Ghent is an "alt-city" - opening its planning and resources to the decision-making of citizens


The Belgian city of Ghent has been on our radar for a while, put there by Micheal Bauwens’ 2017 report (full document here) on how they might make a transition to a “commons” model for their resources and services.

As an example, we picked up a story today from the Shareable platform, which talked about their Policy Participation Unit. An extract below:

The city of Ghent has a fairly long and developed tradition of citizen engagement. Advisory councils and public hearings, which were first introduced in the 1970s, evolved into more comprehensive approaches to community-based planning and led to the creation of a new city department, according to the city of Ghent. By 2003, that department began an "Area Operation" that proactively interacts with neighborhoods in the 25 districts of the city.

This increased focus also produced a new name, the Policy Participation Unit, and includes 20 "neighborhood managers" who engage one or two of the districts and act as brokers between the city and residents to ensure consistent interaction, according to a report titled "Good Practices" published by the European Cultural Foundation in 2016.

The Policy Participation Unit also facilitates a Resident’s Academy, grants for temporary-use projects in underutilized public spaces, neighborhood "Debatcafés" and focus groups, as well as a Neighborhood of the Month program that brings the mayor to each neighborhood for an entire month of interactive discussions.

This is taken from Shareable’s new and free e-book Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons (download PDF here).


An interview with the mayor of Ghent, in European Alternatives, from last year, tells us more:

Ghent is firmly convinced that citizens’ participation is necessary to successfully deal with today’s and tomorrow’s city challenges and to retain the prosperity and wellbeing of all residents. Therefore Ghent strongly supports bottom-up initiatives throughout the city. For example, citizens are encouraged to be co-responsible and co-owner of city renewal projects.

A complete new initiative is a ‘citizens budget’. The City made 1,35 million euros available for citizens to propose and select projects that address local needs and opportunities. By handing over the responsibility and ownership of the neighbourhoods, all Ghent citizens can actively contribute while the local government continues to take its responsibility regarding its competences and resources.

More resources on cities like Ghent are available at Build The City (download pdf). And if you’re planning to enjoy visiting Ghent as an “alt-city”, the Guardian has produced an excellent guide.