Porte de Ninove is a site at the fringe of Brussels’ former medieval centre. It is a hight density neighbourhood with a the poorest population in the municipality which however is highly exposed to gentrification. The former industrial land adjoining the site (Porte de Ninove) is in the process of redevelopment and in danger of creating a large rift between the existing and future residents.
About the project
The neighbourhood has received “Contrats de Quartiers” funding from the regional government to develop small intervention projects to improve the quality of life for local residents. The Contrats are a very interesting and unique Brussels funding mechanism which promotes community driven activity and promotion. A neighbourhood is given some €40 million over the course of a four year period to develop projects large and small, permanent and very ephemeral. Stakeholder involvement is an essential part of the process as the ideal outcome is improved social cohesion.
The site itself, while elegant and simple, offered little to the surrounding residents – it was merely an illegal carpark. Likewise, the community was very poorly organised and there was no network between the residents that was binding them together and where they could unite in discussing bigger problems such as the gentrification occurring at their doorstep and how changes to the neighbourhood could radically change their lives. This site offered a motive for the residents to come together and communicate larger problems they faced while having the tools to express themselves.
In this project, the community is coming up against large changes and needed not only to connect but also have a means to communicate their interests.
In the project surrounding residents were invited to ‘co-develop’. What does that mean? As most stakeholders are not trained designers, it was essential to find what the residents really wanted – not in terms of a swing or a bench but for example a place where they could communicate, where they could get meet, and that would bring them together. To get to the bottom of their interests a fun game was developed to identify the general priorities.
The result involved a collection of painted benches and raised gardens. It was built by local residents and prisoners from the gaol in St Gilles. While the intervention was modest, the space has changed significantly and is regularly very active. More to the point, the community is much better prepared in handling a new development underway at their doorstep and now are receiving support by politicians – this may have never happened prior to the event.
More information on the project including a radio podcast is available through the Urban Ecology Centre website*.