It was in 2012 when the government of Ghent decided to look at the city from a greener perspective. Civil servants wanted to engage citizens in processes through which their city could turn into a more livable, eco-friendly and citizen-centered space. In order to achieve that, people of the local government appointed to “Lab of Troy” to launch an experiment investigating in depth and realizing the extent to which citizens dream of their city. As a result, “Lab of Troy” laboratory implemented the “Living Streets” experiment, which set the principles of sustainable mobility and citizen priority for the following years.
When the citizens of Ghent were asked to rethink and dream of their ideal city, they pointed at more car-free public zones, filled with everyday discussions on the streets. That was the beginning for the ‘Lab of Troy’ to start planning and developing these experiments. This creative laboratory organizes and develops events and activities that make the city of Ghent more sustainable and closer to its citizens First, they collect information with regards to citizens’ needs/ fears/ visions for the city and then they implement those trajectories. Schemes like ‘Living Streets’ intend to prioritize the needs and desires of residents so as to make cities more sustainable, livable and people-friendly.
Citizens decide themselves on how and which streets they want to transform. By turning certain streets into car-free zones and transforming them into public spaces with alternative activities, ‘Lab of Troy’ managed to succeed in city-making processes. This happened due to two interrelated reasons. First of all, people come together on those streets, have every-day conversations while their children are playing at the public playground and be part of the lively Ghent. Next to that, those streets are filled with picnic benches and pop-up bars that make car-drivers to either park their cars way farther or even not use them at all. This leads to greener, less polluted and more socially cohesive neighborhoods.
“They make their own story meanings of their life on the streets” Dries Gysels, transitions manager of “Lab of Troy”
This Belgian innovative project, “Living Streets”, approaching new forms of eco-mobility brings together citizens, government bodies and organizations. All these partners envision their cities of putting people and the environment at the epicenter.
Dries Gysels explains what are the key points for the success of ‘Living Streets’.
“First of all, ‘Living Streets’ that started as an experiment, managed to bring people together and stimulated them with co-creating opportunities. Besides that, the city of Ghent gave us the opportunity to put this dream in practice and keep running projects with them.’ The greatest success for our Laboratory is that people keep talking about ‘Living Streets’ and initiatives beyond Ghent or Belgium approach us for new collaborations.”
Therefore, this initially experimental idea has crossed the Belgian borders and promises to expand and facilitate the traffic management. It has its roots in Belgium but has also caught the eye of other Dutch cities such as Rotterdam, Groningen and Utrecht. Dries made clear how this project expands by sharing with us that the “Living Streets” is not based on self-promotion. On the contrary, it is people, companies or organizations interested in collaboration with ‘Lab of Troy’ that approach the initiators of this laboratory and discuss about future transformations in their own cities.
Dries points out that: “Living Streets’ has proved that even though it all started as an experiment, in collaboration between the government and the citizens, it now suggests a sustainable process in reality”.
Despite starting as a three-month experiment over summer with only two streets, it now counts 51 successful “Living Streets” interventions that engage citizens of all different ages and backgrounds.
Our modern and highly urbanized cities are in need of new processes of governance. ‘Living Streets’, led by creative laboratory “Lab of Troy”, proves to be a successful experiment. Innovative and democratic practices approach new forms of sustainable mobility by engaging local citizens for the common good in their own cities and neighborhoods. Ghentians are part of these attempts for social change and urban transitions.