Many firms and jobs in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg are centred around the capital city. Municipalities beyond Luxembourg city and its immediate surroundings have difficulties attracting firms and providing local employment. In addition, the many international companies in Luxembourg mean that prices for office space are challenging for start-ups.

The municipality of Dudelange in the south of the country has initiated ‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’. This incubator is a first step to supporting a new eco-innovation cluster within the municipality and providing affordable office space for start-ups.

Rationale for action

With an ever-increasing number of enterprises and jobs around the capital city, some recent developments have caused difficulties, including the many cross-border commuters working in Luxembourg city. Territories between Luxembourg city and the borders to Belgium, France and Germany have turned into a ‘drive-through country’. With a low municipal business tax rate, Luxembourg city continues to be an unrivalled player in the competition for businesses in the Grand Duchy, leaving little chance for other municipalities to attract firms.

Many international firms rent offices in Luxemburg city, so it has become difficult for start-ups to find affordable office space in the capital area. Start-ups often rely on cheap office space, so where space is expensive less of them can emerge.

Objective

The ‘Dudelange Innovation Hub’ aims to attract and support eco-technology start-ups that will help to establish a new economic cluster in the municipality and the country. Eco-technology approaches, practices and technologies developed in the new cluster can eventually be transferred to municipal departments to improve their services.

This will contribute to local economic development and new jobs. The incubator also aims to shape economic activities towards sustainable and ecological activities in the future ‘NeiSchmelz’ eco-district, a brownfield development within the municipality.

Time frame

The decision to set-up ‘Dudelange Innovation Hub’ in the ‘NeiSchmelz’ district was taken in July 2017. Two months later, the project was presented to the public. With support from several national players, implementation of facilities for the incubator started soon after. In July 2018, just one year after the decision was taken, the incubator opened its doors and welcomed the first enterprises. In 2019, the Incubator welcomed seven start-ups. Three start-ups cooperated closely with the municipality for testing and introducing their products and services in the city of Dudelange.

Key players

‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ is an initiative of the municipality which chairs and administers the incubator. The provision of facilities and their operation is in cooperation with national players, namely Luxinnovation and Technoport S.A. This innovation agency and business incubator assist the municipality in selecting businesses. Another player is the ‘Fonds du Logement’, the national fund for housing, which owns the land.

Implementation steps and processes

The availability of financial and organisational resources required for the project and the limited number of players involved meant progress on ‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ was quick. The concept was developed and approved in 2017 and the incubator started operation in July 2018.

Operation of the incubator is ensured by the municipality together with the national innovation agency and the national technology incubator. Start-ups looking to rent office space apply to the national innovation agency. After a pre-selection, a final choice is made by a selection committee of all three key players.

Once the start-ups are welcomed in the ‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’, they receive support in the form of contact building, fundraising and other services provided by the national innovation agency and the business incubator.

Required resources

The municipality rents office spaces from the national fund for housing ‘Fonds du Logement’. In addition to the rent, implementation of the facilities cost EUR 175,000, which was covered up to 80 % by the state.

Results

‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ includes 14 furbished offices available to eco-technology start-ups. Additionally, the 500 square meters of newly built office space include conference rooms and shared facilities.

Companies can rent the offices for up to five years at a reduced rent. Start-ups less than two years old pay EUR 15 per square meter each month, all other companies pay EUR 20.

At the end of 2019, one year after inauguration, seven of the 14 workplaces were already let. The start-ups cover specialisations including smart irrigation systems, smart LED street lighting systems and active mapping of flood zones using innovative drone technology. Products of these eco-technology firms are transferred to the local administration and will improve the public services provided by the municipality.

Facilities of the ‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’. Source: Municipality of Dudelange, 2018.

Experiences, success factors, risks

‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ is an innovative approach offering start-up support to a specific sector in a specific location. The instrument also helps to foster innovation in eco-technology. Although this is frequently in the media, it is not frequently addressed by entrepreneurs.

The instrument is also suitable for interim uses. While the eco-district is developing at full speed, ‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ was based in a building of a steel mill that halted production in 2005. Occupation of the offices by start-ups is for up to five years, so winding-up the incubator should involve little effort when the services are no longer needed.

