In the wake of the Belval and Alzette revitalisations, a new Franco-Luxembourg urban agglomeration is taking shape. Here is the story of the prefiguration of a cross-border IBA, under the aegis of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation – EGTC – Alzette Belval. In the long run, the IBA could lead to numerous new projects and contribute to a unified landscape between the south of the Grand Duchy and the French Grand Est region.
The story began in the early 1990s. There was no active EGTC yet, in the territory of the municipalities of Sanem, Mondercange, Schifflange, Esch-sur-Alzette, Rédange, Russange, Thil, Villerupt, Audun-le-Tiche, Boulange, Ottange and Aumetz. And yet, collaboration between some towns close to the border was being organised. A desire to work together led burgomasters and mayors to increase communication and initiate a lot of joint projects. The process of thinking about the future of the Belval wasteland accentuated this dialogue: Luxembourg and France wanted to think together about their urban development of this territory.
The EGTC, a permanent tool for orchestrating this fruitful cross-border collaboration, was created in 2013 to meet this ambition. A few year later, the minister Claude Turmes would evoke his dream of creating there “a territory with its own identity, where the border is no longer significant”. Active on several fronts, the group is currently among those charged with prefiguring a cross-border IBA.
IBA, you say?
The German acronym of “Internationale Bauausstellung”, presented in French as an “exposition internationale d’architecture” or in English as an “international building exhibition”, actually nowadays designates a structure gathering the actors of a same territory to work together on a common urban and architectural design. This is a must in the region. The French government and the municipalities of the Grand Est are looking for urban innovation and are eager to develop the projects started under the ecocity programme. The south of Luxembourg, on the other hand, is propelled by the urban development of Belval and its new University – which is one of the main drivers of this initiative.
“An IBA is generally active over a period of ten years,” explains Dorothée Habay-Lê, director of the Alzette Belval EGTC. The idea is to think outside the box by rethinking architecture and urban planning as solutions to the crises of the territory and society. “This involves creating a framework from which projects can be born, which can then be supported. The objective is to design a coherent development on a common ground, despite the border. It allows all parties involved to commit to a development strategy with common frameworks, criteria and markers.”
Meeting today’s challenges
While housing is at the heart of the concerns of the IBA’s prefiguration task, notably the production of more affordable housing and new forms of housing, the thinking also focuses on a common framework for nature conservation, including all the valleys of the Alzette and its tributaries.
“In general, the IBA will want to meet the challenges of the various transitions under way: energy, ecology, mobility, etc.,” adds Dorothée Habay-Lê. In order to meet the major challenges posed by climate change in particular, the objective is to initiate a new culture in terms of spatial planning. It also aims to highlight the cross-border green area that is the Dogger Hills, a unifying landscape offering a common ground integrating ecological, productive and recreational spaces.”
A history of consultation
As democratic as possible, the Alzette Belval cross-border IBA currently in development will be able to point to on a long history of dialogue between the French and Luxembourg actors in the region, and on mechanisms for moderation and consultation that have been well established since 2013.
It is not so easy to get municipal administrations with different interests and legal frameworks to talk to each other, but the EGTC has developed good tools. “We try to be effective in the preliminary stages of discussion, where we identify the real points of convergence between the different parties,” says Dorothée Habay-Lê. This is where it is all decided. If the places where cross-border work is really needed are identified from the outset, the consultation will then be very fluid. “In addition, for the prefiguration, the partnership can count on the “Territory Workshop” approach, which mobilises elected officials and local actors for unfiltered exchanges around the theme of “Making Territory on Alzette Belval; with what imaginative ideas?”
The next stage is to successfully integrate the citizen. “This is a major concern,” says the EGTC director. In this prefiguration stage, all options are on the table. Will the citizens themselves be project leaders? At what stage will they be involved? How to engage them in a cross-border way, involve them in relation to the whole territory? How can we encourage their commitment over several years? What is certain is that in addition to dialogue with the politicians and with a scientific council, the conversation with the citizens will be sustained in the same way as with the local actors including AGORA.”
All this should help foster innovation. The Alzette-Belval cross-border IBA, with its heterogeneous composition and its openness, will offer new ways of working and encouraging avant-garde architecture and urban planning. This is an opportunity to think outside the box. To be open to unconventional proposals. And to design the cities of the future.
“Il était une fois” tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.
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