Often described as a “pocket sized metropolis”, with its 255,000 inhabitants, Ghent is one of the largest cities in Belgium. Despite its post-industrial legacy, in the past 20 years the city became a dynamic and modern cultural centre, maintaining nonetheless its medieval character. Some of the emblems of its medieval heritage are in fact listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the city’s belfry and its various beguinages. Starting from the 1990s the city has experienced heavy investments in cultural infrastructures as well as in the development of the historical city centre. Among the cultural places recently renovated thanks to the city’s support are the opera house, the municipal theatre NTGGent, De Bijloke music centre and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Various private initiatives such as the concert hall Handelsbeurs and the music hall theatre Capitole were also developed thanks to the support of the municipality.
From 2015 Ghent has been working on a new general urban development plan and by 2020 it wishes to become an “open, inclusive, smart and child friendly city” by focusing on initiatives to engage citizens to co-create its future developments. The City’s current priorities include: 1) development of the creative industries with a particular focus on design-based innovation; 2) dealing with the high diversity of the population and especially newly arrived migrants by making sure citizens are engaged in cultural life and that diversity is reflected in the local cultural programming; 3) fostering cultural participation.
The city of Ghent is also implementing what is referred to as an “acupuncture strategy” which suggests that the diffusion of culture and creativity throughout the city should be carried out by spreading it across its neighbourhoods, notably by focusing on projects on urban regeneration. One such example is De Krook project, a urban renewal project of an area that has been neglected for a long time and is now being revitalized through the joint action of the City of Ghent, Ghent University, and iMinds, a digital technology research institute.
Key policy crossover
Cultural policies in Ghent are implemented through the involvement of the various departments of the city. The new general urban development plan for instance encompasses several sectors, including the cultural, artistic, social, employment and environmental one.