“… the title of European Capital of Culture [is] an opportunity to transform the somewhat generalised nostalgia for our region’s glorious past into energy for the future by involving as many people as possible in the creative process from 2018 onwards. We want people living in our territory to have a new look at themselves and the region, using art and culture as a driving force.” (Author’s translation from the Esch-sur-Alzette bid book, 2017)
The Esch2022 European Capital of Culture project understands culture as a tool to transform the territory and the local population. As a part of this framework, our project, REMIX PLACE, defines and activates pathways for participation in the public space, inviting residents to reconsider what connects them to the Alzette-Belval cross-border region.
The notion of “attachment to place” is pivotal to understanding how people develop ties with their daily environment, and the broader region. Broadly speaking, attachment to place refers to the “emotional ties people develop with specific places” (Author’s translation from Debarbieux, 2013). Place attachment informs the commitments that people make to where they live (MacKinnon et al., 2021). Using it as a central notion for REMIX PLACE allows us to dive into people’s personal, intimate bonds with place and identify the motivations behind personal action.
Emphasizing place attachment is almost paradoxical in the Alzette-Belval region.
- The Alzette-Belval region is characterised by flows and fixity. In contrast to the commuters’ constant flow of coming and leaving, the border is clearly visible through inequalities. As costs of living in Luxembourg have expanded rapidly in the last 5-to-10 years, the pragmatic choice of where to settle and work (“border surfers” in academic jargon) has become more constrained. Looking into residents’ place attachment in a region truly made of movements and permanence allows us to understand where and how people find their locale, their own piece of space.
- We started the project with conversations with residents from two places where development is driven by territorial decision makers. In a country where the population is multicultural, multilingual, and socially diverse, Luxembourg’s bourgeoning Belval development is the iconic place where these populations meet. In Belval, higher education, research, governmental, and financial institutions are located aside preserved and varnished high furnaces from a foregoing steel mill. A couple of kilometres away in France, newly arrived commuters bump into former steel workers on the Micheville brownfield site, which is being redeveloped as a residential neighbourhood and cultural centre after having been left untouched for about 30 years.
- In the absence of European or cross-border planning regulation, planning unfolds with little input from neighbours across the border, even though the cross-border region is functionally integrated. Analysing the residents’ perception of the cross-border region allows us to bridge a gap in the literature, which remains mostly focused on how people cross the border for work and housing.
- And, finally, in the local context, residents are often conceived as passive recipients of planning developments. Amid high pressure on land, the culture of public participation is restricted to informing residents about the developments in their municipalities. Thematising place attachment is a way to question how these planning developments are experienced by those using them.
REMIX PLACE is interested in understanding how residents feel, experiment, and act in this smooth and striated cross-border territory. Informed by spatial justice and the idea that decision making should involve those affected by policies (Barnett, 2017), REMIX PLACE puts the residents at the centre of the scientific inquiry. We use the word “resident”, as we feel this is the most inclusive term. It refers to those living and experiencing the Alzette-Belval cross-border region without prejudice of their citizenship. With this project, we discuss the legitimacy to have a say in the development of a place in such a functionally integrated cross-border region where space uses are multiple.
REMIX PLACE’s participatory orientation is informed by action research’s alternative approach to traditional scientific research. In broad terms, it is cyclical research process where “researchers and participants work together to examine a problematic situation or action to change it for the better” (Wadsworth, 1998). We seek creative ways to enhance the voices of those currently living in the territory and offer opportunities to produce new narrative identities rooted in residents’ relationships to place. The project is engaged in two research modes that are constantly informing each other.
On one hand, it is engaged in praxis, building participatory actions informed by theory, by working with residents in one-on-one conversations and group workshops. This part of the research allows us to understand the personal, sensitive relations residents have with place and to develop creative ways to engage in the public space. These activities allow us to map places that matter to people, and to identify which emotions residents associate with these places. It also provides information about why residents do act – alone and with other – in place.
On the other hand, it includes a constellation of multi-disciplinary artistic projects. Three projects comprise this section of the project, all of which are informed by the residents’ experiences shared in interviews and workshops: a photography series, a sound art project, and a documentary theater play. Each of these projects are both ends (in and of themselves) and means to both further research and public engagement with place, and members of both research modes are in regular dialogue about what they are learning and how they are interacting with the world.
Besides academic publications (in form of journal articles, conference presentations, and more), two major artistic presentations will take place from June to July 2022:
- The Agora Café traveling exhibition and conversation hub (June-July 2022) will consist of convivial place-engaging discussions and reflections on the future of the region. Using photographs, maps, soundscapes, and conversations, these temporary installations will provide a new format of creative engagement in the places that matter to residents.
- Composed of fragments extracted from the interviews with residents, the documentary theater play “So mir: à quels lieux tu appartiens? Eine theatralische Spurensuche im Land der Roten Erde” (29-31 July 2022) interrogates – in the public space – attachment to place in the cross-border region. Bringing together professional actors and experts of their own daily life from both sides of the border, it is an opportunity for meaningful cross-border exchange and meaning-making.
We will be sharing more about these events and the entirety of REMIX PLACE through upcoming blog posts. We hope you will enjoy learning more about the project and our process.
Post authored by Estelle Evrard, Lise Landrin, and David Schalliol
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