Maritime heritage shapes the future of Maassluis: 10-year development plan ‘Maritime Historic Maassluis’

This blog was originally published in DEAL! Magazine 4.

maassluisMartine van Lier and Mieke Pennock

Located some 20 km to the west of Rotterdam, the Dutch city of Maassluis has a famous maritime towage and salvage history. The heritage of this past is still present in the city today, and offers outstanding opportunities for a long-term plan to bring the old maritime center up to date again.

The core of Maassluis, the city center with its heritage harbor, is a protected urban landscape. Yet it looks somewhat jaded nowadays. The city has troubles with the growing vacancy of retail premises, and its rich maritime heritage is in decay. There is barely any activity, the traditional vessels are badly accessible, the maintenance stagnates, the three local museums are only limitedly open and there is no shared coordination of activities. The city can use an economic impulse: tourism is lagging behind and the city has not many employment opportunities - the threatening vacancy of retail premises feeds both bottlenecks. 

Maassluis has a lot to offer, however. It derives its identity from its maritime past, which is still recognizable by its picturesque harbor, with museum vessel Hudson, traditional tugboats as Elbe, Furie and Steenbank, salvage boats as Tonijn, the National Towage Museum and Museum Maassluis. Maassluis now wants to strengthen the historic harbor and city center with an area-oriented approach. The local council therefore accepted the ten-year development plan ‘Maritime Historic Maassluis’. The core idea of the plan is to give the center and the harbor a much-needed impulse by using the local towage and salvage history and making the maritime heritage sustainable, technically and organizationally. The final goal is a sustainable, dynamic historic harbor and center with a flourishing ‘Living Lab’ - a knowledge center where the sustainability of the maritime heritage will be realized and of which the museums will be part as well. 

‘Program Erfgoed Deal’
For the first part of this ten-year development plan, the city of Maassluis has been rewarded by a subsidy from the Program Erfgoed Deal (Heritage Deal), an interdepartmental program across different national ministries, the provinces and the local governments. The Program Erfgoed Deal focuses on the heritage-inclusive development of areas where big tasks are at stake, such as climate adaptation, energy transition, urbanization and shrinkage. In Maassluis, virtually all these tasks are topical and urgent. With this first sustainment, Maassluis can realize the first 2,5 years of the ten-year development plan by the project ‘City Harbor Maassluis’. 

Building collaboration
The approach of the project is based on four pillars: promotion of cooperation between engaged professionals and volunteers, development of a common sailing program, setting up a Living Lab, and the establishment of an area-wide cooperation to firmly anchor the collaborations between ships, museums, education and business.

The project starts with the promotion of cooperation. That is not necessarily a given factor in Maassluis. There are a lot of volunteers active in the heritage sector for the separate vessels and museums. Because of this, one could say that a certain island mentality has developed. The number of volunteers is under pressure, causing the vessels and museums to be only limitedly open and accessible for visitors. Also, the struggle to finance maintenance works - requiring a lot of time and knowledge - is being compromised. It is about time to work together more closely.

The proposed plan aims to counter this downward spiral by turning the local island mentality into a shared ambition. Communication and human factors and values will get more attention in this process. Through personal conversations with volunteers and board members, the trust has already grown as people start to share the ambitions of the plan to work together and help each other. This dynamic will form the crux of the project.

Sailing program
The ambitions have already started to pay off in the development of a common sailing program, the second pillar of the project. Here, the focus lies on the collaboration of the volunteers and board members of the vessels and the museums. The main goal is to attract more visitors to Maassluis and to increase the dynamics in the city center. The Monsterse Sluis, an important sluice in the city, has been restored after years of closure and finally allows smaller boats to again sail from the hinterland in Midden-Delfland to Maassluis. The quays are under renovation. The outer harbor will be connected with the historic city center by whisperboats, an electric shuttle bus and e-bikes. 

The sailing program presents the unique traditional vessels to the public and offers a revenue model for the boats, the city and local businesses. The traditional fleet sails every weekend for the public, and during the week for business trips and social parties. This dynamic also attracts new volunteers. The sailing program fits in with the cultural recreative ambition of the Metropole Region Rotterdam - The Hague (2.4 million inhabitants) of which Maassluis is a part. Cooperation with major partners in Rotterdam, Delft and The Hague helps to attract extra visitors to Maassluis, which is easily accessible from these bigger cities. This in turn supports sustainable recreation in the direct region. 

Living Lab
The third pillar is to set up a Living Lab. In this Lab, sustainability measures for the traditional vessels and the harbor buildings will be tested, developed and implemented. These measures will support the energy transition and the sustainable exploitation of the vessels and the maritime ensemble. This Living Lab will also accommodate space for the maintenance of vessels, and the museums can develop new kinds of exhibition spaces there. It will be attractive for the public and function as an economic catalyst. 

The Lab is the future place to connect the local council, heritage volunteers, education and business. In addition, the LDE Center for Global Heritage and Development and PortCityFutures will cooperate with the Living Lab. The Lab will find a location on the quays, and will become a place to learn, innovate, experiment, implement and scale up solutions to make vessels, harbors and maritime city centers more sustainable. The Lab will contribute to education, training and employment, and be a hotspot for innovative businesses and practices - an experience center that connects history to the future. 

Area development
The fourth pillar is the development of an area-wide cooperation titled ‘Maritime Historic Maassluis’, an entrepreneurial association that will secure the collaboration between ships, museums, education and business. With such an organizational and legal cooperation model, the heritage organizations and their partners will develop a more effective and efficient revenue model. The organization model of a cooperation connects well to realizing further development in the surrounding area: targeting collaboration, targeting entrepreneurship, targeting efficiency and effectiveness. 

This new area-wide cooperation will be the main carrier for sustainability transitions: the traditional maritime vessels will be connected to a green energy system with solar panels on a harbor building, energy storage will function through a sea-salt battery and a green charging station for the vessels. In this way, a green infrastructure for vessels and harbor buildings arises. More transformative measures will follow, such as isolation, additional sea-salt batteries, led-lights, infra-red panels and hydrogen supplies. 

Connecting stakeholders
With the support of the Program Erfgoed Deal, Maassluis is putting this project into practice and lays an important base for the long-term plan. Through collaboration and cooperation, the sailing program and the Living Lab, Maassluis will become a showcase for other towns and cities with maritime heritage. The four pillars and the lessons learned will be documented as pioneering examples. There is a stakeholder plan and an advisory board group. The inhabitants of Maassluis will be regularly informed by the city aldermen. The Erfgoedkwartiermakers Cooperation - the advising and supporting party - holds responsibility over the milestones in the project. There will be excursions to the Living Lab for education institutions, businesses and government bodies. Maassluis aims to become a leading showcase, also for the future of other port cities and harbor towns.