The Syncity project, which ran from 2019 to 2021, focused on the Cureghem neighbourhood in Brussels, Belgium.
It was about people exchanging ideas on the present and the future of a neighbourhood that is undergoing major urban transformation pressures. It was about starting new conversations and making connections, between academics, local associations, public authorities, retailers, business people, workers, students and residents. It was about understanding a neighbourhood as a truly social place. Then came Covid-19 and not surprisingly, the onset of the pandemic also affected the Syncity project.
The backbone of communication between the project partners and the residents and users of the neighbourhood was a series of Urban Living Labs: spaces of lively exchange and discussion that were meant to run over a period of two years and address the very tangible challenges faced by the people of Cureghem. This exchange became very difficult from spring 2020 onwards. Many planned events were banned as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19, others could only be organised in a much-reduced form and still involving risks. Syncity, as a transnational, applied, participatory and social science-oriented project, thrived on a diverse source base, including contributions from participating residents and users of Cureghem in the context of these Urban Living Labs. Cutting back on these labs obviously had an impact on the course of the project.
How to make urban transformation truly engaging, just and sustainability-oriented? The Syncity toolbox offers innovative concepts and practical ideas, based on lessons learnt from the city quarter of Cureghem in Brussels. It is especially valuable for disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The vision: cities in balance with natural resources, where residents, no matter their socio-economic or cultural background, can live, work and learn in synergy with the place, growing and renewing it together.
When a pandemic hits a participatory project
The Syncity consortium has endeavoured to make the best of the exceptional situation in 2020 and 2021, to continue the project within its means and to produce useful tools for urban transformation processes.
Over the year, Syncity became more theory-focused than originally intended. In response to this, the team decided to include insights from the whole project process into this handbook, and to broaden its scope with conceptual input, moving back and forth between theory and practice, as the Syncity project did.
From a project to an approach
This handbook presents the Syncity approach: an innovative way to make urban planning sustainability-driven and stakeholder-inclusive – in particular for arrival areas in European cities. It is based on the experiences and results derived from the Syncity project, combined with the expertise of the team in the fields of architecture, social geography, urban planning, social work, ecological process evaluation, participation, sociology, and transdisciplinary communication.
Syncity — Synergetic Cities for Europe, funded by JPI Urban Europe, was a research and innovation project between Austrian and Belgian partners, carried out from 2019 – 2021. How to make urban trans¬formation processes more just and green? In exchange with experiences, learnings and good practice from Vienna, the Syncity project explored this question in the reallife context of Cureghem, a city quarter within the municipality of Anderlecht in the Brussels Region. Cureghem has historically been an »arrival area« for immigrants in Brussels, and still is. The local population faces various challenges, such as high unemployment, a precarious housing situation, a lack of public spaces and ecological hotspots. The Syncity toolbox and this book present a hands-on approach to lay a basis for improvement.
This handbook is composed of five parts.
outlines the framework for urban sustainability and citizen participation. How can both paradigms be knitted together in an enriching way? This part lays out the main concepts behind the approach, presents eight Sustainability Criteria developed by the project, and discusses ideas about creating urban commons and emotional co-ownership by stakeholders, especially of vulnerable groups. How can they attain a better position for change making within urban transformation?
offers a step-by-step guide for setting up a stakeholder-inclusive process within a framework of urban sustainability. It is based to a considerable extent on experiences in Cureghem and is aimed at neighbourhoods facing strong transformation pressure.
I describes innovative approaches to research in an urban transformation context, based on the combination of participatory action research and Life Cycle Assessment, and presents »Syntopia« — a future vision for a building which in itself enhances social, ecological and economic sustainability in a neighbourhood.
explores the concept of Urban Living Labs and their next generation — Transformative Labs. It deals with the benefits of co-creation, co-design and coconstruction processes, following the idea to include residents and users of a site as active partners into urban transformation.
offers two new stakeholder tools developed by Syncity to better understand a stakeholder landscape, and presents innovative practical ways of engagement in the analogue and the digital world: a laboratory on wheels, the app Kju:ti and the map-based blog Cureghem tales.
partners and mind map
11 methods to engage: hands-on, public-space oriented, with short instruction manuals. How does each method work, what is the result, what budget, competences and material do you need?
10 tools to apply: do the sustainability self-check, build and further develop the Kju:Ti source code to facilitate easy going participation, use the communing matrix to find out who can develop commons in a neighbourhood, and much more.
Your project at a glance
Communicate your ideas easily to convince partners to join or governmental bodies to fund.
A guide to create your own tales — bring a place or a city quarter alive with storytelling and maps
Is your urban project sustainability-oriented? Use our tool for self-reflection and improvement.
Try the Kju:Ti code as a basis for an ICT tool that encourages participation through direct communication.
Collect information on stakeholders involved with your site as a solid basis for further work.
The stakeholder balance tool
Cluster your stakeholders to prepare for upcoming project activities and to ensure you don’t forget anyone.
The stakeholder commoning matrix
Which stakeholders are most likely to create the urban commons? This tool helps you to find out.
The Urbodrom game
Use a playful method to engage citizens in sustainability-oriented urban planning.
The ELAS calculator
Assess energy demand, ecological footprint or CO2 life cycle emissions and estimate future developments.
Handbook and 11 method cards
Find the complete version of the handbook and the Syncity method cards as PDF files.
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