Citizen by culture – Ghent’s desire to give everyone a sense of belonging

Citizen by culture – Ghent’s desire to give everyone a sense of belonging

The city wants to institute Cultural Free Ports – spaces with minimal surveillance, collective management and a mandate for innovation

Last week, authorities in Ghent, Belgium unveiled their new strategy for securing the prestigious title European Capital of Culture 2030. The Ghent2030 Strategy presents two key characteristics of local cultural development:

One – using neighborhood-level culture to promote a sense of belonging among a dissociated population.

And two — creating so-called “cultural freeports,” city-owned spaces with minimal regulation, which are collectively run by the artists who use them.

A sense of civic belonging

According to a statement from the team that developed the strategy, the living space and decent job conditions will continue to become increasingly rare. This, in turn, would lead to an even greater influx of people into cities, as concentrated nodes of energy.

Furthermore, they state that on the 21st century has become an era of displacement, as unprecedented numbers of people flee war, climate change, totalitarian regimes and poverty. These people are driven to cities as refugees and migrants and find themselves dissociated and alienated from their adopted homes.

Thus, the city wants to develop a free and open playground, where all newcomers can bring their culture to shared public spaces. From there, the authorities hope to foster a sense of belonging, through the creation of a free cultural melting pot. This initiative further aims to build on the success of the European Youth Capital 2021.

Cultural free ports – a concept for municipal collectives

The idea of ​​“cultural freeports” stems from the concept of economic freeports – special economic zones, usually cities or neighborhoods, where there is a noticeable lack of regulation. Removing regulations in a specific area aims to promote business growth and development, making the port a magnet for business and talent from around the world.

At the same time, free ports are usually restricted to a specific area, so they do not disrupt the otherwise high standard of living and business transparency in the country.

Cultural Free Ports wants to emulate this concept in the cultural sector. However, instead of cordoning off a massive area of ​​Ghent and devoting it to culture, the city wants to use several smaller areas.

They also want to have a minimum of regulation and surveillance in these spaces to encourage experimentation and the proliferation of disruptive ideas, through cultural and social experimentation.

These cultural havens should, in turn, be collectively managed, accessible and require maximum participation from all parties involved. However, Ghent is already a highly urbanized region and there is little land available. This is why the authorities are proposing efforts to focus on the city’s waterfront with docks and warehouses.

Additionally, the team that developed the strategy explained in a press release that these spaces can serve as a beacon of vibrant artistic hope. They went on to explain that Ghent is not a big city, nor “small but pretty”, but as a centuries-old port, it is a city of revolt and counter-current, of cooperatives and abbeys. He has already more than proven his resilience and imagination.

Helen D. Jessen