. We are united and regularly engage in discussions. Trust our expertise and involve us more frequently in planning, preferably in the early stages. We currently collaborate with Focus and the municipality to envision Sectie-C's future, and they value our input. Besides trust, recognition is crucial. Creative spaces are often the first to be sacrificed in new projects because creativity doesn't always yield immediate returns, which is challenging.

‘‘We need to recognize that not everything needs to generate substantial returns. More importantly, extraordinary things are worth the investment.’’
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How do you envision recognition for creative hubs?

Mats: Everyone acknowledges the importance of green spaces for a city's livability. This is evident in the municipality's plans – creating a city forest, restoring rivers, and transforming concrete squares into pleasant parks. It involves expenses and effort, but it significantly enhances the city. We should apply the same perspective to creativity. Imagine a city planning vision specifying a certain percentage of space reserved for creative makers. Currently, there's no defined goal for that, and when budgets run out, as they almost always do, culture and creativity are the first to be cut. This is a nationwide issue, as seen in the decisions made by the central government. We need to recognize that not everything needs to generate substantial returns. More importantly, extraordinary things are worth the investment.

In an ideal world, how do you see Sectie-C in 10 years, and what does that mean for Eindhoven?

Jur: A vibrant place with an ecosystem where people can create, work, and live comfortably. A space for experimentation, making mistakes, and learning from them. Above all, a place that belongs to everyone. It would be beautiful if we genuinely live together in the broadest sense. Where everyone can contribute, shaping Sectie-C together.

Mats: I'd love for the residents here also to be the audience for our cultural programs. They could become ambassadors for Sectie-C, just like the creators are now. Residents could also contribute ideas for new events and initiatives. You don't need to be a creative professional to have a great idea. With the creative power here, we can realize the most incredible things. I echo Jur's sentiments. My dream for Sectie-C is to have more space for extraordinary things – both physical space and room for creativity- to better leverage our value for the city.

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About Mats Horbach and Jur Jacobs

Jur Jacobs is active in various cultural organization boards and has been part of the Sectie-C foundation since 2020. The foundation focuses on cultural programming and strategic planning for the area's future. Mats Horbach graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2012 and joined Sectie-C eight years ago. Until early 2023, he served on the association board, advocating for tenants' interests and community-building.

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