A Place to Be-Come

Improved social inclusion by enhancing public spaces through local skills development

Edited on 06/02/2024

Project proposal by

  • Institution : AREBS (Association for the Economic Redeployment of the Seresian Basin / Agence pour le redéploiement économique du bassin Sérésien)
  • City : Seraing
  • Country : Belgium
  • Type of region : Transition
  • Population : 64 000

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A Place to Be-Come was an innovative and participatory project to revitalise public spaces in the centre of Seraing (Belgium) for the benefit of everyone, thus combatting social exclusion and isolation.


In this context, several actions were carried out at the neighbourhood level. Local workers were hired and trained in the management of green spaces, to make these spaces more pleasant for citizens and to bring more biodiversity into the heart of the city. The project team also trained interested citizens and municipal agents in these new techniques, which use nature as an ally.


The project aimed not only to reinvent, but also to reinvest in these spaces. Residents were invited to invest in new meeting places and creativity in the heart of the neighbourhood, in order to develop civic or economic projects and contribute to revitalising their neighbourhood. This axis would be chosen for the transfer network.


Finally, the project team also proposed to make existing services more visible to citizens, using a mobile app and a website to centralise this information and facilitate access to it. 


What SOLUTIONS did the Urban Innovative Action project offer?


1. Nature-based trainings to address the lack of knowledge of managing new green spaces, including native species and the preservation of biodiversity. 


2. Development of soft skills for the design of parks and other public areas. An alternative approach is proposed to reduce anti-social behaviour. A comprehensive psychosocial diagnostic of the neighbourhood was conducted in parallel to an inclusive urban planning process to design innovative urban developments. 


3. The creation of places for socialisation in neighbourhoods requiring an increase in social cohesion and the empowerment of the people frequenting these places. This dynamic was first tested in a temporary location, and then transposed and improved in the final location: the Maison du Peuple. 

What DIFFERENCE has it made at local level?


The project proposed transversal solutions, both at the level of stakeholders and sectors of activity, within a multidisciplinary approach. All links in the chain were involved, from strategic designers to operators and final users. As this was an experimental approach, the project team learned from mistakes and adapted iteratively to increase the impact on the ground and on people.


Following this experience, several stakeholders having gained experience, embarked on new ambitious projects. Several diagnostics and various research actions were implemented to measure impact and to obtain feedback along the way, helping to adapt the solutions to current and verified needs. This research notably dealt with citizen participation, psychological ownership of public spaces, and the identification of missing links in supporting vulnerable populations. All the results are available on the project wiki (https://aplacetobe-come.enpoche.be/aplacetobe-come/contenu/wiki). 


What PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES have been put in place for the project?


One of the key objectives in the project was to engage local communities, stakeholders, and residents in decision-making processes related to urban planning and development. This included methods such as community workshops, town hall meetings, surveys, focus groups, and collaborative design sessions. For example, nature workshops for citizens and associations have been organised to further integrate nature into the heart of the city. Simultaneously, residents have been invited to invest in new meeting and creativity spaces in their neighbourhoods to develop citizen or economic projects, contributing to the revitalisation of their area.


Regarding the "People's house" of Seraing, the goal is to establish a dynamic where it is no longer the institutions but rather civil society that becomes the driving force. The city's institutions are present solely as technical managers to facilitate cohesion between various projects from both citizen and economic entities.


The challenge the city aims to address with this project is to foster the emergence of autonomous governance and management for the space and the projects. This grassroots involvement is integral to the success of these programmes, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement among residents. 

How does the project tackle different aspects with an INTEGRATED APPROACH?

The project epitomises integrated urban development, by concurrently tackling economic, social, and environmental dimensions. With a holistic approach, these initiatives actively involve the community in decision-making, promoting inclusive economic strategies, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability. Collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including local government, community groups, academia, and businesses, is a key emphasis. Continuous monitoring and evaluation processes enable adaptive responses to challenges. These programmes acknowledge the interdependence of urban issues and strive for resilient and sustainable development, enhancing the overall well-being of Seraing and its residents.


City-parks are a great example of this approach, as they have been reimagined to make them more accessible and pleasant for citizens, as well as to encourage more biodiversity into the heart of the city. To achieve this, public reflection and design workshops were held in spaces provided by the city, facilitating the reappropriation of these communal places by the citizens. 

Why should other European cities use the solution the project explored?


Our model establishes a deep connection between citizens and their surrounding environment, whether it's biodiversity, collaborative opportunities through dedicated and purposeful places and spaces provided by the city, or the ability for them to design, iterate, and develop new forms of sustainable and viable activities together.


This methodological approach aims to foster residents' empowerment by instilling a sense of ownership, which is vital for the success and enduring impact of any public project. Here, civil society takes the lead in adapting and developing solutions for their own urban challenges, with continuous support, monitoring, and evaluation from the city. 

The transfer network would focus on transfer towards places of socialisation (the places to be renovated in the project which perpetuate the dynamics of this project) and reappropriation of their neighbourhoods by the residents.