Brussels by us was a citizen participation project enabling people to connect and collaborate on concrete solutions for the local neighbourhood. Citizens, commuters and visitors of Brussels were able to share their opinion and become an actor of change for a more liveable future. The aim of the project was to design the public space and think of functional needs and solutions for three different zones: the North zone, the Central zone around the pedestrian area in the city center, and the universities zone (VUB/ULB).
From commercial offer to urban gardening, Brussels by us was interested to know the wants and needs of citizens. Participants were free to walk around the three zones in the Brussels-Capital Region, receive location-specific questions from our beacons, and voice their opinion via the mobile app.
The most popular opinions were available in the application, which served as input to the different initiatives and stakeholders who were involved in the project.
Brussels by us was a collaboration between the Brussels-Capital Region and imec.
A beacon is a small Bluetooth radio transmitter. A Bluetooth equipped device, like your smartphone, can “detect” a beacon once it is in the range. When you approached the beacons, the Brussels by us mobile app spotted the beacon signal and sent a notification to answer the questions about the specific location.
The beacons of Brussels by us are small white branded boxes.
Brussels by us focused on the North district of Brussels. The North district is composed of a business district which is home to 30.000 employees and is surrounded by several residential poles (15.000 inhabitants), with social and mid-class housing. These are two different worlds that function on different moments: the business district and the surrounding shops are busy during the day, but empty in the evening and as such not aligned with the rhythm of the residential area.
However, the district is currently undergoing major transformations and starts welcoming new functions: several mono-tenant office buildings do evolve towards multi-tenant buildings with coworking places and other functions. The new ZIN project of Befimmo (the former WTC I and WTC II) is an example of this trend towards multifunctionality with offices, housing, a hotel, conference rooms, shops and other facilities.
There is also a crucial role for the North railway station, one of the busiest transport hubs in Belgium. This station can be a catalyst for the development towards new mixity by attracting students, young companies, innovators, new shops,
cultural functions, etc. At the moment of writing, the railway station is being renovated and offers a lot of new spaces, with possible opportunities to host new shops and services. The railway station could become a central meeting point for new activities that accommodate wants and needs of both travellers, inhabitants and professionals of the neighbourhood.
In order to include the users of the North district in the reflection on these challenges, the topic of multifunctionality was chosen as main theme.
Regarding the North station, it appeared that the station is seen as a closed and uninviting space by the participants. Participants suggested that the design of the station could be made more open and accessible for and from the neighbourhood. The contrast between the large, open main hall compared to the narrow halls was also pointed out. In general, participants also referred to the lack of meeting space in the station. In order to reach its “functional mixity goal”, it was proposed that the station would offer (1) a waiting area (2) social meetings places and (3) a co-working space, therefore changing the perspective of the station from a “passing-by” area to a “destination” area.
Participants shared the opinion that the emphasis for the North station should not be put on commerce (e.g. convenience stores or “hipster concepts”) but on social aspects: e.g. the creation of a meeting place for both professionals and inhabitants of the zone. Three social hubs were identified: a waiting area, a social meeting space for the neighbourhood and a co-working space. The space of the former museum was seen as the perfect multi-function spot for these hubs.
Related to the waiting area, participants would like to have a space that feels cosy and warm, without noise nuisance. To make the space feel warmer, the waiting area should include plants as well as books available for commuters and inhabitants to read. The provision of a small library would enable encounters between commuters and inhabitants (e.g. through a potential collaboration with Muntpunt). This should be supported with a good signalisation that the space is accessible for both travellers and inhabitants. Some participants also expressed the idea of having some public computers with Internet access.
For the social meeting place, participants suggested multiple ideas: a space for associations of the neighbourhood to host meetings or workshops, or to have a space for public presentations. Another idea was to have a place where people can meet and cook together through a mobile kitchen. Participants suggested to collaborate together with organisations that support migrants, and to work with local produces (‘from farm to fork’). Further, the organisation of cultural activities was also suggested by the participants, for instance a local maintained cinema with movies from different cultures living in the neighbourhood. In support of the social activities, participants suggested to work through public, displaying short movies made by the local community or schools. In the same idea, exhibition spaces could be installed, allowing local artists, organisations and schools to display their arts and express themselves for commuters during their waiting time.
Lastly, the co-working space in the station would be a zone for professionals to meet and have access to WiFi and power outlets. In this zone, activities related to after-work drinks could also be organised.
Based on the suggested ideas of the participants in the workshop, a visual design was created by 51N4E to demonstrate how the former museum in the train station could look like in the future (see above).
The North Station
The ground floors and rooftops
In regard to the ground floors and rooftops of the business district, participants easily reached the consensus to open up rooftops and ground floors for (1) social and educational functions, in combination with (2) green infrastructure. The idea behind these propositions is to transform ground floors and rooftops into accessible spaces for the community. Participants stressed that it is crucial that every function of these spaces dialogues with the public space, and that access should be granted to the community, despite technical and security concerns, in the evening and even weekend in order to create a vibrant city hub.
Participants described the collective urban spaces as cold, windy and not attractive. During the campaign, it became also clear that most of the participants did not feel safe enough to pass the Brabant tunnel or the Passage Rogier. Participants said that the tunnels act as physical barriers, impeaching the connection between both parts of the neighbourhood, with on one side inhabitants and on the other side professionals.
To foster a better connection, participants stressed that efforts should go towards a redesign of the tunnels. In this perspective, three main ideas were discussed: adding natural elements, implementing urban furniture and organising food related activities.
Regarding the natural elements, greenery was seen as beneficial for several aspects. First, aesthetically, plants would give a nice green touch to the very mineral grey of these areas. Second, plants could work as acoustic panels between the road and the pedestrian side of the tunnels. The issue of growing plants in a low-light setting was raised, and participants proposed to grow shadow-loving plants such as moss, mushroom or ferns. The idea of a water stream inside the tunnels was also proposed in the aim of draining the areas from unpleasant smells. The water stream could then serve the additional purpose of watering the plants.
With regards to the urban furniture, the biggest issue of these tunnels is the lack of light, giving the spaces an unsafe feeling at night. More lights were seen as necessary in the tunnels, and if possible, in warmer tones. Participants also felt that the tunnels needed more colours to be attractive. The idea was raised by the participants to decorate the walls as exhibition spaces, on which local artists and schools could expose their ideas and work during a certain period of time. Further, the need for public bathrooms was expressed. More places to sit and rest were also seen as a need, and participants proposed ideas such as mobile benches.
Finally, food was seen as the ultimate “get-together” activity. In the context of the tunnels, food-trucks were seen as an ideal option.
Hereby you can download the 8 reports explaining and retracing the Living Lab methodology implemented in the Brussels by us project.
Report 1: Introduction
Report 2: North zone (part I)
Report 3: Central zone
Report 4: University zone (part I)
Report 5: North zone (part II)
Report 6: University zone (part II)
Report 7: Communication strategy
Report 8: Conclusions