Conclusions

‘Innovation Hub Dudelange’ shows that relatively little finance is required to set-up a business incubator. Such initiatives are thus suitable for smaller municipalities with limited human and financial resources. Relying on support from national agencies, the municipality benefits from local economic development incentives from the start-ups as well as from the emerging eco-technology cluster, enabling innovations to be transferred to the municipal administration.  

Contact

Contact address: innovationhub@dudelange.lu

References

Municipality of Dudelange, 2019: ‘Innovation Hub – 3 startups réinventent la ville de demain avec Dudelange!’ (in French):

Luxinnovation, 2019: News – Innovation Hub – one year of supporting eco-technology: https://www.luxinnovation.lu/news/innovation-hub-one-year-of-supporting-eco-technology/

In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, 2 + 3 = 1!

The cities of Ettelbruck and Diekirch, both located in the North of the Grand Duchy, are not far from another. The borders of the two cities are only 2 kilometres apart. Their settlement structure and those of the three neighbouring municipalities form a nearly continuous urban fabric. Many decision-makers have raised the question of why not merging forces and territory and creating the new capital city of the North?

Merging the five municipalities into a new economic powerhouse of the North, the so-called NORDSTAD, has been discussed for a long time. Two masterplans were developed, detailing roughly the urban concept for the existing settlements and earmarked areas that will be urbanised.

For various reasons, the idea to create the NORDSTAD has not yet materialised: municipal mergers and the creation of a new city need to be well thought out and the individual steps take time. One of the main hurdles was overcome in summer 2020, when all five mayors signed a memorandum of understanding to become the NORDSTAD. With their signature, the mayors have entrusted a municipal syndicate to further the idea of creating the new city. Thus, it is not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’ they will become the NORDTAD.

Masterplan for the creation of the NORDSTAD. Source: NORDSTAD, 2021.

But how does one realise 2 + 3 = 1?

The typology and structure of buildings in Ettelbruck and Diekirch features low densities and pays tribute to their 8,800 and 6,800 inhabitants. Many single-family houses, number of floors seldomly exceeding five stories and a rather old building structure characterise the urban pattern. The three neighbouring municipalities Bettendorf, Erpeldange and Schieren feature many single-family houses. To transform the cities and the municipalities into one major urban pole, a lot of yet unused land will be developed.

When planning for the creation of new districts or new cities in Luxembourg, planners and architects opted for high-density structures during the past. The ‘Belval’ district in Esch-sur-Alzette and the ‘Kirchberg’ district in Luxembourg City are two examples. What makes them distinct of the NORDSTAD is that they are extensions of existing urban tissues with large numbers of inhabitants.

NORDSTAD will be different: Ettelbruck and Diekirch are small cities and high-density developments risk of destroying the areas’ properties and characteristics. For creating the NORDSTAD, a new type of ‘urbanity’ is necessary.

The new type of urbanity for the development of the NORDSTAD needs to meet different criteria: it needs to avoid ‘over-urbanisation’ and ensure high quality of life for future and current residents, provide adequate housing and public places and ensure the integration of existing districts into the new settlement pattern. The village-character of the two cities needs to be preserved for any future development. And finally, a major challenge planners and architects need to solve is “How to create ‘urbanity’ from the drawing board for the areas that ought to be developed?” The reflections and plans drawn up for the NORDSTAD have answered important questions that resulted in a lot of good practices.

Projects like the NORDSTAD, where a significant amount of fallow land is being developed, have become a frequent encounter in Luxembourg. Decision-makers, planners and architects need to make choices at many different levels, from the local land-use plan down to individual buildings. Especially in smaller municipalities with limited staff and expertise in urbanising areas, support and guidance was required, helping municipalities in making better choices.

In comes the so-called “Planungshandbuch”, a guideline for the urbanisation of cities and villages, developed at the example of NORDSTAD. The term is German for ‘Planning Manual’ and the document functions as such: it gives concrete guidance on the future looks, feels and properties of areas that ought to be developed. It is targeted at planners, architects, technicians, decision-makers as well as citizens. The ‘Planning Manual’ is structured in nine overarching chapters that address several topics when planning in urban areas: urban development, functional mix, building layout, public infrastructure, mobility, parking, layout of public spaces, nature protection and quality of housing. Under all these topics, the manual provides concrete design ideas and recommendations in an illustrative way.





