The City of Rotterdam has come up with an ingenious way to regenerate neglected parts of the city and help its citizens get on the property ladder in a single stroke: the Urbannerdam program.

A housing scheme that has been running for the past few years, it is designed to revitalise Rotterdam’s more disadvantaged parts using small yet strategic injections of great design. With the first few houses now completed, the results are starting to show.

The plan is simple; the city sells buildings it acquired over the years to private clients at extremely competitive prices on the condition they create a premium house at minimum cost. In addition to the financial incentive, the program also pairs the new owners with an architect and follows the project through to its completion.

The result? The demand from Rotterdammers, who have spotted the opportunity to create their dream home, has been extraordinary and over 250 new homes are being created in various parts of Rotterdam. The showcases feature high-quality design and construction, breathing new life to their respective neighbourhoods.

Program manager Martijn Kok is an Urbannerdam convert himself, having just settled into a new apartment in Rotterdam’s Spangen neighbourhood that was built as part of the program. The design and construction of Kok’s home was led by local development and design duo Luc van Beers and Steve D’Aboy of 13 Speciaal, who have worked on several other Urbannerdam projects, as well as van Beers' own home in De Dichterlijke Vrijheid (which translates as ‘Poetic Licence'), the scheme’s very first block conversion.

‘Actually Urbannerdam didn't quite exist at the time of De Dichterlijke Vrijheid,’ says van Beers. ‘It involved the same group of people - we were the pilots – and, due its success, Urbannerdam was born. I was attracted to it largely because of its pioneering spirit: the idea of reclaiming and rebuilding a former ghetto with a group of young, ambitious, creative people. All base renovation costs came from a communal pot, which meant that we all had a vested interest in the project as a whole. And without the financial support from the city of Rotterdam, the numbers just wouldn't have worked, and the project would not have been feasible.’

Since those first attempts, many more followed, such as the example of Polish-born construction manager Damian Zarebski, who together with his partner, transformed a derelict old townhouse in the south district of Katendrecht into a perfect, four-level, live-and-work pad, with all the requisite mod cons. ‘It has always been a dream of mine to build my own house,’ says Zarebski. ‘Many people would be scared and run away from a dilapidated, run-down house like that. But I instantly saw the potential.’

Great design is an integral part of the concept and the architectural community seems to be swiftly picking up on the overall scheme’s unique character. One of the most recently completed houses – the Black Pearl - won a Dutch Design Award 2011, chosen by the Dutch public, which shows how popular the scheme is.

The city has been working hard to transform its existing housing stock to suit its growing needs and Urbannerdam, alongside a wealth of new and ongoing urban developments like OMA’s mixed-use ‘vertical city’ tower De Rotterdam, is designed to pump new blood into the area’s architectural heart.