Seraing - A Place to Be-Come project
This article is about the final event of the APTBC project, which took place in June 2023. The article presents how the results, ambitions and expectations for the future were shared and collectively acknowledged, not only among the project’s partners but also with the public and relevant local stakeholders. It was a joyful moment and a rite of passage during which the four years of mutual learning were presented and their relevance recognised by a community that did not exist as such before.

The APTBC project closed at the end of August this year. In June a final event was organised to celebrate and present its main outcomes. Indeed, the final event was a celebration. It was an event that showcased the results of four years of hard work, cooperation, patience, mistakes, obstinacy and collective learning (and dreaming). The architects and the creators who were involved in its implementation also attended. The last zoom-in shared the (and listened to) the impacts of the project according to the project’s main partners, referring not only to potential beneficiaries but also in terms of collective change. In this article we explore instead the project’s outcomes through the lens of a final moment of collective joyful sharing.

The final event was held between the 5th and the 9th of June 2023 and conceived as a festival, with several and different events. It was launched concurrently with the official opening of the new creative station, the community hub La Maison du Peuple. The vernissage was the key moment of the whole week for several reasons: first, this space is one of the main investments of the APTBC project, together with the day-shelter. Its newly refurbished spaces welcomed guests and was the centre of the events planned for the week of celebrations attended by local elected officials and the mayor of Seraing. During the event, the logic and the overall results of the whole project were presented.

In his presentation speech for La Maison du Peuple, the APTBC project manager, Julien Bebronne, emphasised that the opening of the La Maison du Peuple  was not just the redevelopment of a building, but rather, its opening was the result of a four year long process - not just about walls but also, and most of all, about people. The project has involved local stakeholders in defining the character of the spaces and engaged citizens in creating a common programme at La Maison du Peuple  that would cater to their needs and be the outcome of their own initiatives.

Inauguration ceremony of La Maison du Peuple
Inauguration ceremony at La Maison du Peuple © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

The inauguration hosted about 100 people, among citizens, local stakeholders, local officials and project partners. The political message aimed to emphasise that the main goal of the new spaces to welcome citizens and enhance their initiatives and projects.

From the local press
From the local press

 

 

During the celebration week, two presentations, two roundtables, two field visits and one workshop open to public upon registration were organised. The ambition was to unveil the project’s outcomes, both through discussions on methodology used, obstacles encountered, sustainability issues and direct contact with tangible results.

These events have shed light on the project's impacts at a larger scale, not only from the perspective of the partners but also from that of local actors who played a crucial role in the project's implementation.

Welcome to la Maison du Peuple
Welcome to La Maison du Peuple © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

 

As we have already discussed in a previous article, the psychosocial assessment served multiple purposes, the most relevant being to establish the baseline at the beginning of the project against which to evaluate the expected increase in Seresian parks’ attendance as a a result of the project implementation. Tania Noel, who conducted the assessment, described the outcomes to the general public during a presentation titled “What relationship do Seresian people have with their green spaces?

Tania Noel highlighted the importance of green spaces for people’s health and therefore their urban contribution to spatial justice. She described how the project - especially through sustainable management actions - encouraged citizens to build a new positive relationship with their parks, she also offered some recommendations on how to ensure the project’s sustainability in the future. In particular, she focused not only on parks’ attendance but also on some territorial issues linked to petty crimes and informal ownership by local groups. She recommended, for example, to ensure constant monitoring and evaluation according to the same criteria and indicators that were used in this first assessment, of which perceived ownership has emerged as significantly linked to attendance. In particular, she insisted on the importance of getting a specific knowledge of territorial behaviours in the parks before launching new interventions.

To complement these considerations, Aura Hernandez provided some background about the relationship between the quality of public spaces and citizens participation. She explained that environmental satisfaction - that is the way public spaces (green areas, in particular) support the wellbeing of citizens and their individual fulfilment - can be increased through the direct involvement of citizens in the transformation of their near environment. What role do public authorities have to facilitate this process? They need first and foremost to partially release their own power. This action requires motivation and also risk-taking. In a city like Seraing, where this attitude is still embryonal, it means to start by small steps and small groups, by promoting first existing competences, similar to the community engagement achieved at La Maison du Peuple and through the trainings in sustainable green management.

A detail of the Park Morchamps in Seraing
A detail of the park Morchamps in Seraing © The author

 

During a round table the fears and initial mistrust of the Public Works service towards green areas management were compared with the ambitions and expectations of the project partners. What emerged was that the Public Works service was initially afraid that the new approach to green areas management would have been operationally too complicated and would increase their workload. Furthermore, they feared change in itself and the fact that it was promoted from the outside. Eventually, the funding from UIA was seen as an opportunity to find new solutions to manage green areas differently and, hopefully, with less staff and less money. Initially, there were challenges especially due to a lack of communication between services, and difficulties on the part of citizens in understanding the new interventions. It was necessary for everyone to adapt, but the adaptation process has been positive and has generated increased trust both within the services and among the population.