The illustration shows a proposed layout for public and semi-public areas from the ‘Planning Manual’. Open places in front of building entrances allow residents to meet and to chat. Narrow streets and limited parking slots while providing good access via soft means of transport, reduces need for motorised forms of mobility. Source: Planungshandbuch, 2021.

The presented ideas were drawn from the experience of urban planners in the NORDSTAD and in other Luxembourgish convention areas. Convention areas are associations between the state and municipalities to ensure territorially integrated development across administrative levels and borders in the country. The ‘Planning Manual’ thus draws from the knowledge and lessons learned from concrete examples.




The illustration shows a proposed green space concept for districts from the ‘Planning Manual’. A mix of private and public gardens creates privacy and areas where residents can meet. Existing trees and hedges are integrated into the districts. Source: Planungshandbuch, 2021.

The document is unique as it gives guidance to planners and architects long before decisions on the exact layout of new districts are taken. Even if districts are planned and implemented by different planners and architects, they will have similar looks and feels and a common character. This will convey a feeling of a common identity amongst future residents of different districts. Such a guideline also allows to include important features such as quality of life or sustainability from the very beginning in district development.




The illustration shows a proposed concept to combine private, mixed and public from the ‘Planning Manual’. Small access paths that connect several private gardens and shared meeting areas for neighbours create transition areas between private and public gardens. Source: Planungshandbuch, 2021.

Also, the ‘Planning Manual’ with its comprehensible texts and numerous illustrations gives planners a new tool for public participation. Breaking down urbanistic guidance from complex 2D and 3D renderings to drawings and pictures allows residents much easier to understand urban design. Residents can thus raise their voice and work together with architects and planners on integrating their wishes and need in the future development. In turn, this helps to reduce often observed phenomenon like ‘NIMBY’ (‘Not In My Back Yard’) and increases identification of residents with their future districts.

The illustration shows a proposed concept for a neighbourhood from the ‘Planning Manual’. Mixed building typology and a central place to meet allows for functional and social mix of areas. Source: Planungshandbuch, 2021.

If you are interested further, please find here the complete planning manual, allowing to get a more comprehensive picture of recommendations and guidance to urban development in Luxembourg.

In conclusion, the “Planungshandbuch” provides orientation to planners, citizens and decision-makers on the future looks and feels of districts that ought to be developed. It clearly points at good practices and things to avoid and capitalises the knowledge created during discussions of planners, architects and decision-makers in the framework of the NORDSTAD project. The manual allows to visualise and include elements of urban design from the very beginning into planning processes. This helps to create high quality urban environments across the country, respecting principles of a sustainable urban development and ensures a high quality of life in future urban districts.

Mondercange is the gateway to the former mining district in the industrial south of the country. As other municialities in Luxembourg, Mondercange has relatively high costs for living. The municipality has identified and implemented a special way of developing affordable housing for its residents.

Rationale for action

Mondercange lies in the densely populated southern part of the country where there is high demand for housing, including high demand for affordable housing. To provide affordable housing for its residents, the municipality of Mondercange has targeted an unused area of 4.15 hectares for development within the town. The objective of this development project, called Molter, is to create a residential district dedicated to affordable housing including a large park.

Objective

In developing this area, the municipality has chosen a special way of creating housing. Issuing building permits in Luxembourg depends on lots being developed with a specific land-use plan (PAP). The PAP specifies aspects of construction, such as density, roof form, parking, etc. and follows provisions laid out in the general land-use plan (PAG), which is valid for the entire municipality. The normal procedure in Luxembourg is for a private developer to create the PAP by contracting an urban planner or an architect. The expert then ensures the public provisions and private plans for the site are compatible. For the Molter PAP, the municipal administration contracted an urban planner. He then planned the new district respecting the public provisions and translating the development concept from the municipality into a concrete development plan. 

PAP Molter, building layout from the specific land-use plan. Source: Municipality of Mondercange.

Time frame

The PAP were developed between 2011 and 2012. After their approval in 2013, construction started until the project was realised in 2017.

Key players

Key players are the municipal administration of Mondercange, urban planning bureaus and SNHBM (the national association for affordable housing).

Implementation steps and processes

The process started with defining criteria for the plot to decide on the future use of the area. The emphasis was put on affordable housing for specific population groups. The allocation of the housing units will depend on the applicant’s age, number of years lived in the municipality and children in the household. Additionally, the housing will be available for families that do not have property yet and that are eligible for a construction premium, as defined by the Ministry of Housing. So, the units are for people in real need of affordable housing. Once the criteria and conditions were established, the municipality tendered the planning procedure. Construction was realised by SNHBM, between 2013 and 2017.

