On the occasion of the World Water Day on Tuesday 22 March, the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai and its partners officially launched the BLUE SPACE project in Kortrijk. Their ambition is to turn this regional project, which focuses on water, into a collaborative citizen initiative that will benefit all inhabitants of the Eurometropolis.
It would have been difficult to find a more iconic location than Budascoop to organise this event. The great entrance hall is bathed in light. The access to the first floor is an azure blue surface gently sloping down to the ground floor like a creek: the perfect setting. We're in THE BLUE SPACE! It is also here that the Eurometropolis was officially created, during its first constitutive assembly that took place on 28 January 2008. A true “return to the source”!
Water without borders
In his opening speech, president Rudy Demotte emphasised the multitude of themes the BLUE SPACE focuses on (transport, town and country planning, preservation of resources, energy, tourism etc.) and the importance of water, the ultimate cross-border element. He also pointed out that the BLUE SPACE project implies the willingness to strengthen cohesion, to pursue shared welfare and to look towards the future. This makes the BLUE SPACE one of the priorities for the Eurometropolis in 2016.
In order to illustrate the diversity of the different themes, representatives of the three subregions then participated in a round-table discussion, led by journalist Karel Cambien. Alain Detournay, vice-president of the MEL responsible for water management, Wout Maddens, member of the municipal executive of Kortrijk responsible for town and country planning, and Pierre Wacquier, president of the Commission for a blue and green Eurometropolis, presented a state of affairs and make a link between the different ongoing projects in the region, with a view to facilitating dialogue and cooperation. Moreover, they unanimously expressed the need and the additional value of a cross-border joint action with respect to water.
Towards a Eurometropolitan water-related platform
Paola Vitano, winner of the Grand Prix d’Urbanisme in 2013 and Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Leuven, is in charge of Studio 16, which supports the BLUE SPACE initiative. She presented the ambitions of the project and made some recommendations as to the subsequent steps to be taken. Ms Vigano explained that the promotion of the different water resources in the Eurometroplis (rivers, canals, brooks, but also groundwater basins) may contribute to an improvement of the quality of life of its citizens, while also mentioning the risks of overexploitation. She pointed out the variety of ways to make people aware of the importance of water: walks, workshops with students, participative cartography workshops for elected representatives, technicians and citizens… The (descriptive and interpretative) cartography in particular makes it possible to discuss water in all its dimensions and may evolve into an “open source” with the help of all citizens: do away with top-down logic and welcome participation and co-creation! According to Ms Vigano, the challenge consists in working together to create a Eurometropolitan water-related and cross-border platform in order to develop a truly regional blue and green project of the 21st century.
Existing initiatives as a source of inspiration
As the projects starts with action, several technicians from the intermunicipal associations of the Eurometropolis presented a series of good practices that are already being implemented in the region. Reconversion of obsolete or abandoned aquatic areas, educational projects and raising awareness in Wallonia, the creation of tourist areas or ecological energy production in France... There are innumerable ways in which water can be used. And why should they be limited to the Eurometropolitan region? For those who have doubts, we refer to drinking water projects in Burkina Faso or the cooperation between Kortrijk and Cebu in the Philippines. All these inspiring initiatives highlight the possibilities for the development of the BLUE SPACE.
Water does not only link us together, it is also an asset for the region and the metropolis, according to Koen Byttebier, president of the intermunicipal association Leiedal, who illustrated his statement with several examples. Whether we are talking about architecture, transport or culture, water plays a role at all levels of regional development and is one of the cornerstones of the Eurometropolis of the future. The morning’s session was concluded with a symbolic moment: all participants had been asked to bring a water sample – rainwater, tap water or river water, it didn’t matter! Upon their arrival, each of them received a test tube with the name of his or her town. This way, they were all transformed into water carriers and carriers of the same message of cohesion and exchange.
Water: opportunities and challenges
As a matter of fact, it was exchange that was the main theme of the afternoon’s activities, which took place at the BudaFabriek only a few metres away. A large map of the Eurometropolitan region made it possible for all participants to suggest lines of approach, initiatives and good ideas. Numbered stickers were affixed to the map; each number was linked to an information sheet enabling participants to enter more into detail and leave their contact data. Work has already started!
The event was concluded with a visit to the exhibition WATER.WAR at the BudaFabriek. This exhibition highlights the different ways in which water is used, but also the resulting challenges, such as the protection of water reserves, water pollution or access to drinking water. It reminds us of the fact that although water is a source of opportunities, it is also a valuable resource that must be protected.
The next step for the BLUE SPACE will be the involvement of the citizens. As a matter of fact, no water-related initiative can be successful without everyone's cooperation. So give free reign to your imagination and develop your own projects! The blue and green region of tomorrow can only be created with the help of all of us.
View the PowerPoint presentations of the morning
Photo ©Vincent Lecigne, MEL