- Green space management: biodiversity/nature conservation (not formal park)
• Climate resilience: urban cooling, carbon storage
• Air quality: interception of pollutants
• Water management: flooding buffer
• Participatory planning/governance: community-led initiative
• Public health and wellbeing: reconnecting people with nature/improving mental/physical wellbeing
• Social justice/cohesion: activities target vulnerable groups i.e. low income, autistic children; skills training
• Potential for economic opportunities and green jobs: small enterprise opportunities, professional training
Heempark is a community-driven nature and sustainability agriculture park established on disused land. The history of the park dates back to the 1970s when Genk City Council bought 5 ha of former agricultural land in order to expand Molenvijver City Park. Local citizens were consulted on the park development and expressed a desire to retain the natural character of the site rather than convert to ‘formal’ park greenspace. A collaborative city citizens model for ‘Heempark’ was developed. The model represented a small-scale model of the former agricultural landscape with a focus on environmental sustainability and conserving native flora and fauna. The site has demonstration gardens, small farm animals, beehives, hayfields, ponds, nature areas and a children’s playground.
Heempark has about 90 members and approximately 35 active volunteers. Activities on site promote the reconnection of people to the environment, environmental awareness and engagement. This includes cooking classes, bee-keeping and activities targeting vulnerable groups (it houses 350 educational groups). From its establishment, visitor numbers grew (c.10,000 per annum) beyond the capabilities and resources of the volunteers. City personnel were made available, and an Environment & Nature Centre was established at Heempark in 1987. The park is now an umbrella organization for different local associations, uniting members of Velt Genk, Natuurpunt Genk, Natuurgidsen and local bee keepers.