Leiden Noorderkwartier-Oost, climate-proof public space

Participation sounding board group, Leiden, The Netherlands © Gemeente Leiden

Noorderkwartier-Oost in Leiden is an old neighbourhood with narrow street profiles, little green space and a mixture of social housing and private homes in mainly low-rise buildings. From 2019 the sewers were to be renewed and this provided an opportunity to redesign the public space in this neighbourhood. Leiden Noorderkwartier is a district with about 4,000 homes owned by housing associations and private individuals in the social rental and owner-occupied sectors.

Project question

The neighbourhood suffered from flooding due to heavy rainfall, subsidence and rising groundwater levels. To cope with the rainfall, the neighbourhood was largely dependent on the sewer system: only about 13% of the rain infiltrated into the subsoil. The neighbourhood is densely built and has little green space; this means a high risk of heat stress during hot periods.

To prevent flooding after heavy rainfall and to reduce heat stress in the future, a design for the redevelopment was made that incorporates greening and water storage measures. Within the project, these measures were tested for applicability, acceptance and efficiency. Residents have been involved in the redesign through an extensive participation process.

Approach and preparation

Originally, there was only budget for a quality impulse in a few streets within the neighbourhood. While writing the assignment, Leiden Noorderkwartier-Oost became a pilot within the European Sponge 2020 project, allowing climate adaptation and participation to be included in the project plan.

The municipality started by making a spatial analysis of the neighbourhood. Among other things, they looked at property distribution, street types, the risk of flooding and the risk of heat stress. For each of the three different street widths that were distinguished, a principal solution was devised for the redesign of its streets: the green water-storing street, the blue water-storing street and the orange water-draining street. Wherever possible in terms of space, special play areas and/or squares that store water were developed.

These principal solutions were discussed during residents’ meetings and in an expert meeting. Next to the principal solutions for the street types, a measure matrix with possible climate-adaptive measures was developed. In the matrix, the various measures were assessed on aspects such as effectiveness against flooding, against heat stress, costs, management and acceptance. During the expert meeting with colleagues from traffic, sewerage, urban planning and external experts, the measures were discussed, and joint choices were made.

Ideeën voor het vergroenen van verschillende typen straten in Leiden
Examples of green street typologies Leiden Noorderkwartier Oost © Gemeente Leiden


A participation process with all stakeholders: residents, entrepreneurs and housing associations, started in January 2018. The aim was to make these stakeholders aware of the need for climate adaptation measures, both in public space and on private property such as roofs and gardens. After all, 55% of the neighbourhood is owned by private individuals and housing associations.

To raise awareness about the effects of climate change on the neighbourhood and share knowledge about possible climate-adaptive measures, each residents’ meeting started with a mini-course on climate adaptation. A standard presentation was developed for this purpose. This mini-course was followed by a mini design workshop with the residents. During these co-creation meetings, the design principles that are most appropriate for the neighbourhood were considered together with the participants.

The housing associations were invited to all participation meetings. The municipality of Leiden and the housing associations have made agreements regarding greening (Prestatieafspraken 2019).

During the participation meetings, not only climate-adaptive redesign of the public space was discussed but attention was also paid to measures that residents but also the housing associations can take, for example by greening roofs or gardens.

The housing associations have greened the roofs of sheds and annexes in a renovation project and encourage tenants to keep gardens green.

Participation kick-off meeting

The kick-off meeting for all residents of the neighbourhood took place on 16 January 2018. Residents were informed about expected climate change and the need for climate adaptation through a ‘Climate’ mini-workshop. Groups worked with a specially developed design game: residents were able to design different streets themselves using a scale model with parking spaces, trees, etc. They worked according to the world café method. For the follow-up process, residents could sign up for a focus group at this kick-off meeting.

Expert meeting

During the expert meetings in March 2018 with the designer, sewer managers, traffic expert and climate experts, all measures of the measure matrix were discussed, and the most promising measures were selected for implementation in the neighbourhood. A note of principles was drawn up: at the first meeting a longlist, at the second meeting a shortlist.

In this way, an alignment regarding feasible and desirable measures could be achieved quickly.

Focus group

Representatives of residents and housing associations were invited to the first meeting of the focus group on 15 May 2018. To break the ice and create a relaxed positive atmosphere, it started with a simple meal and an introductory game. After the meal, the ‘Climate’ mini-workshop was repeated. The previously developed design principles were presented by the designers. With a scale model, the design principles were applied at building block level in groups under the guidance of a professional. The results of the focus group were taken into account in the design process. Another meeting for the focus group was organised on 12 June 2018.

Participation Leiden, The Netherlands © Gemeente Leiden

Meeting in the street for residents of phase 1 (6 June 2018)

To reach more residents including those that did not attend previous meetings, an activity in the street was organised in party tents. Five professionals (climate professional, designers, and project leaders) engaged with residents based on three alternative designs. One of the tents allowed experimentation: there was a water table where children could playfully learn about climate adaptation. There was also a mini-exhibition on climate change and climate adaptation. Door-to-door invitations on the afternoon itself lured residents to the tents.

Participation Leiden, The Netherlands © Gemeente Leiden

Neighbourhood-wide meeting (5 November 2018)

At this neighbourhood meeting, the memorandum of principles with the design principles was presented to the neighbourhood. To substantiate the need for climate adaptation, an animation film was made and shown. There was an information market for residents and housing associations with information on sustainable energy, solar panels, green roofs, greening back gardens, building façade gardens, residents adopting tree pits and shared cars, among others.

