The broader metropolitan area of Mulhouse and the cross-border region is estimated to be one of the regions with highest per capita GDPs in Europe, yet people living in Mulhouse face many challenges, and segregation between the centre and periphery is strong. Violent disputes between different ethnic groups and stark inequalities in wealth development and socio-cultural participation are a daily reality for many residents.
Leuven is a medium town and the capital of the Belgian province Flemish Brabant, and adjacent to the Brussels-Capital Region. The city is home to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) – one of Europe’s most innovative universities with a combined student and research staff population of over 55,000. Given the presence of the university and of several other world class research centres in the medical, advanced technological, financial and legal fields, a large share of local economic activities is concentrated around spin-offs from academic research. This has helped the city sustain a continued economic and population growth, which has accelerated in the last decade. Such rapid economic development does not come without challenges: the city has seen rising house prices and rents, with housing becoming inaccessible to an increasing number of people in lower and lower-middle income groups.
Mulhouse is located in France’s Grand Est region and is a centre of the trinational metropolitan region of Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg linking France, Germany and Switzerland. The population peaked in the late 1990s and has been slowly declining since then. However, peripheral urban growth and suburbanisation of the region have balanced out this decline. In the 1960s, new large estates were constructed, soon becoming the homes of migrant families and those locked in precarious neighbourhoods. The broader metropolitan area of Mulhouse and the cross-border region is estimated to be one of the regions with highest per capita GDPs in Europe, yet people living in Mulhouse face many challenges, and segregation between the centre and periphery is strong. Violent disputes between different ethnic groups and stark inequalities in wealth development and socio-cultural participation are a daily reality for many residents.
Mulhouse is still an industrial hub today, and after its textile industries closed down, chemical and pharmaceutical production took its place. Since then, tech enterprises in the biotech, medical and transport industries have been drawn to the city. A special feature of the ‘Regio TriRhena’ are the strong cultural, administrational, cultural and economic links and the infrastructure across the national borders that support collaboration and partnership projects.
Despite being part of one of the wealthiest European regions, the city is in the bottom 20% of French communes in terms of average household income. The strong polarisation that follows – whereby large groups of the population suffer from exclusion and limited opportunities – poses a great challenge and risk. This is particularly true for young people trying to establish independent adult lives. UPLIFT will allow a deep exploration of the challenges faced by these young people in order to help identify possible paths out of disadvantage. Another challenge is a lack of voice in urban decision-making and planning – particularly of young people with different socio-economic and ehtnic backgrounds.
The city has introduced community-oriented, cross-generational social practices striving to reduce inequality and conflict. Place-based projects have helped build pathways towards integration. Institutions like youth councils are seen as success stories by some, there is an increasingly vocal group suggesting that support for spontaneous forms of self-organisation would be more suited to local demands. Opportunities to link up formal and informal approaches are needed, in order to include young people in the process of collaboratively shaping urban institutions and spaces.