Together you go slower, but you get further: designing a mobility point for Cureghem

Between October 2022 and February 2023, Mpact, Mobilise (VUB) and the municipality of Anderlecht descended on the Place du Conseil in Cureghem, a very diverse and multicultural neighbourhood just a stone’s throw from Brussels Midi Station, Belgium’s largest railway hub. Their goal? To develop, together with local residents and neighbourhood organisations, a mobility hub that meets the needs of Cureghem’s inhabitants. The approach was bottom-up rather than top-down, we talked to the residents rather than about them. The outcome? A co-designed mobility hub that can encourage a switch towards shared and sustainable travel modes.

From MobiHubs to SmartHubs

Among city planners and mobility experts, mobihubs or mobipoints are the talk of the town. The concept is rather straightforward. Step 1: bring different shared and sustainable transport modes in one place, where they are neatly positioned in proximity and within eyesight of each other. Step 2: make sure to offer additional services, such as information about the different modes of transport, lockers to send or receive parcels, public toilets, picnic tables, and so on. Step 3: work towards a digital integration as well,  allowing commuters to have access to different sharing modes with one single app – Olympus or Whim are two examples of this. By physically and digitally integrating different modes and by proposing additional services at mobility hubs, an attractive alternative offer to (short) trips by private car can be created. 

Mobility hubs come in different shapes and forms: in Flanders they are called Hoppin-points, Bremen (Germany) uses the term Mobil.Punkt, and so on. Several European research projects such as eHUBS or ShareDiMobiHub stimulate the uptake and implementation of the concept. A database providing an overview of existing and planned mobility hubs shows that they are being implemented in more and more European countries. The objective of the SmartHubs project is to make mobility hubs as accessible as possible. This is a challenge: a recently published review paper has shown that, to date, the use of shared modes has mainly appealed to highly educated, well-earning middle-aged males. The bulk of the population has not yet made the switch to multimodal transport. Herein lies the added value of the SmartHubs project in Brussels: the team is mapping how mobility hubs can be developed in such a way that everyone, and especially citizens that are more vulnerable to exclusion, will be triggered to make more use of shared and sustainable modes.

Cureghem as a Living Lab

Through Living Labs in Munich, The Hague, Rotterdam, Vienna, Istanbul and Brussels, SmartHubs initiated several co-creation processes to develop (models of) mobility hubs that focus on the users’ needs. For Brussels, the focus is on individuals with a migration background, low-education, low-income, older people, children and teenagers, women, and  digitally excluded citizens. Of course, these categories often overlap. The Brussels Living Lab was set up on the Place du Conseil, in the heart of the Cureghem. The neighbourhood unfortunately sometimes gets bad news and is characterised by several social challenges. It is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of Brussels, with more than 20 000 inhabitants per km², the income is among the lowest in Brussels and in Belgium, more than a quarter of the population is unemployed and many children grow up in structural unemployment. Moreover, parking pressure is among the highest in the Brussels Capital Region, and the levels of air pollution are also quite high.

Source: Monitoring des Quartiers

Carte de la concentration moyenne annuelle en N02 à Bruxelles

Source: Bruxelles Environnement 

That Cureghem is consequently characterised by many tensions and disappointments cannot be denied and came up several times during our conversations. Especially when it comes down to mobility, tensions arise. Nevertheless, during the various events and meetings we organised in the neighbourhood, we could count on the willing cooperation and insights of many residents, young and old, born here and elsewhere. Specifically, residents but also people working in Cureghem have

  • Taken part in in-depth interviews and focus groups to understand the needs of users and non-users, and especially the ones of vulnerable individuals (e.g. older people, migrants, children, teenagers), regarding their mobility and the use of mobility hubs.
  • Tested a digital information kiosk and given feedback on the user experience.
  • Participated in a co-design workshop and interviews to conceive a mobility hub in Raadsplein/Place du Conseil (Kuregem/Cureghem).
  • Filled out a survey about personal travel behaviour and preferences concerning mobility hubs and shared mobility.

The information we gathered from these workshops, interviews, surveys and tests with the digital information kiosk was immensely valuable for understanding mobility needs and barriers to using mobility hubs. Moreover, on the basis of the co-design workshops and interviews involving residents, commuters and neighbourhood organisations (Cosmos vzw, Maks vzw, Les amis de l’Etincelle Asbl, Névé Asbl, and Espace 16 Arts), four models of what a SmartHub on the Raadsplein/Place du Conseil could look like were produced. To conclude the co-creation process in Cureghem, everyone (+16) could vote on the design of their choice and provide feedback on these proposals on the 6th of February 2023. The voting took place in STIB’s Living Together Bus, which stood on the Place du Conseil for the occasion.

Quatre modèles de mobipoints à Cureghem

Four impressions of what a mobipoint at the Place du Conseil could like like
(from top to bottom, two angles per design).
Design made by Frame and Mobilise (VUB).

So What?

The development of mobipoints in Brussels will contribute to the policy objectives of Good Move –  the regional mobility plan – including an increase in shared mobility, a healthy living environment and an accessible mobility system for all. These mobipoints will, however, only be successful if there is sufficient support among the population to use them. Information sessions, co-creation processes, workshops and so on help create that support. We are therefore happy to pass on the results of the co-creation process and the successful methodologies to policymakers. They can use these insights when implementing mobipoints in the Brussels Capital Region. In this way, the inhabitants of Cureghem will have contributed significantly to the conceptual development of mobipoints in the capital, and in particular for the neighbourhoods of Brussels facing similar challenges.  

We acknowledge that each neighbourhood has specific characteristics and that these different needs must be taken into account when developing mobipoints. This is obviously a labour-intensive process, but it ensures that there is sufficient gusto to install a mobipoint and make use of the shared and sustainable sharing modes that are offered.  “Together you go slower, but get further” is an expression that holds true, both literally and figuratively, when it comes to mobipoint development.

The SmartHubs-project has been financed by the Brussels Capital Region – Innoviris.

Jelten Baguet (Mpact)
Lluis Martinez (Mobilise – VUB)
Andreina Lombardo (Anderlecht)