Required resources

Municipalities implementing such approaches must invest more time and money. If a developer creates the PAP, the role of the municipality is limited to the approval procedure. After that it has limited possibilities to influence future use of the plot.

The project illustrates that municipalities creating PAP independently have a strong planning tool at hand. This pre-supposes willingness to invest time and effort. The municipality of Mondercange had to allocate financial resources and labour input to manage the process. The process included managing the procurement and coordinating the cooperation with SNHBM. The urbanistic office (service urbanisme) of Mondercange was in charge of the process. Such a planning process comes at a cost but provides significant added-value for the municipality by making it possible to actively shape developments.

Results

As the municipality has created the PAP, it was possible for the administration to lay out provisions for the site. Mondercange thus created a new district to its own design with 55 single family houses within the municipality. The price per square metre for these houses is lower than the average price for housing in the country of Luxembourg. New and old residents also benefit from a new, large park that was built in the centre of the new district.

Experiences, success factors, risks

The approach is a positive way to develop municipal land. Generally, this requires more efforts (for coordination and procurement of the planning process) but it provides significant opportunities for municipal administrations to actively shape the urban pattern. The case of Mondercange also illustrates how political priorities in the field of affordable housing can be realised through concrete projects in the municipality.

PAP Molter, building layout and the park area from the specific land-use plan. Source: Municipality of Mondercange.

Conclusion

A stable political and administrative framework for local experts and urban planners is key. Such projects usually take longer than a single legislative period. Additionally, the project shows a way of cooperating between different levels of decision-making. SNHBM, a national actor and the municipality of Mondercange as the local stakeholder, have managed to create affordable housing, bypassing market influences. This is important, as private developers are usually less motivated to create affordable housing.

Contacts

Municipal administration of Mondercange: commune@mondercange.lu

Late 2020, we interviewed Ms Lydie Polfer, Mayor of Luxembourg City on the role and potential of climate change adaptation in urban planning and municipal development. The interview also addressed questions on climate action in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Interviewer: Ms Polfer, measures addressing climate change can be for climate action, such as measures decreasing hazardous emissions, or for adaptation, so measures dealing with the consequences of climate change. What role does urban and district development play in adapting to climate change?

Mayor Polfer: Climate change adaptation and also climate action are key aspects that need to be considered together when planning in urban areas. On the one hand, climate actions reduce emissions of inhabitants and businesses in a district. On the other hand, climate change adaptation helps to protects inhabitants from natural hazards resulting from climate change.

There is a wide range of possible measures for climate action in the urban environment. For example, in Luxembourg City, we focus on reducing the need for transport by creating functional mixtures in the urban pattern. We adopt circular economy approaches, enabling building material to be reused and recycled in urban construction and we favour net-zero-energy buildings. These measures all have a positive impact on the energy footprint. To reduce this footprint, sustainable transport is also important. Just to give an example, Luxembourg City is a frontrunner in electric public mobility and about 30 % of the city busses are electric as of today in 2020.

For climate change adaptation, we focus on renaturalised rivers and waterways to increase absorption of rainwater in urban areas. We test technical measures for rainwater retention in ponds or temporary reservoirs and we try to limit the amount of soil sealed in existing and newly built-up urban areas. The guiding documents for our city to address climate action and climate change adaptation are the Municipal Environmental Report and Action Plans. These annual reports and plans orient Luxembourg City measures. They help us to work towards a good and secure urban life, and an urban life in line with sustainability objectives.

Interviewer: Where do you see priorities or opportunities to use existing or new spatial planning and urban development instruments for climate change adaptation in Luxembourg?

Mayor Polfer: The City of Luxembourg uses three complementary planning instruments for climate change adaptation. The land-use plan, so-called PAG, the special development plan, the PAP, and the Municipal Building Regulation, defining requirements and technical specifications for buildings and infrastructure.

