I’m an Interior Architect, Business Woman, Mother and active citizen. I have been running my own Design business for the past 9 years ever since I have left the corporate hospitality world. I started with my company Design2Style in partnership with my Husband, designing residential & interiors and developing brand design for companies. Over time, my interest and knowledge of design thinking and strategy increased, gaining experience in projects and from attending various conferences on the subject, which resulted in moving forward, evolving personally and professionally. I launched Belgium Design Council, which applies design thinking on the project’s infrastructural level. This allowed me to move from aesthetic design to applying design thinking processes in ‘designing’ communities.
We’re working on several projects at the moment. I’ve got increasingly interested in Business Improvement District concept over the last couple of years, which existed since the 1960’s/70’s in the Northern America, and concentrated on socio-economical regeneration for business and communities as a whole. The combination of a geographical zone including businesses, community, people and the collaboration of those elements creating successful public, private and citizen partnerships, in order to enhance people’s lives and environments. Creating sustainable socio/economic regeneration. BIDs and similar partnerships have been launched around the world - in Sweden, Scotland, Germany, England - and one of them is our non-profit organization of BIDs Belgium. We’re also planning to launch BID EU in the near future, in order to create a platform for sharing best practices with each other and filter these down to ground level. I’m planning to concentrate on specific target groups - besides the regular social innovation aspect, there will also be the social inclusion of elderly, youth, special needs people and on ways in which we can involve them and make them feel more as a part of the community. There is a plan for the pilot version to be launched in September in my own community in Brussels, Koekelberg, in collaboration with the municipality. We will address the project to both 300 businesses of this district and 3 other neighboring districts.
We have also been developing and presenting the general information and interactive sessions for the BIDs in Brussels. We invited architects, developers, retailers, freelancers and members of the communities and explained the concept, but also ask them for feedback. There has been positive feedback and some are really keen on implementing, but they need guidance - and we want to prepare and adapt the framework which has been shared by other BID countries, which would be useful and simplify the launching of BIDs across Belgium. The model works this way: by defining the geographical zone, having a collaborative approach to working together as a community, whilst addressing the issue that is of priority and defining the projects for that area. BIDs can be supported by a levy that business owners, citizens, and the municipality contributes to. Crowd-funding has also been used to support local projects. Some cities have it already in Belgium, albeit these are a slightly different models - Mechelen and Ghent for example. The BID is a non-profit organization, with a task force representation with an open source, collaborative and transparent approach and it needs to be inclusive of the Open Care element.
I also have a personal project close to my heart - in which Belgium Design Council works on also. It’s about special needs children. As there is a personal background to it - one of my sons is nearly 11 yrs old and is autistic, with emotional and behavior regulation challenges. As we have been dealing with this since he was 2 yrs old, I have observed there is a big gap between what’s available on the grassroots level for parents and at an institutional level. There is no support in the communities for parents with children with special needs for example. This personal project is about injecting more tools and awareness with creating more inclusive care in the communities themselves - also by using design thinking and visual tools, beyond pictograms available online. I have realized how much sensory input and additional energy my son needs and how much its presence could help him move around and understand things better - and visual designers and illustrators could greatly help such children. As Belgium Design Council we are planning now to fill this gap - one way is to work with the schools where children with special attend. Our son will be changing to a further specialised school closer to our home now. I have spoken with the principal and he is very interested some of the creative inclusive projects I have suggested, but the school has no time to initiate these - I have the experience and the knowledge and wish gather some support from other parents and see if we can move forward. Same for the people in the municipality, who are very much interested in this kind of work.
My Husband and I are also heavily involved in another nonprofit organization in Brussels and volunteer at a local football club, with over 300 youth from various backgrounds. We also have a goal of making this youth more inclusive and open - both for children with special needs, but also for refugees, who get refused from other football clubs around the city for example. We will introduce the first refugee children into the club for the coming season, which we are very proud of, as we see this as part of the wider community work we are involved in.
It seems to me that the initiatives, such as BIDs, should, in fact, be initiated by the city itself - and whenever I speak with the politicians, they understand it but resources and knowledge bases are at times limited. It can be challenging when systems and organizations need to change, understand and adopt design thinking themselves in order to be open for such initiatives and collaborations between private, public and citizens. The concept and ideas can appear too complicated, too political, too new and disruptive, yet many cities around the world are seeing the value this can bring.
This is why we decided to be active citizens, to get involved in various initiatives we are working on, pulling in our network and knowledge base - and turn things around by, inspiring, collaborating and sharing information, including enlisting more volunteers from the football club to the BIDs projects, showing that non-hierarchical organisations welcome everyone. It’s important to talk, share, bring people together, because it’s part of the process of change - and this is where OpenCare comes as a partner.
Do you design better communities yourself? Do you have experience in different projects that solve problems of local groups by mobilizing them and the resources available at hand? Or maybe you know of an interesting project that feeds into this challenge? Share your story by leaving a comment, or by submitting your own post here.