The city of Mons in French-speaking Wallonia, western Belgium, is undergoing substantial change in preparation for its role as European Capital of Culture in 2015. The city of some 100,000 people is an important legal and university centre of the Province of Hainaut as well as its administrative centre. It was once part of Belgium’s coal and steel belt and suffered severe recession as a result of deindustrialisation. Its economy now depends on tourism and high-tech industry but its unemployment rate remains high at around 20%.
As in many Western countries, the city faces an ageing population, partially offset by the presence of 3,200 students. Most of the population has Italian or French origins. About 7,000 are Americans (8% of the population) as the city hosts a NATO base (SHAPE).
Mons has developed its heritage of historic buildings, and has also built on its significant role in World War I, during the Battle of Mons, with the planned opening of the Mons Memorial Museum in 2015. It will open five more museums in 2015 during its year as European Capital of Culture. The city has three features that appear on the UNESCO World Heritage list: its Baroque Belfry, the Neolithic Mines of Spiennes and the Doudou, a pageant depicting the battle between Saint George and the dragon, staged since medieval times.
Yet it is also a forward-looking city, and major architectural projects include a new railway station by Santiago Calatrava and a conference centre by Daniel Libeskind. There is a science park, Initialis, housing about 30 new technology-orientated companies in areas such as biochemistry, telecommunications, civil engineering and IT.