In the centre of Sassenheim lies a beautiful romantic park of five hectares, originally laid out as a private walking park for Villa Rusthoff. This distinguished villa was located on the Heereweg, the old connecting road across the inner sand ridge that leads from Leiden to Haarlem. It is said that the park was designed by famous architect Jan David Zocher, which is entirely possible. The park has been built in the English landscape style and its broad lines betray the hands of a skilled designer.
When we were asked in 1998 by a group of troubled residents to develop a recovery plan for the now municipal park, Park Rusthoff was in a deplorable state. Local youth had taken over the park (“we rule here”); they had literally sawn benches in half. Bridges were removed or on point of collapse. People had grown afraid to enter the park; for the average Sassenheimer Park Rusthoff had become a no-go area.
The park also suffered from seriously overdue maintenance, and in the period after construction, a series of incomprehensible design interventions seriously affected the park’s cohesion. A prime example is the ditch, planted with pollard willows, that cut the central meadow in two.
The park was in such a bad condition that it was not surprising that redevelopment of the town centre gradually cut off bits of the park. When the municipality decided that the park might also be a suitable location for the construction of its new town hall, the neighbourhood took action. Based on the idea that “everything of value is defenceless”, the initiative was taken to upgrade the park and make it more resilient to future attacks.
Theirs was a daring piece of citizens’ initiative, and while the local Rotary could provide funds for planning and design, they certainly could not cover construction as well. The organizers therefore relied on the notion of “inspiration will lead to funding”, a leap of faith that in the end proved justified.
– Kevin van Leeuwen, resident of Sassenheim
The recovery plan focused on restoration of the original characteristics of the park’s English landscape style. To this end, later interventions were reversed and the outlines of the original design restored. Water features regained their smooth lines and new bridges were placed. The entrance gates were also restored, to ensure a stately entrance.
In addition, maintenance has been stepped up: trees that threatened the safety of visitors have been cut down and new trees have been planted.
The park’s path structure has been adapted to fit the park’s public function. Paths now logically connect to the urban fabric of its surroundings, turning the park into a natural part of the routes and structures within Sassenheim. This has brought pedestrian traffic back into the park.
Armed with the recovery plan, the Rotary club started raising funds, with the added result that the average Sassenheimer rediscovered the park as his or her own. Fundraising not only increased support behind the park, but also generated co-ownership.
The Park Rusthoff now functions as the Central Park of Sassenheim. The King’s Day Free Market is held on its central meadow, the annual plant market on the “red carpet” behind the main entrance. It is the location for horror trips during Halloween, and evening concerts in the summer months. No one dares to suggest taking a piece from the park. Park Rusthoff has developed from scandal to holy ground: the green living room of Sassenheim.
Title: Rusthoffpark Sassenheim
Location: Sassenheim, NL
Size: 6,5 ha
Client: Municipality of Sassenheim
Duration: Reconstruction between 2000-2003; Management vision between 2012-2022
Type: reconstruction plan, revitalization plan, management vision, implementation
Image credits: BoschSlabbers, photographers parkrusthoff.nl (o.a. H. de Bok, M. Hoogeveen, J. Koopmans, L. Guldemond)
Project code: HT 12-07, HT 00-07