Involving the public, listening to them, questioning each other, being faced with differing points of view… Consultation means using collective intelligence to promote living together and thus build an urban space that makes sense for everyone. This is one of the creeds of Robert Kocian, AGORA’s Marketing and Development Director. Here he gives us the details of the consultation process of the Belval project.
Carrying out a new urban project: single expertise or collective approach?
“Belval’s starting point brings us back to a current event that is almost 25 years old,” recalls Robert Kocian: “In the mid-1990s, the steel crisis demanded production modernisation, a real shift that led to significant land being freed up but also to a reduction in the workforce.” At the dawn of the 21st century, the stakes involved in the redevelopment of the site were at the same time political, social and economic. Exchanging ideas and reflecting collectively was not an option, but a necessity.
A “steel tripartite” to build consensus
At the embryonic stage of the project, the industrial, trade union and political actors came together around a table, forming the “steel tripartite”. “This is the principle of consensus-building in Luxembourg,” states Robert Kocian. A model with the objective of finding collectively constructed solutions. To be precise, the aim was to identify new avenues for maintaining economic growth and full employment. “Discussion, negotiation… Luxembourg is a country that is culturally in favour of solutions based on consultation,” emphasises the Marketing and Development Director. Thus, for a long period of time, the various actors met regularly to make their voices heard and put forward their proposals, hand in hand.
Unprecedented economic and social context
“We asked ourselves two questions: what to do with this land, and what specific economic dynamics should be attributed to it,” says Robert Kocian. “The necessary redevelopment of the site, the flow of cross-border workers, the social crisis linked to redundancies, the overall increase in demand for services and housing in Luxembourg… : this unprecedented context, driven by national growth close to 7%, constituted as many constraints as opportunities.”
The art of consultation: discussing at the highest level or involving the land and citizens?
In order to carry out its public consultation, AGORA decided to multiply the discussions, making sure to involve all the actors of the Belval project, be they institutional, private or citizens.
Public and private partners at work
A first stratum of discussion was carried by a specific structure: the GIE-Ersid (economic interest group for the conversion of industrial sites). This group brought together the Luxembourg State and ArcelorMittal. A first round of consultation that lasted three years, assisted by numerous feasibility studies: soil analysis, environmental studies, the territory’s capacity to produce housing, attractiveness for businesses, etc.
Belval on the national stage
Then came the time for national debate. “A second stratum of consultation was launched at the national level, in order to change perspective and broaden participation,” recalls AGORA’s Marketing and Development Manager. At the same time, the media are informed about the project. They are invited to relay the issues at stake to the general public. Making the Belval project widely and publicly known was already making it happen.
All that remained was to involve the population more directly. “We have organised a lot of presentations and exhibitions. All the masterplans of the project were on display there so that the population could take them in without a filter”, recounts Robert Kocian. We are then at the beginning of the 2000s, and the means of communication are not quite the same as today’s… “We had no social networks, no Facebook, no Twitter, and the Internet was still in its infancy… We had to make do with the means of the moment,” recalls Robert Kocian with an amused smile.
In this situation, AGORA chose to expose the contours of the project in situ, to better tell people about the rich history of this industrial site, but also to connect the past and future of Belval in a tangible way. “The site had become like a forbidden city. No one had been in there for years, except for the plant’s employees,” stresses Robert Kocian. Some visitors were able to find out for the first time where their father, husband or brother worked. “We were very surprised by the attachment to the site, but also by the momentum of support for the project,” remembers Robert Kocian.
Consulting: “one shot” or pursuing a strategy?
“In Belval, we surveyed residents and employees and, more recently, businesses. Now that we have been on the site for 18 years, the return of key economic actors is important,” notes the Marketing and Development Director. Because for AGORA, consultation is not just a short discussion and then that’s it… To be relevant, it must extend over time, with the different population categories. Before, during and after, it constantly enriches the perception of the project.
Moving the consultation along with the times
Almost twenty years after the birth of Belval, AGORA approaches consultation differently. Robert Kocian is currently working on a new major AGORA project: the former Esch-Schifflange steelworks land, for which innovative consultation techniques have been developed. “We set up an urban planning workshop to show the population where we wanted to go, and to involve future users in the thinking,” he reflects. “We’ve launched a groundbreaking international competition. Four teams came on site to design, in the course of a week, their vision of the project. They all gathered in a large transparent tent. The population could watch the development of their work live and comment on it. Another room was reserved for citizens, this time with a blank wall on which everyone could express their expectations for the site,” says the Marketing and Development Director. An innovative way to integrate the population from the very beginning of the project.
Framing and evaluating contributions
“I consider consultation to be a real asset. It taps into collective intelligence,” declares Robert Kocian. “Our job is to listen, to analyse, to include, to prioritise. Some suggestions will not be kept, and of course we will explain “.
“Consultation provides a unique opportunity to involve the public in a project that will ultimately benefit them,” says Robert Kocian. Methods evolve but the principle remains the same in the land of consensus: to meet, dialogue and find solutions to build pleasant places to live, together.
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