Ghent - how to give a human face to places

20 10/2011 de Lou Marzloff

 

Ghent, the second biggest city in Flanders, is viewed as a model when it comes to urban renewal projects. The specificity of the municipality is to develop these projects in a "one to one" dynamic: local renewal projects are carried one after the other, for the municipality to only focus on one project at a time and thus better reach its objectives.

 

Oxigen for the Brugse Poort , which started in 2002, is one of those flagship Ghent's urban renewal projects. The Brugse Poort is part of the so-called 19th century belt, an industrial working class neighbourhood. It has faced different types of problems: lack of public spaces, poor housing conditions and a negative public image. The renewal project focuses on structural intervention to offer greater public spaces, improve housing conditions but it also tackles educational and cultural issues. Actions are being taken: creation of public open spaces and green open spaces, demolition and ongoing reconstruction of quality social housing, creation of a new street offering multiple services with a large space given to bikes and walkers. The municipality works, together with social actors, to integrate the local population both in the urban project itself, and in the regeneration of their neighbourhood through culture.

 

 

Photo project. Crédits : Lou Marzloff

 

 

The Photo Project where pictures of inhabitants were put on the wall of a new public space was one of the first cultural projects in the neighbourhood. Stef Bossuyt, working at the Culture Department of the City of Ghent, explains that the idea was to start by giving a face - and faces - to the neighbourhood, to connect people. Marijke Leye, who also works for the Culture Department, underlines: "one of the main problems we face is to mix communities within one project". Mixing populations is one of the criteria of the "Create Your Own Neighbourhood" call for projects, organized twice a year by the municipality.

 

The Brugse Poort's library project also takes part in the cultural renewal movement. Opened in 2004, it differs from any traditional library, as it is both a social and a cultural space. The staff would for example go to meet the new residents to first introduce themselves - a habit that becomes natural nowadays - and then to communicate about what their place can offer. In order to attract immigrated women who, for some wouldn't naturally go to the library, they also organize coffee meetings there. It is an excellent way to make them know the place, and, as a result they often come back with their children. One can see that the library becomes a multifunctional place, as shown in this video...

 

 

Pierkespark. Crédits : Stadgent (Flickr)

 

 

A few streets away from the library, the Pierkespark project really meets the objective of participation through culture. With a local theatre, a restaurant, a green space and a handcrafts shop, this new public space attracts, with its multiple functions (again the multiplicity concept), all the residents of the neighbourhood. Theatre classes, photography lessons and all different kinds of activities are being organised there for and together with the local population. The main focus of all these projects is the story of the neighbourhood, with its problems and opportunities, told and shared in a creative way by the inhabitants.

 

Public participation through cultural projects is becoming more and more important in urban renewal projects, particularly when dealing with a rather excluded population. With regards to that, Brugse Poort neighbourhood's strategy is an excellent example of an integrated urban policy.

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