Urban planning: When citizens have their say

By Laura TomassiniLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

How do you reach citizens, what are the appropriate formats for specific target groups and when is the right time for citizen participation? These are the questions that the development company Agora is currently asking itself, because participation is a top priority in the urban development of the new Metzeschmelz neighbourhood entrusted to it.

"We are not building the neighbourhood for us, but for the citizens, so their participation is also enormously important to us." Together with communications officer Mandy Simon, Agora administrative director Yves Biwer accompanies us across the terrain of the planned Quartier Metzeschmelz. Until 2012, the 60-hectare site between Esch and Schifflange was home to an ArcelorMittal steelworks, then known as Arbed. In 2016, it ceased its activities here and made room for new activity, namely that of around 10,000 people who are to live in the new district in the future.

"Fifty per cent of the site is planned for housing, including affordable housing. Another 15 to 25 per cent will be offices, restaurants and shops, but only small neighbourhood shops and no big shopping centres, because we don't want to compete with Alzette Street or attract people from outside. The neighbourhood is for the residents and they should find everything they need for everyday life here, " explains Yves Biwer. Three primary schools, a highschool and a sports centre are included in the master plan, as well as a lot of green open space, which is particularly important in densely populated residential areas.

Quality of life despite urban density

"The topic of public space plays a major role in the planning, " specifies the administrative director of the company that specialises in the revitalisation of brownfield sites and was commissioned with the conversion work of the former Arbed site. In a country with an ever-growing population and the accompanying high consumption of land, building density is no longer debatable, says Mandy Simon, but density does not have to mean a loss of quality of life – on the contrary: "We can no longer take into account the desire for five acres per house, but what we can discuss is the attractive design of open space to compensate for the former."

From the front door to the public square, Agora plans as much green space as possible, this partly through the renaturalisation of the Alzette river, as well as completely car-free passages that allow more space for leisurely strolling and children's play. While the rough guidelines for the Metzeschmelz neighbourhood are already set in stone – a later reintroduction of cars instead of "greener" alternatives, for example, is not an option – there is still plenty of room for consultation and participation, because this is firmly part of the neighbourhood's development process. "Of course, citizens cannot help shape the concept from scratch, but they can discuss specific issues and influence the decision-making process with their ideas, " says Yves Biwer.

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