The research by design conducted as part of A Good City Has Industry and the IABR 2016 was not without significance. It was not random, but bound to specific places and performed in consultation with industrialists, entrepreneurs, landowners, property developers and competent authorities. In several places it resulted in achievements or new policy. But that's not enough. We want to progress from the 'pilot project' to a real shift on a large scale. How can we multiply and accelerate projects, not only in Brussels but in many cities in the Low Countries? Taking the step from thinking to doing: that is the third phase, and also the ultimate aim of our practice.
In the publication De Lage Landen 2020-2100 we look a century further into the future. We examined how we can use the major transitions in energy, agriculture, mobility and the economy to transform the Low Countries into a sustainable and prosperous region. One of the chapters is devoted to the circular economy. The new production technologies that are slowly but surely gaining ground, such as CAD/CAM, offer the opportunity to transform the current logistics chain of production in remote, low-wage countries into a short chain. From now on, production will take place where and when it is needed.
The introductory chapter of the book, entitled Op zoek naar een handelingsperspectief (Seeking an action perspective), is an important text. It is the first time we formulate our ambition to progress from thinking to doing. How can we transcend the one-off nature of the pilot project and accelerate and multiply projects in many places simultaneously? We are drawing a new model of co-production between governments, citizens and the field of work. The programme combines the territory-wide aspect of (top-down) generic policy with the finesse of a (bottom-up) integrated and area-oriented approach.
Over the past decade, governments have made solemn international agreements on ambitious goals – take the climate agreements, for example – but those goals lie in a distant future. That future is difficult to imagine in terms of quality gains. The fear of losing what we currently have remains high. Everyone knows things must change, but we are not collectively changing our behaviour quickly enough. The path to the future remains uncertain. That's the ‘missing link’.Our schematic illustration of the missing link first appeared in the book De Lage Landen 2020-2100. The illustration has increasingly been used as a key element of the storylines established in preparing and elaborating the joint curatorship for the events IABR-2018+2020–The Missing Link (Rotterdam, 2018) and You Are Here (Brussels, 2018).
At the You Are Here exhibition, organised in Brussels, we took the first initiative for a further practice-oriented change. For example, the transition to a circular economy represents an opportunity to transform our cities into vibrant cities that offer a good quality of life and where, once more, local chains of production and consumption are closed, and manufacturing and learning spaces are part of everyday public life. The animated film shows how we can accelerate this transformation through highly specific projects and reduce the negative impact of the economy on our planet.
We made this film about Maarten Gielen from Rotor for the You Are Here exhibition, the Brussels branch of the IABR. Rotor is one of Europe's pioneers in the circular economy. While Belgium is at the forefront of recycling building materials, Rotor takes it a major step further. Rotor harvests materials from buildings destined for demolition to reuse them elsewhere. The materials are kept as close as possible to their original state so that minimal energy is lost. Rotor is a great example of how a clear vision can translate into a successful practice.
Our ports play a central role in the transition to circular cities. Today, the ports of the Low Countries are still largely logistic transit ports that import finished products and materials from distant countries to distribute them across the continent. With the transition to a circular economy and the return of production to our cities, the ports will be assigned a new function: as energy generators, material banks, recycling yards or as the basis of new maritime economies. This study, conducted in association with Circular Flanders and Ovam, was part of the IABR 2018 Delta Atelier.
Our work for the productive city in Brussels was heard in other cities in Flanders. We set to work in Ostend Oosteroever, in Aalst, the Meulestede district in Ghent, and in Kortrijk. In Kortrijk, we organised an ambitious participative project together with the city council in which hundreds of citizens jointly decided on the future of their city. We were able to convince citizens and policy-makers to take an alternative approach to the many abandoned industrial buildings in the city. Instead of turning them into expensive lofts, as was usually the case, they are afforded a new purpose to house the urban economy of the future. In this publication we published a synthesis of our work in Kortrijk.
The dynamic around the theme of the productive city inspired the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities(VVSG), the Knowledge Centre for Flemish Cities and Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) to launch a remarkable initiative in 2019. Cities can now apply for subsidies from the Government of Flanders to appoint 'interconnecting coaches'. The intention is not to simply place old industrial sites in need of redevelopment on the market (after which they might be transformed into monofunctional residential districts), but to afford them a new purpose as mixed residential-work districts. The interlinking coaches will examine how the economy of the future can be accommodated in the new residential areas. The benefits are numerous: you create local employment in lively neighbourhoods and opportunities arise to build a more sustainable, circular city.