The main goal of the HF6 redevelopment project is to establish new connections between neighbourhoods that have been separated for decades by a 30 hectares steel plant, while implementing a mixed-use neighbourhood that offers housing, economic activities, public spaces and services. As it is claimed in APTBC application form, the HF6 project has the potential to become an opportunity for the most disadvantaged citizens to benefit from the redevelopment of a large area next to the city centre; nonetheless, it is acknowledged that “the main challenge in relation to the HF6 redevelopment is to create an open and inclusive district extension, and not a gentrified ghetto.” When the APTBC was submitted, the HF6 development was expected to begin over the project lifetime and was therefore integrated in the overall strategy as an opportunity to reduce poverty. As a matter of fact, the reconversion of the site has been delayed and its master plan is still so indeterminate that ultimately it could not be held as a reference for APTBC.
In light of this evolving context, it can make sense if not to worry about the future, at least to think about all the possible impacts of the APTBC project in the mid-long term, so that any risk can be taken into account well in advance.
With this objective in mind, I asked APTBC partners to answer a few questions on this subject and reflect on the conditions for the marginalised residents of the target neighbourhoods to access parks and green areas that are being regenerated through the project. Here’s their answers.
1) Since parks in Seraing have been improved, who do you think the users have been, according to your direct experience? Do you think that the target population is being reached? If not, what can be done to achieve this goal now? What recommendations could be provided to local actors if we want this to remain a priority?
The three main green areas in the city centre have different users today as they had before. They are all close residents, but they differ from one park to another, for reasons that range from location to residents’ habits. Most of them are dog walkers, families or parents with children, young people. The overall feedback to the work that has been done to regenerate the parks is very positive, but to evaluate qualitative change is difficult because it has not been so radical. A quantitative assessment is ongoing to get objective data. The park des Marêts seems to have gained more visitors compared to the other green areas and, in particular, it is perceived as the place where the continuous presence of APTBC workers and events organised by partners has made the activity of drug dealing less visible than before. In fact, drug dealing and its territoriality is considered as negatively influencing its use and appeal for people experiencing vulnerable conditions of life and for residents more broadly.
It is difficult to say if the most disadvantaged residents have been reached, but partners feel that they have probably not. To meet this goal, they should have been targeted specifically through the most appropriate strategies, some say. Conversely, “the improvement of the parks is a response to their need (of the neighbourhood’s residents) to have a more qualitative environment, places to go for a walk, which was not the case before.”
According to partners, there is still something that can be done to generate more interest in the parks for those people who would most benefit from their use:
- Addressing the target with dedicated activities and an information point. This recommendation could easily be further developed within the project for the creative station in the park des Marêts;
- Implementing regular activities in the parks by engaging local associations, especially those that work to support vulnerable people;
- Informing about the advantages of green sustainable management and making it an institutional practice in the long term.
2) If green gentrification can be a risk with the future development of the HF6 brownfield, which conditions are likely to occur in the case of Seraing’s central neighbourhoods that might facilitate this process?
Partners recognise the existence of possible risks associated with the future development of the HF6 brownfield and, more globally, with the ongoing process of urban regeneration of the city centre. In particular, Seraing’s urban policies of development - aimed at fostering economic dynamism - are seen as critical by current residents. As a partner recalled, during a workshop about Seraing’s urban development, some citizens declared that they felt excluded by ongoing urban projects, in that they contributed to improve the image of the city, “without fostering any economic development for current residents, without including them.”
The main risks linked to these policies are an increase in housing prices and the creation of new green areas in the HF6 neighbourhood for new residents, which would not encourage the integration with nearby neighbourhoods. Nonetheless, most of the partners consider green gentrification as a limited threat, on the basis that improvements in the parks are not sufficient to justify an increased appeal of central neighbourhoods. To put it in another way, despite the augmented attractiveness of the three parks, the centre of Seraing remains mostly an artificial landscape of concrete. In addition, the characteristics of the population that is associated with these neighbourhoods (drug addicts and dealers, homeless, vulnerable people…), the socio-economic level of the inhabitants, the filth, the lack of entertainment and activities, the presence of abandoned brownfields, can curb outsiders’ willingness to invest in the area.
On the one side, partners see the need to address the target population in the short-medium term through tailored interventions that bring them to the parks; on the other side, in the medium-long term it would be appropriate to conceive public policies that mitigate the risks of gentrification. For example, by trying to link urban and economic development with social progress, preserving green areas accessible to everyone and providing a minimum quota of social housing in the area.
 A Place To Be-Come application form
 Data were collected during Spring 2022 and will be analysed to provide a quantitative picture of parks’ use and appreciation