Smart City Block, a university study for the city of tomorrow

Under its university policy aimed at setting up research projects on the energy transition and cities of tomorrow, ENGIE funded the Smart City Block study by the Free University of Brussels (ULB).

ENGIE Smart City Block jbc

The ULB’s Smart City Block study is based firstly on the observation that the urban habitat, and Brussels in particular, urgently needs to be renewed with a view to both generating energy savings and combating energy poverty.

A second observation is that the initiatives and policies of urban renewal tend are aimed primarily at individuals, not communities. As a result, there are few opportunities for carrying out large-scale works, so we cannot rely on the savings and benefits they bring.

A multi-phase study

Several faculties at the university were asked to contribute to the study, in phases. The problems faced by cities include techno-economic, social, urban planning and legal aspects.

So the first step involved teaming up with geographers and sociologists to analyse the structure of Brussels and define various types of ‘blocks’. Great diversity was found in terms of their social interaction, density, economic activity and energy requirements. After conducting a survey and interviews, two blocks – Uccle and Cudell – were selected for inclusion in the project.

Uccle was chosen because it had an existing social dynamic, while Cudell, which differs in terms of its density and different cultures, was selected at the request of the authorities, adopting an approach geared more towards combating energy poverty.

A renovation catalogue

“A catalogue of around 50 energy-related elements was drawn up, listing different possibilities for renovation work. These ranged from widely known solutions like the deployment of photovoltaic cells and building insulation to a CHP heating network, shared kitchen and garage amenities and also less technical elements such as creating vegetable gardens or setting up a composting system”, explains the project’s coordinator, Frédéric Klopfert.

Several issues were examined in Uccle, including the heating network, solar panels and shared mobility. A full report was drawn up for home owners living in Uccle, covering all the technical, legal and economic aspects. Working groups were formed and, even though the study has now come to an end, the ULB is offering tips to help them keep making headway.

Major lessons learnt

The study provides a foretaste of our cities of tomorrow and identifies a few ideas for improving today’s cities. As Professor Jean-Claude Maun of the Polytechnic School of Brussels (ULB) puts it: “It may not be the city of tomorrow that people dream about, but it highlights the possibility of prompting urban development by finding solutions to society’s current energy problems.”