Stefan van Aarle: 'Tilburg, dare to show more urbanity'

| Sanne Leenders

The winter in Tilburg officially started in December. If anyone knows how to make people glow in their winter coats, it's Stefan van Aarle. He was not only born in Tilburg, but he is also committed to the city. Stefan knows how to push forward and has his unfiltered opinion about the urban developments within Tilburg more than ready. A perfect guest for this edition.
Photo's: Camiel Donders

Stefan van Aarle has been working in the world of retail for 10 years. He mainly focuses on inner cities. What does he do for Tilburg? Stefan has been director City Center of Binnenstad Management Tilburg for the last 4 years, bringing together stakeholders with only one clear goal: 'Bringing parties together, showing ambition and investing in the attractiveness of our inner city. In practice, this concerns real estate owners, the municipality, entrepreneurs, the cultural sector and residents. I think it's great to make my own city even more beautiful. In the meantime I have taken on a new role as chairman of the Ondernemersfonds, which I combine with the work for my company StadsKracht. Together with StadsKracht, I support clients (particularly government bodies) throughout the country on subjects such as the future of retail, centre visions and cooperation between stakeholders who have an interest in attractive centres.'

"Rolling up sleeves and push forward'

Tilburg's DNA is reflected in everything Stefan does. He loves decisiveness, practical work on a better city, acceleration and above all connecting. 'A good example of this is the development that the core shopping area has undergone in a short period of time. In 2015 there was the bankruptcy of V&D. As a city, we had our hands in our hair. Will we become a shopping city? Do we have some nice shops, but that's all? Or will we go ahead and really invest? In the space of four years, we are realising a huge development here in Tilburg with new public spaces around the town hall, a Frederikstraat north and later Frederikstraat south, the renovated Emmapassage. Last but not least, the Spoorzone and Piushaven also made an important contribution to Tilburg's new image. Whereas Tilburg will achieve this in 4 years, other cities will easily take 10 years to do so. Don't whine, just do it, that's what we're doing here!'

'Tilburg has to prove itself now'

Plans and ambitions enough according to Stefan. Now it is up to Tilburg to prove itself in the coming years. 'A lot is happening and that's good, but it also causes inconvenience for entrepreneurs in the city centre, for example around the Emmapassage and the town hall. They have been in a building site for years. There must also be time to harvest. To recoup the investments. But new plans are also emerging. That's so beautiful about this city. Our ambition is not to cherish what we have, but to make improvements. I see a big difference there with other municipalities where I work. In many places it's slower and there's less guts. What plans, for example, are there? The ambition to create a City Forum on the southern Cityring is one such example. It has to become the city's new square. A place with a lot of cars and closed buildings at the moment. That has to change.'

'The new generation is no longer looking for the historical picture'

'Tilburg is the city you should discover and we should cherish it. Of course we all go to Den Bosch, Utrecht or Amsterdam, but you have to discover cities like Tilburg. The beauty doesn't come at you by itself, but there is a lot to do! The strength lies in what we all organise together.' Stefan mentions beautiful examples that you as a reader most likely sound familiar: the Dwalerij, Kaap[stad and Winter in Tilburg. Maybe you've been there before. And if not, you should definitely go! Winter in Tilburg is currently taking place until 5 January 2020. Every weekend, your winter feeling will be enhanced even more by beautiful lighting, large Christmas trees and activities such as the Spruit Kinderfestival, the Dwalerij, Winter Zingt, the skating rink on the Hill and the illuminated Sint-Jozefkerk. And believe us, Stefan van Aarle will also glow in his winter coat! 'I like to spend the month of December in my own town. But I also visit Belgium and Germany regularly to see how they do it. We have to learn from that and then translate it to his Tilburgs.'

Are you curious about the entire Winter in Tilburg program? Last week, over 80,000 households received the Winterkrant. Did you miss it? Check this link for the digital Winterkrant.

The real transition is yet to come

'I think we're going to have mega exciting years as a city. We have built a nice core shopping area, but the real transition has yet to take place: We go from a city where you come by car to do your shopping, to a city where you stay and recreate. In order to achieve this, we need to attach more value to public spaces where we can organise things. The next 10 years we are still busy with this, which also means that construction will continue to take place. I am a supporter of adding more urbanity to this city. New plans need to be discussed on the street. It can be sanded. More high-rise? Let it come! What is ugly and beautiful is different for everyone. We must have the courage to show much more urbanity. This means that you still have to think on a small scale in the Dwaalgebied, because that suits the area, but dare to create eye-catchers that provoke the discussion. Every city is looking for a kind of Eiffel Tower. That doesn't always have to be a building. A certain approach or an event can also develop into an icon that is talked about nationally. The approach in the core shopping area, for example. All professionals look to us. And let Kaapstad be the event that the whole of the Netherlands will be talking about this summer.'

A City Forum for 365 days a year

As far as Stefan is concerned, we have to show a lot of guts as a city. Not only to attract more visitors, but also to become a different city. A city with public spaces of the highest quality. 'We're still lagging behind, especially when compared to other countries. We have to think in terms of accommodation and services. I would like to challenge the city to think along with us about how they would organise the inner city and the areas that are still to be freed up. We have a chance that Piusplein, Heuvelplein and Schouwburg with their promenade will become so big by a different approach to the Cityring. In the future, the Cityring will no longer accommodate through traffic. This will create an enormous number of public spaces that we can add to the city. And that within 10 years! Tilburg must have the courage to invest in this. A six is not good enough, we have to go to the ten.'



Within this section we give creative Tilburgers a stage. A Ticket to... the expression of their unfiltered opinion about the city. Are you curious who also has something to say about Tilburg other than Stefan van Aarle? Then you should definitely read these interviews: