Cities are Wallonia’s future

  • Wallonia Festival 2013 put cities in the spotlight.
  • Magnette, Demeyer and Prévot plead for specific policies, especially for Namur.

With the Walloon population estimated to grow 12.5% in 2030 and 25% in 2060, housing, and urbanization issues are being forced on the South’s decision-makers. That’s why the new regional development code has as its priority the reconstruction of cities to head off urban sprawl gradually spreading to outlying areas farther and farther away from urban centers.

A few months ago, Benoît Lutgen almost smiled as he proposed the construction of a new city. That option is a possible response to the demographic challenge – should a “new city” be invented or built on the existing infrastructure?

Was it a coincidence or a significant trend? The Wallonia Festival provided the opportunity to the mayors of the three principal Walloon cities to call for measures favorable to urban areas that will surely become the framework for the economic recovery.

In Charleroi Paul Magnette (PS) called for a “strong urban policy” for Wallonia, because according to the PS president, a paradox has become clear: “The cities that propel regional development are all outside our region: Brussels, Lille, Luxembourg and Aix.”

How, then, can a new “war of the cities” be avoided? “We have to create a permanent regional study group that will give direction to public actions, and it will also have authority for planning significant investments on a regional scale for Wallonia,” says Charleroi’s mayor, who is asking for large-scale public discussion of these subjects.

Are Charleroi and Liège fighting the same battle? Whether they are or not, on Sunday mayor Willy Demeyer of Liège showed he has big ambitions for his city. “The difficulties that local governments face may have a positive effect, such as the accelerating the organization of a super-municipality in the Liège area. It’s an opportunity to position Liège on the international scene by achieving a critical mass of 600,000 inhabitants.”

However, the Liège socialist expects “a Walloon norm” from the regional government regarding the super-municipality to “move from good intentions to organized reality.”

A norm for metropolitan areas or groups of communities could be applied elsewhere, including Charleroi but also in Namur. Namur’s mayor Maxime Prévot (CDH) has to manage a unique factor. His city is the capital of Wallonia. He insists that this merits special treatment from the regional authorities.

The thinking is clear. In the future with the transfer of new responsibilities, Namur and its region must develop. With an influx of people, civil servants, students, and all kinds of visitors, how should its status as capital be managed? One requirement, to start with,“the regional development plan, the SDER, must take our role into account,” argues Maxime Prévot. He also hopes to benefit from European Regional Development funding.

Inspired by Québec, Namur’s mayor has concrete plans, “Wallonia must have a capital development agency with a specified budget, under the authority of the minister-president who will have explicit responsibility for it. Each administration will be known by a major effort – a significant investment.” What do they think of that in Charleroi, Liège or Mons?

ERIC DEFFET

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