The Brussels meeting took place from the 23rd to the 25th of January 2014 and was hosted by Université Catholique de Louvain.

The story of the meeting

What was your intention while planning to host your meeting?
Cristina (UCL)

The meeting in Brussels was intended to be a kind of theoretical evaluation of what we have achieved so far as an action-based research group in the field of participatory planning and practices around public space construction or renovation. Among the questions that arised we had: Which are the limits/needs/perceptions of our cities' public space? Who's responsible for the renovation plan during the execution and the following day-to-day management?

What do you love about working with participation?
Sofie (City mine(d))
We with our local knowledge have finally gotten a place around the tables about the long-term development of the place with all these formal decision makers, from the land, in the Etterbeek neighborhood, in the region, federal, and then the EU commission.

What would you say are the unique qualities of the city shown thru your visit?
Mónica (basurama)

Could the coexistence of different power layers (local, regional, national and international) stimulate dialogue?

What did you experience in the dynamic of the partnership?
Bernard (UCL)

At first I thought that the group was homogenous, but now I see that the different approaches in the group are more clear. It's interesting to see how you link the approaches, organizing participation with the objective of empowerment, education and then also linking the built environment. This variety is complimentary.

Projects we visited

Recyclart http://www.recyclart.be/fr/a-propos-de-recyclart

Recyclart is a social art center that occupies a former train station that still works as stop for some trains, but without ticket office or services. The Center works in three fields: Arts Centre with artists residencies, concerts, exhibitions and lectures Fabrik: an artisanal production center made by three workshops : woodwork, metal construction and infrastructure management. It offers a training job for weaked people or with financial difficulties  Bar Recyclart: occupies the ancient bar of the former train station, also part of an employability program Stéphane Damsin from the culture-team presents the surroundings of Recyclart, explaining the story of how a cultural center got installed in a former station, to stitch the neighborhood that was cut in two with the railway construction. The work of the culture-team now is to make proposals for cultural programs that make neighbors talk/visit/know each other, and start new projects together. It remains open-minded for cultural/social/ecologic proposals coming directly from the citizens.

Habitat et Rénovation http://www.habitatetrenovation.be/

Habitat et Renovation is a Community center that gives advice to citizens for obteining grants to refurbish their houses through ecological principles. The center links several citizen-driven projects to Municipality ones, to gather forces to execute changes in their Community. Julien Claessens from the organization, explains that their work links several public, private and citizen-started projects in the (hidden under the surface) Maelbeek River valley. There is also a Contrat de Quartier happening in the area so the work of Habitat et Renovation also links projects related to it.

PUM Project http://pumproject.wordpress.com/about/

PUM wants to promote concrete projects, based on personal ideas and imagination, using methods of Participation and a strong Presence around the question of ‘how to re-imagine the European Neighbourhood. The collective occupies the urban void “Friche Eggevoort”, willing to offer a space of dialogue between neighbors around the idea of connecting the space to the park next to it, with a project of open public space that keeps the memory of the water that lies underneath the surface. Sofie Van Bruystegem, who explained the project, is also part of the organization Citimine(d) http://www.citymined.org/

Methods we used

As the whole meeting took place in the Université Catholique de Louvain LOCI-Bruxelles site, the program was intended as a “research seminar”. UCL as a host, created three main elements: - first day of presenting the analysis of UCL on the different perspectives we have in Local Squares group, through the experiences we have done so far + the introduction to Brussels' context + the visits to Recyclart and Habitat & Renovation - second day of research seminar with LOCI and CREAT members http://sites.uclouvain.be/creat-loci/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=231 and invited researchers from the CriDIs team http://www.uclouvain.be/cridis.html as Mathieu Berger and Julien Charles to question about:

  • Participatory Planning scale: Landscape (Roselyne’s approach) , which methods, which adaptations should be done? Close scale (Chloé’s approach), which implication in the work?
  • Different ways of making one’s voice in a Participatory Assembly (Mathieu), which roles are represented? Which ones do we use when we act as facilitators/researchers/activators/developers of Public Spaces renovation/creation?

- and the parallel questions:

  • Can Citizen Participation really help in bigger processes? Isn’t it just limited to information-giving? (two ways of doing it: taking information from citizens and giving information about new plans to citizens)
  • The researcher and/or the facilitator are they agents of the “activation” of collaborative processes? Or just observers?
  • What is an activist? Which is his role? How to extract oneself from an «activation» process to let citizens retake the project? Which limits for the implication of the “activator”?
  • If the «expert» is the one who speaks in «facts» and not in his opinion, who’s to decide the relevance of him as an expert? Is it auto-elected? Or he must be chosen by someone else?

People we got to know

Arnaud Bilande from Periferia http://www.periferia.be/index.php/fr/

Annick Schwaiger from 21 Solutions http://www.21solutions.eu/

Sofie Van Bruystegem from Citymine(d) http://www.citymined.org/

Julien Claessens from Habitat et Renovation http://www.habitatetrenovation.be/

Stéphane Damsin from Recyclart http://www.recyclart.be/fr/a-propos-de-recyclart