In 2015, Mons, Belgium held the title of European Capital of Culture. With this role, Mons, the capital of the Hainaut province in Belgium’s Walloon region, strummed up a number of smart projects, but one of the most creative involved citizen participation. In an effort to bring the city’s government and its citizens together to collaborate on sustainable solutions, Mons looked to technology. The outcome: the birth of Creative Valley, a partnership of public players, companies, universities and research centres working side-by-side to transform a traditional economy into a creative one. Let’s see how Mons invited and stimulated its citizens to engage with the city and how this project will play out in the long run. — Philippe Leonard
Plans for a citizen-run city
Imagine a project where citizens can submit ideas directly to their city’s government officials, whether it’s a plan for more green spaces or more sustainable transportation offerings. With the Creative Valley project, Mons created this very plan run entirely by citizen participation. The main idea behind the project was to give citizens a platform where they can share their opinions during a number of workshops held to develop smart solutions across the city. Part of a world-wide smart city trend toward community-led movements, Mons is using this digital innovative “valley” as a way to connect on a more personal level with its citizens, so they can share ideas on how to make their city more connected, sustainable and green. For Mons, in order to be a smart city, citizen participation is a priority. “We must build the concept of Smart Cities with citizens,” explains Savine Moucheron, Mayor of Culture, Sustainable Development, Environment and Families. “For me, a smart city is a city that integrates its reflection with that of its citizens who share it. I think that together, we can build a smart city of tomorrow.”
Driving Mons into the digital age
The Digital Innovation Valley was one of the main highlights of the city’s role as Capital of Culture, setting up a number of specialized centres focusing on digital innovation. Back in 2009, Microsoft first stepped foot in Mons with the Microsoft Innovation Center, developing health-related apps and assisting start-ups with the marketing and development of its products. One year later, L’Euro Green IT Innovation Center opened as part of a regional collaboration with private information and communications companies, such as IBM and Cisco. With this partnership, the centre has developed pilot projects with new technologies that directly benefit the environment and make the city, as well as the world, more sustainable.