During the round table
During the roundtable © The author

The same applied to CPAS, the public institution that delivers social aid in Seraing and that organised the selection of the trainees for the green areas management trainings and their employment during the APTBC implementation. Florian Bodart recalled that the whole selection was a huge success in terms of participation and that all the former trainees are today employed, even if a small number in the same sector. Above all, the project contributed to producing positive changes in the working methods at the CPAS, in terms of improving user support and modifying hiring conditions that were previously extremely binding.

Natagora’s ambition for the future of green areas in Seraing is that the green network that has been built or developed so far can be maintained and enhanced in order to create a consistent ecological grid, through an ad hoc municipal plan.

Natagora's corner during the festival
Natagora's corner during the festival © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

 

The social assessment was a very relevant outcome of the APTBC project in terms of cooperation among institutional actors, project partners and local stakeholders. Establishing the assessment of existing needs and services required a tight and challenging collaboration between entities that were not used to working together or had never met before. As both the director of the day-shelter (the old and the new one) and a representative of the CPAS acknowledged, working together on the initiative of the APTBC project and the project’s partners at Arebs produced multiple significant results.

With respect to the day-shelter, as it was explained in a previous article, the collaboration allowed, on one hand, to value the knowledge of the educators working at the day-shelter for the design of the spaces of the future building. On the other hand, it provided an external perspective with an overall vision. The results have been even more evident with regard to the social mapping of existing services and the creation of a brand-new partnership for the development of the Médibus, the health project that required a great collaborative effort and put together the CPAS, the day-shelter team and the APTBC team.

A workshop during the festival
A workshop during the festival @ Facebook La Maison du Peuple

One of the main outcomes of the APTBC project is that it has given impetus to the creation of a complex apparatus at the CPAS, to include in one unique system various complementary services working in synergy. These services existed before, but the co-construction approach of the UIA project laid the groundwork for their assembly into a single social intervention device.

A round-table was organised to discuss the possible impacts of urban innovative actions with regard to citizens engagement, by comparing different projects with the APTBC project. To this purpose, two external experts were invited: Boucif Khalfoun, head of the Participation and Citizen Involvement Service for the Metropolis of Lyon (France) and Elena Carmagnani, architect and vice-president of the community hub of Beeozanam in Turin (Italy).

Boucif Khalfoun presented two projects and he resumed this way the main recommendations that, in his experience, are relevant when implementing a participatory urban project:

  • A socio-urban analysis needs to be put in place before the implementation, for each initiative;
  • The methodological approach should always be experimental;
  • The local authority needs to show up in public space and meet citizens informally;
  • Be ready to test solutions on the ground and fail;
  • Be flexible and adjust to space and time that are suitable for citizens, not for local officers;
  • Encourage citizens’ informal exchange in public space.

 

Elena Carmagnani described how the collective dynamics were generated over time to renovate an abandoned building in Turin, to make a space for the local community but with the need to rehabilitate first its imagine, which had been negative for a long time. She stressed the importance of establishing a solid governance among partners, including institutional ones, even by starting from scratch.

Finally, Aura Hernandez developed her reasoning around the idea of trust, as the key condition to be met for the effective engagement of citizens. For a lasting trust to be built, there are at least four elements that need to be taken care of, according to her:

  • Each transformation needs time to happen and this time is necessary for the project;
  • Acknowledge each participant’s role in the process;
  • Build a partnership;
  • Acknowledge citizens’ needs and claims.

 

The discussion among the three speakers raised also other interesting issues. For example, everyone acknowledged the difficulty for the public authority to share power and the necessity of framing initiatives within a clear system of rules, where participants feel empowered to express themselves and be heard.

During the festival some participants from the neighbourhood
During the festival, some participants from the neighbourhood © The author

 

As UIA expert I took part to the APTBC festival, by organising the round-table on citizens participation, by visiting the almost completed day-shelter and the newly inaugurated creative hub La Maison du Peuple, by visiting the green areas networks in the central neighbourhoods.

What I have seen and perceived was satisfaction, pride and great expectations for how the results of the APTBC project - many of which have already been integrated in the transformation of practices - will produce long-lasting impacts. The strongest impression that I carried with me is that if the UIA project is over in terms of funding, however its roots are strong enough to keep producing new fruits.

About this resource

Author
Francesca Ansaloni UIA Expert
Project
Location
Seraing, Belgium Small sized cities (50k > 250k)
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions
Programme/Initiative
2014-2020

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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