Petite Île / CityGate II
Exploring new urban regeneration model
‘Petite Île’ is a new neighbourhood being built on a former industrial site between railway tracks and the canal that will act as a gateway to Brussels. It will offer a programmatic mix of functions: 400 social and subsidised housing units, 15,000 m² of space for economic activities, and a school for 1,200 pupils, which all correspond with the project’s dual objective—providing space to retain industry and productive activities within the city, while at the same time supplying more housing and related amenities in order to respond to demographic pressure.
The project was developed within the framework of the Brussels Canal Plan, an innovative governance model based on four regional administrations working together as part of the multidisciplinary Canal Team. This team encouraged and enabled a collaborative partnership between two further public bodies, Citydev.brussels (the Brussels Regional Development Agency), owner of a portion of the site since 2015, and the SLRB (the Brussels-Capital Region Housing Corporation), which bought the remainder of the plot in 2017. Motivated by a common desire for a coherent approach to the development of the site, the two actors pooled their land and resources together to launch a joint procurement. Following an international competition, a design team was chosen to develop the site. In addition, the Brussels environmental agency, Bruxelles Environnement-IBGE, facilitated and led a co-design platform to ensure that the project was exemplary with regard to the Brussels index for sustainable neighbourhoods.
Utilising the strategic tool of Research by Design at the outset allowed the Canal Team to develop a clear vision of the desired programme and urban quality, within the context of the ZEMU regulatory land-use plan. The two public landowners were convinced to collaborate rather than develop their plots separately by highlighting the opportunity to realise a more ambitious and complex project, which simplified numerous aspects such as logistics and access. As well as allowing for a further provision of support in the definition and ambition of the project, this co-ordinated approach allowed for further flexibility, improved mixity (both in terms of functions and inhabitants), and delivered higher design quality, since the various collaborations have provided evaluation, discussion and recommendations at every stage of the project. Further partnerships with other external actors, such as Bruxelles Environnement-IBGE and the EU Interreg FCRBE project, have helped ensure that the design team has achieved key goals related to heritage, sustainability and the circular economy.
This project is the result of collaborative and transversal approaches across a number of scales, from the regional, to the local, to the design team levels. The innovative urban design governance model employed by the Canal Team has further encouraged a culture of transversality and collaboration, helping to build trust between the various actors, while allowing for more flexible and exploratory approaches – for example, the experimental, project-based urbanism of Research by Design. This allowed the design team to deliver a project of high urban quality while achieving the stated aim of a mixed, productive neighbourhood; one that integrates a mix of typologies and scales while maintaining a degree of openness and transparency between the various programmes.