Nowadays, nobody can deny the need for inhabitants and users to be involved in the process of designing a project to renovate their neighbourhood. However, we are also forced to notice that the classic timeframes and methods of participation do not allow some types of members of the public to express themselves and do not leave time for projects to ripen and people to feel ownership. New forms of intervention therefore need to be invented to enable inhabitants to get involved within the timeframe concerned and allow them to experience the emergence of a new culture of participation.
The originality of the Masui Sustainable District Contract precisely rests on the fact that it has founded a participative process not only based on a meeting of minds, but also and above all, based on co-production in an ambitious urban project. This project concerns a fundamental reconfiguration of the centre of the neighbourhood formed by an enormous closed island, crossed by the ancient Senne riverbed which passes through Brussels. There must therefore be consensus between the urban planning technicians and the experience of the inhabitants and stakeholders. The vision needs to be verified, specified, modified. In other words it needs to have time to ripen. It also needs to be fleshed out during the design process and during the implementation, over the short-term, medium-term and long-term too, through a participative programme: Community land trust, communal vegetable patch, transitional urban planning, participative budgets etc. All of these projects allow citizens to forge close links with their territory, by taking part in its evolution.
A porous centre in a dense urban area
The Masui neighbourhood is primarily characterised by large transit roads inherited from the 21st century, without a real centre, or even any convivial areas. The project to redesign the old passage of the Senne focuses on creating a centre for the neighbourhood, organised around a new inhabited park on the path of the old river, the dead ends between the Antwerp road, a commercial route and trading centre, and the Senne. This system of public spaces, this porous centre, brings together a set of diversified projects, all of which contribute to the sustainable development of the neighbourhood and the town. For example, from an environmental point-of-view, the park to be designed on the bed of the Senne will create a vertical ecological corridor to the Gaucheret regional park, thereby stitching itself to the green threads of the urban fabric planned by the region whilst at the same time adding to the capital’s cycling routes. It will also create an area of silence in this neighbourhood, currently polluted by the noise of the infrastructure that closes it in. At a social level, apart from the creation of numerous homes and facilities to serve the neighbourhood, one aspect that needs highlighting is the pilot project for alternative access to property which aims to give stability to low-income families in the neighbourhood. The creation of the park and its vegetable gardens, as well as numerous social cohesion plans, insertion into the professional sphere and training also add to the social value. From an economic standpoint, apart from the attention devoted to the economic balance of the plans, several projects have been proposed to support employment.
Alternative access to property
The plan promotes a system of alternative access to property in the vein of Community Land Trusts which were started in the United States. This system allows capital gains on land to be used for the common good. As a result, the Property Management Agency of the City of Brussels will acquire the abandoned building and sell it well below market value, whilst remaining the owner of the land. When an owner wishes to re-sell a property, part of the capital gain will need to returned and used to make the property accessible to the following buyer. Thanks to this mechanism, these properties stay
Collective vegetable patches managed by local associations will be developed on the Senne. This will in particular allow immigrants of rural origin to showcase their skills, take control of their neighbourhood and create social links. Vegetable patches benefit social cohesion and diversity of types, generations and cultures.