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Charleroi in major regeneration

The new Congress Centre will be part of phase two
The new Congress Centre will be part of phase two

One of the opening events of the Belgian Pavilion on the second day of Mipim was a presentation of the projects and philosophy of the city of Charleroi, by Mayor Paul Magnette.

He started with a few figures, just to put Charleroi into context. There are some 200,000 inhabitants, but 600,000 in the greater metropolitan area. And Paul Magnette insisted on the fact that a city has an impact beyond kits borders, so surrounding communes have to be made to feel that they are part of what is being done. In terms of trade and mobility, the city has 30 port zones, the airport handles 7 million passengers annually, and the railway station 8 million. Paul Magnette also pointed out that there is a great deal of green space around the city, although he conceded that this was probably not the first impression people had. The Lac de l’Eau d’Heure, for example, has 60 km of banks (around the same as the Belgian coast), and is the first tourist destination in Wallonia.

The public authorities are working on the urban and extra-urban zones, but starting inside the city, as this seems to be the most logical approach. The urban area has been divided into five main cores, centred around former independent towns which became part of the whole in the 1970’s. The polycentric development approach via these cores means that traditional values are kept, and the city evolves in a balanced manner. The ‘centre first’ approach will result in more than 40% of the entire city centre having being redeveloped, regenerated, between 2002 and 2024. This is believed to be the highest percentage in Western Europe. A good starting point, Paul Magnette explained, is the public areas. This represents the cheapest and quickest way to make a city attractive to its inhabitants. In this respect, Charleroi has turned a former car park into a pleasant riverside walk – in a place where the river could hardly been seen before. And a bridge-cum-public square – La Placerelle – is one of the ways in which the two banks of the Sambre are being connected again. Paul Magnette emphasised the importance of providing numerous places to cross a river so that it doesn’t become a division.

Among projects already developed, he pointed to Le Quai 10, a cinema, culture, eating and events area in the former National Bank, the lively Place de la Digue, and of course the lower town area around the Place Verte, with the Rive Gauche shopping centre. Importantly, the city has developed the urban distribution centre CDU, to which trucks have to come, unloading their merchandise for last mile delivery by electric vehicles or bike.

The next phase –phase 2 – will see the upper town redeveloped to become more like it was in the past, with a concentration of public services (law courts…), student facilities and of cultural centres. These will include the Exhibition Halls and the New Congress Centre.

Paul Magnette pointed out that public investment draws in private investment in the form of retailers, SME’s, and that this is vital for the future life of the city.
Tim Harrup

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