The PAG is used for zoning areas and defines density requirements and limitations to soil sealing. With the PAP and the Municipal Building Regulation, the municipality uses two more nuanced instruments. These enable our municipal planners to take decisions on the future layout of areas and the location, orientation and shape of buildings. They also detail surfaces to be kept unsealed, and even define materials to be used. Also, we look to optimise the number of parking spaces to keep areas open that are usually sealed. This way, we integrate various elements in our plans to ensure that transformations and new developments are adapted to climate change. And of course, for climate action, these tools work equally well.

We conduct many experiments in urban planning practices and we research experimental building techniques. This leads to a high number of innovations in the building sector, especially in view of climate change. An example is the use of grey water, or rainwater in large residential buildings or greening roofs, for which new concepts are being tested. To benefit from the latest innovations, we need measures that allow us to design the district differently. Faster procedures and increased openness of projects towards new insights and concepts on climate action and adaptation in planning is required.

Interviewer: What potential for climate change adaption is there from converting urban brownfields?

Mayor Polfer: In conversion or re-conversion projects, for example ‘Porte de Hollerich’ or the 10 hectare area of ‘Josy-Barthel’, planners have a free hand. When we develop a district from scratch, we face fewer limitations. We also need to compromise less when it comes to implementing climate change adaptation measures. For example, a river can take its natural course again, an inundation area can fulfil its initial function. It also provides us with unique opportunities to design park areas as both zones helping to adapt the city to climate change and also as recreation areas for inhabitants of the districts.

Planning on unbuilt land also allows us to develop a priori climate change adaptation and action concepts that guide urban design and the layout. This way, the best option, yielding the best protection or adaptation can be planned and tested before being realised. We look at such concepts not just at the neighbourhood level but also for the district. Hence these new urban developments are key to increasing the resilience of our city, as changes to existing urban districts are limited for various reasons.

However, the question of ownership significantly influences climate change adaptation measures in such urban projects. Unless all land is owned by the City of Luxembourg, we rely on a consensus between all owners on what climate change adaptation measures will be implemented. If an owner does not approve, the procedure is postponed, or the plans have to be amended, compromising on the planned adaptation measures.

Interviewer: How can one combine the persistently high pressure on the housing market with measures of climate change adaptation, in your opinion?

Mayor Polfer: High pressure on the housing market and climate change adaption are not mutually exclusive. In a way, planning in cities is already an adaptation and a climate action measure. Let’s take the example of the City of Luxembourg. Luxembourg City accounts for about 2 % of the national territory and of this 2 % half are green areas, so forests, grassland, pastures or farmland. At the same time, about 20 % of the country’s population lives on the other 1 % and about 40 % of the national workplaces are located in the City of Luxembourg.

This results in density that offers proximity to daily activities such as workplaces or grocery shops, for inhabitants, reducing the need for transport. This helps us to offer much more targeted and effective measures.

The City of Luxembourg population has increased by more than 30 % during the past 10 years. This very high pressure is a challenge to urban planning in many ways. Increasing traffic, increasing pressure on the housing market, increasing pressure on public services, and so on. But despite this pressure, we have managed to make progress in achieving our environmental objectives, defined in the Municipal Environmental Report and Action Plans. This applies to the climate action measures, so to lower energy consumption or less municipal waste. This also applies to the adaptation measures, including the implementation of natural water retention systems or unsealing soil.

Of course, this does not come easily: when planning urban districts, we integrate environmental aspects in the conception plans from the very beginning. Therefore, it is important that the objectives and measures are clearly defined. This way, urban development and other urban functions can incorporate and work on environmental protection and climate change adaptation.

Mayor Lydie Polfer. Copyright: Maison Moderne – LaLa La Photo.

Interviewer: What is the role of the CIPU for climate change adaptation in Luxembourg?

Mayor Polfer: Urban development and planning is a complex and interrelated matter. When we develop plans, we usually touch on a variety of inter-connected disciplines, requiring us to work with various constrains and limitations. Sometimes urban planning meets disapproval from inhabitants and experts in related fields. Climate action and adaptation measures especially require planners to plan in a way that does not appear logical to the outside viewer.

CIPU should enhance mutual understanding and coordination between different policy fields, between planners and also between planners and inhabitants. This way, CIPU could be a mediator in the framework of urban development and for this year, focusing on climate change adaptation.

Interviewer: Thank you very much Mayor Polfer for the interview.

In case of questions or comments, please feel free to contact the editor (sebastian.hans@spatialforesight.eu) of this article.