06 Apr 20 | News

The community economies of Esch-sur-Alzette

LISER researcher Dr Gerald Aiken co-wrote an article on the community economies of Esch-sur-Alzette, the ‘second city’ of Luxembourg, post-industrial and multilingual melting pot.

The role of community initiatives in the political (for example, environmental action groups, low-carbon initiatives) and social (for example, charities) realm is firmly established.

It may appear surprising to many readers to see Luxembourg as a case study for community economy research, given its dominant international financial sector, the relative material wealth of large sections of the population and the country’s continued demographic and economic growth.

For about a century, the south of Luxembourg has been marked by heavy industry. Iron-ore deposits (Minette) exploited along the Dogger escarpment were the basis of a flourishing iron and steel production, which was Luxembourg’s main economic pillar until the 1970s/1980s and dominated by the ARBED corporation (today Arcelor Mittal). As this industry declined, the relatively densely populated and rapidly urbanised southern region became subject to profound restructuration.

Today, the Minett region is a patchwork of still-existing steel production sites (with approximately 4,000 employees), derelict brownfield sites with pending development projects, revitalised sites (such as Belval, which hosts the nation’s first university, founded in 2003) and a built environment consisting of old worker settlements and an increasing number of new residential developments to accommodate newcomers attracted by new service activities. Simultaneously, the region’s social structure remains particular, given a higher unemployment rate (around 9% compared to 7% at the national level) and a higher share of inhabitants with only basic school-level education (Observatoire de PRO-SUD, 2017). Esch-sur-Alzette, with 35,000 inhabitants, is Luxembourg’s second-largest city and the urban centre of the south of the country. Its particular social structure and its traditionally left-of-centre local government (that is, a long sequence of centre-left and socialist majors) chime with a particularly high presence of socially oriented grassroots initiatives. This high concentration of initiatives has recently been complemented by a series of activities, explicitly searching for alternatives to economic growth. 

This article1 focused on two particular prominent initiatives, which we consider to be good indicators of the current community economy of Esch-sur-Alzette: Transition Minett and BENU Village. They are both compelling cases because of their topical scope and visibility in public debates. At the same time, they are quite distinct in terms of their respective trajectories and project architecture. Both are selfconsciously allied with the ‘degrowth’ movement, which neatly compliments community economies.

This article presents evidence of a thriving community economy sector in Esch-sur-Alzette. It shows how a reading for difference that focuses on the social relations and interpersonal relatedness illuminates how economic difference can be produced through this focus on the social, and can then subsequently be made political.

Dr. Gerald AIKEN
Department ‘Urban Development and Mobility’

Aiken, G., Schulz, C., & Schmid, B. (2020). The community economies of Esch-sur-Alzette: rereading the economy of Luxembourg. Voluntary Sector Review.