Having plants in the city is an absolute priority for the Mayor of Charleroi. An element that is far from anecdotal and on the contrary builds and revitalizes the city. But the revival of the Charleroi entity also includes training and housing. “Everything in everything.” Explanations for an amazing rupture.
Charleroi conversion. The desire was proportional to the scale of the project. Paul Magnet, mayor since 2012, appointed Baumeister very quickly to prioritize urban planning as a whole. During his second term, he incorporated Nature in the City, a municipal plan to develop nature, into his own powers. There are many projects of all kinds, some of which have already been completed. The new face of Carolo is taking shape and unfolding.
Paris Match. In your opinion, what are the strengths of this renovation, which is crucial for Charleroi?
Paul Magnet. We started with classic urban renovations, some of which I started before I became mayor. But we were faced very quickly with what could be considered the latest shift in the Charleroi industrial fabric, particularly the shock of the caterpillar shutdown, which prompted me to set up the hunting unit run by Thomas Dermin and focus on economic redeployment. Parallel to the Baumeister unit that started at the beginning of my tenure and directed by Georgios Males. A way to demonstrate our desire for a project that reflects both industrial reconversion, training and urban redevelopment while enhancing the presence of nature in the city.
Specifically, what is the point of this “nature in the city” program?
I took the time to create an in-depth diagnosis of the area in order to understand all its layers. I like to quote this thinking that Patrick Modiano gave when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, “The city is a truss,” a set of layers that have been added over time. We were impressed to discover that Charleroi’s urban fabric is articulated like a starfish with five arms at its center. north toward Gosselies, west toward Marchein, east toward Guilly and Montaigne-sur-Sambre, south toward Mont-sur-Marchen and the other toward Marcinelle and Coulelles. The rest of the area is of low density and benefits from a fairly intense natural presence. We wanted to enhance this nature with large-scale projects. Nature in the city is often fragmented, and we try to reunite it. We started with the Dampremy pilot project on which we work with one of the world’s greatest landscape architects, Michel Desvigne. But I can also mention La Docherie and its large amusement park. As you know, nature is not expensive while providing the qualitative luxury of neighborhoods and territories. Recreate clearings and paths, replant trees, and popularize disparate management to allow nature to grow wilder while accompanying it and improve its function as a repository of biodiversity. If we take Astrid Park, the most visited by residents in the city center and completely renovated, it offers a more pleasant environment. Sometimes, all it takes are small improvements to change a place.
Was the city center renovation the most difficult point of the project?
It is true that we were facing major urban desertification and dangerous construction sites. We finally got to the end. Most of the work on Ville-Basse has been completed, we are still working on the station yard and many private investments will be made around it. The whole area has been changed: a train station, Place Vert, Place de la Digue, docks… Results will be visible in 3 to 5 years, this is the largest urban renewal Charleroi has known since less than the 1950s. Feel-hot, we’re in the full construction phase. Danish city planner Jan Gehl says that the urban core is always 1 square kilometer. Simply put, some cities have only one and others have several. As far as Charleroi is concerned, these are two nuclei that will be completely renovated: roads, natural areas, buildings, housing … all in just fifteen years. Of course, the trade show must follow in parallel but everything is there in everything. A more diverse offer of housing and office infrastructure will lead to a new dynamism. You need to have enough people who come to work in the center to strengthen the client base of a local company. In this sense, the Rive Gauche shopping center is a real driving force.
“Once the project brought together those who make up the city, the momentum started.”
How did you present your vision at the last MIPIM property fair in Cannes?
Somewhat provocatively, we announced that we had nothing new to show! It was rather a question of revealing the continuity of what we revealed 2, 5 or 7 years ago, for a coherent urban project and the ability to unite all the actors. We have built a solid project for the city by requiring each of the operators to register and to create lasting relationships with the Régie des Bâtiments, SNCB, TECs and the administrations of the Walloon Region… Everyone does their part. We are proud of this dimension.
Is training a vector of modernity and excellence? Charleroi is positioning itself in the digital sphere, expanding its campus, developing Biopark, etc.
I admit that it was a priority of mine from the start, probably because I’m a teacher by training. The fact that there is no university in Charleroi is a weakness of the territory. The reason for our strengthening year after year is the presence of universities in the center, given the importance of the role of higher education in economic activity and intellectual and cultural influence. We could have great job offers, a reshaped city, if the women and men of Charleroi don’t have the opportunity to train, all their lives, there is a real problem. Hence the importance of working on all aspects: technical and vocational education, basic education, continuing education, university … The Cité des Métiers, ie 40,000 square metres, will be a true center of excellence in training and mentoring. Charleroi Creative District Campus. Moreover, there is great interest by investors in the construction of student housing.
What is Charleroy’s greatest potential?
I think the city is especially interesting for young families, it is still easy to get to the land there and the rents are much cheaper than in Brussels or even anywhere else. It is to a certain extent the profession of Charleroi to be a place of social progress, one can find a country house there with a small garden, benefiting from the offer of public spaces, mobility and extensive infrastructure, not forgetting the very rich cultural offer and the proximity to the capital and other centres.
What has surprised you the most since the beginning of your first term?
The enthusiasm of hundreds of Charleroi actors. She would tell me that I talk a lot about nature, but it made me think of the first days of spring, when everything was reborn, as if the city was waiting for an opportunity to flourish. The city may have looked numb but the energy was still there. Once the project brought together those who make up the city, the dynamics were set in motion. The cultural world was the first to join. The liveliness of Charleroi’s cultural offering caught all eyes during its early years. A revival we saw in Manhattan in the 1970s, in Berlin in the 1990s. It is good that culture plays its vanguard role. But very quickly, any other actor could find his place. The city is built together.