To bridge academic, theoretical critique with more involved, applied and experimental forms of knowledge is an important challenge today for universities.
The complexity of urban problems and of urban policies is such nowadays, that it does not make sense anymore in the domain of urban research to oppose “academic excellence”, “fundamental research”, on one hand, and “action research”, “policy research”, on the other. In the opinion of Metrolab Brussels' promoters, what cities need today is a new kind of urban research that would be both elaborated on a theoretical level and realistic on a pragmatic level.
The action of MLB consists in the design, implementation and coordination of a dozen of projects of applied and critical urban research, directed towards a single public policy, the ERDF-Brussels program.
These researches focus on a range of 10 to 20 concrete urban projects among the 46 actions/operations funded by ERDF for the period 2014-2020.
Through the scientific support to the ERDF urban policy, the overall objective is twofold :
It is practical: we want to test the capacity of university researchers to bring improvements to an urban policy such as ERDF.
- It is scientific, epistemological: we want to test new forms of involvements and positioning for urban research in order to improve its scientific quality.
This twofold objective can be crossed with three challenges:
A first challenge relates to the need for more dialogical processes of knowledge building in the domain of urban politics/policies. We need to bring university knowledge to the urban actors, in a way that allows the latter to question and improve their action. Inversely, we need to bring the urban actors’ knowledge to the university, to the « lab ». The Brussels Studies Institute started an important work these last years on this first challenge. We want to complete this effort from an experimental stance and with a focus on specific policy and territory - the ERDF program.
A second challenge has to do with the academic critique and its relation to practice. Too often, urban research is either critical or practical. We would like to encourage more reflexive and critical practices among urban policy actors, and to help the urban research professionals to engage in more practical critiques.
- Thirdly, both the urban policy and the urban research need to find a stronger embeddedness in Brussels territorial situations and realities. The territorial knowledge mobilized by MLB researchers is likely to improve the relevance and the factors of success of the program as a whole. The strong territorial embeddedness of MLB's scientific productions is also seen as an asset for qualitative urban research. Our goal is not to stick to this limited territorial level, but to use it to develop a more grounded urban theory. We would like to sensitize a more general public of urban researchers to the problematics encountered in Brussels. We believe that it is possible, for colleagues from other parts of Europe, other parts of the world, to « learn from Brussels ».