Participation Leiden, The Netherlands © Gemeente leiden


On 9 November 2018, a tour with experts, an alderman and residents took place: together, an inventory of locations for greening was made in the neighbourhood.

Garden competition and ‘Tile out, plant in’ campaign

To enthuse residents to start working on climate adaptation in their gardens or on their roofs, a garden competition was organised; the main prize was a climate-adaptive metamorphosis of the winning garden.

During the ‘Tile out, plant in’ campaign, residents could exchange stones for a plant.

© gemeente Leiden

Communicating results of participation

The input obtained from the participation process has been incorporated into the memorandum of principles and a ‘Question and Answer’ document that residents can view and download on the project page of Leiden municipality. Most input was related to flooding, greenery in the neighbourhood, greening of stony play areas, accessibility, parking and questions about specific measures to be taken by the municipality in specific streets.

Incorporating input from participation in design

For phase 1 (Julianastraat and Anna Paulownastraat), the municipality has translated the input from the various meetings into a design that takes the residents’ wishes into account as much as possible without losing sight of the basic principles of greening and the water issue. Some of the proposed materials and profiles (raingardens, permeable paving) are new to Leiden municipality and do not appear in the Standard Manual and will have to prove themselves in use and management.

For this phase 1, the design was completed and submitted to the residents. The planting proposal was discussed with the residents at a separate meeting. The colour scheme of the plants in the area could be chosen by the residents themselves using some colour suggestions.

The direction and percentage of the slope in the street are indicated consecutively. from the buildings, the rainwater drains towards a green strip, the carriageway is barrel-shaped and the slope of the pavement on the other side of the street drains towards the carriageway.
Cross- section street profile Leiden, The Netherlands © Gemeente Leiden
Achtereenvolgens is aangeven wat de richting en percentage van het afschot in de straat is. Vanaf de bebouwing strromt het regenwater richting een groenstrook af, de rijbaan ligt tonrond en het afschot van de stoep aan de andere zijde van de straat loopt af richting de rijbaan.
Cross- section street profile Leiden © Gemeente Leiden

Water task

Due to the high groundwater level, infiltration is only possible to a limited extent in Leiden. A separate sewer system with groundwater regulating drainage has been chosen. This system works both ways: discharging water during flooding and supplying water during drought.

In the neighbourhood, subsidence has caused damage to buildings and infrastructure. The buildings are extra vulnerable due to partly missing foundations in many houses.

To capture extra rainwater and prevent it from running into the houses, the creation of planted mini-bioswales (raingardens) and a lowered roadway was chosen as a solution.

The parking spaces in the northern part of Julianastraat along the raingardens have been provided with water-pervious paving in which voids between the paves allow water to infiltrate. The bicycle parking spaces have been linked to tree pits at pavement level and have also been provided with water-pervious paving.


The old greenery consisted of a few trees; the beds of trees with a reasonable future expectation will be upgraded. New, suitable trees will be planted with a spacious tree bed or in a green strip. The tree beds and green spaces as well as the raingardens will be planted with perennials. Residents have been presented with a small assortment of trees and plants to help determine the final species.

The two streets that have already been redesigned are testing grounds for the other streets in Noorderkwartier-Oost. The planting will be monitored.

Implementation phase

The implementation of phase 1 was somewhat delayed due to the clarification of management costs. Coverage had to be found for the additional costs. Phase 1 has now been realised.

Pilot within the municipality of Leiden

Leiden Noorderkwartier-Oost is one of two pilots within the municipality of Leiden to learn more about climate adaptation, greening and participation. The workshops that took place, including puzzles, models and the mini-course on climate adaptation, were also held for the directors of the various departments and for the aldermen within the municipality. This led to a greater mutual understanding about the usefulness and necessity of integral cooperation right from the start-up phase of the project and throughout the organisation.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Sponge2020 supported project Noorderkwartier-Oost has led to a widely supported climate-adaptive approach.

The intensive participation activities have contributed to greater awareness regarding the necessary climate measures, and the realisation of the importance of everyone’s own contribution. Private commitment has now led to significantly more greenery in the neighbourhood. Housing associations are also opting for climate-adaptive measures such as green roofs, rain barrels and greener gardens in their renovation projects.

The experiences within this pilot provide the following tips and recommendations:

General do’s

  • Collaborate integrally right from the start (list all internal and external stakeholders).
  • Explicitly involve public space management at the start of the project.
  • Participation costs more time and therefore money; include this in the planning and budget.
  • If you are going to deviate from the standard, record and monitor it well and make it measurable for future projects.

Participation do’s

Explain again and again why climate adaptation measures are needed, it’s a new message.

  • Not everything fits, concessions are unavoidable, explain this or let people figure it out for themselves using an example/puzzle etc. to scale.
  • Create a stimulating residents’ letter, invite in person, go past the doors.
  • Create a cosy, informal atmosphere.
  • Use simple language and recognisable pictures/photos.
  • Make plenty of room during meetings for personal contact with residents, e.g. by starting a meeting with a meal together.
  • Maintain personal contact outside meetings as well.
  • Approach people in a low-threshold manner. Put a party tent in the street, for instance, and go from house to house to inform and invite people.
  • Make use of existing networks in the neighbourhood, encourage the creation of new networks.
  • Start working together with, for example, models, a water table, and in actions such as tile-out-plant-in.
  • Encourage dialogue between residents.
  • Link up with other initiatives.
  • Maintain a positive atmosphere in the neighbourhood.