Charleroi, Belgium, Septembre 2013
TYPE/ regional planning - Team project - Studio - Industrial ecology, metropolitan development strategy
Charleroi, with its 450 000 inhabitants, is the first city of Wallonia region and is only 60km away from Brussels. It is located in the core of the former industrial belt between Mons and Namur. The city, declared “ugliest town in the world” by a Dutch newspaper in 2010, is now looking for a new post-industrial dynamic.
During the the 19th century, the coal industry (steel, glass, chemical products, mechanic and so on) brought wealth and prosperity to the whole region. Before that, Charleroi was a military bastion and the industrial revolution completely changed the shape of this town. Huge factories where erected along the canal/river that goes to Brussels and Antwerp. This economical boom was supported by a very dense transportation network and demographic growth. People came from all over Europe and emigrants, especially from Italy, forged strong multicultural diasporas.
Nonetheless, since 1960’s, the region named “le Pays Noir” (the black land), is slowly decaying. People are moving out of the typical working-class houses in the center of Charleroi, where most of the former factories are located, and prefer to settle in the greener suburbian periphery. Therefore, the center of the town is now partly abandoned,poorly maintained and populated by low income families.
In 2001, the arrival of the flight compagny Ryanair in the northern part of Charleroi transformed the city into an important aerial hub for low coast compagnies. It generated more than 6 000 direct and indirect jobs. Thanks to the airport dynamic and the highway nearby, this area attracted a cluster of offices, tech companies and research laboratories.
But how can we integrate those recent developments into a real and coherent metropolitan dynamic that includes also the city center ?
First of all, our proposal was built upon the creation of a linear metropolis that would link Mons, Charleroi and Namur. Those three cities share a mutual past, common challenges (dealing with this industrial heritage).
They also have their own particularities, different urban an economical structures. This alliance of three complementary cities would make them stronger and more visible on a national level.
While Mons has developed over the past decade multiple cultural infrastructures and events (European Capital of Culture 2015) and Namur has several regional institutions' headquarters, Charleroi could focus its development strategy on industrial ecology . Based on the airport activities and the existing industrial production, a sustainable network could be created in order to transfer, manage different kind of flows (energy, knowledge and material waste/supply) between local companies. Fist it could be implemented in Charleroi and then extended to the whole linear metropolis.
This innovative way of developing the local economy would involve many sectors, creating new jobs, some unqualified and other requiring a high education level. It would be a long and complex process but some actions could be rapidly done, such as recycling (for companies and inhabitants).
The second part of the project establishes ways to improve the urban environment and highlight the typical landscape and architecture inherited from the industrial era. The municipality would carry out urban renewal programs such as housing refurbishment, creating new amenities and collective activities. This could satisfy current inhabitants and attract young families and entrepreneurs .
Furthermore, a green belt would be made in order to protect the urban life from the noisy airport activity and increase the biodiversity of the inner city with ecological corridors.
Regional strategy : a linea metropolis of 3 complementary cities
Urban strategy : developing the local economy based on urban ecology
Linear metropolis, industrial ecology