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Turning Mechelen into a Tourism Child-Friendly City

Collaboration between Mechelen City Council and Thomas More University College
Thomas More University College, Interior and Service Design Programme


Mechelen is a city and municipality in the province of Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium. It has a population of 84,523 inhabitants and lies on the major urban and industrial axis Brussels-Antwerp, about 25 km from each city. Mechelen is one of Flanders’ prominent cities of historical art (together with Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and Leuven) and it was a notable centre for artistic production during the Northern Renaissance.
Despite the growing number of families settling down in Mechelen and surroundings, no municipality in the area was a truly child-friendly place. Tourism and leisure offer for families and children was scarce. In 2015 the City of Mechelen approached Thomas More University College – Interior and Service Design Programme and asked them to help them address the challenge of turning Mechelen in the most child-friendly city in Belgium.

How design helped

Thomas More University College and its students of service design, in collaboration with Design Flanders, proposed to the municipality to address the challenge using service design methodology. Service design means creating a new service which is user-centered —taking into account the actual needs of the user—, achievable —understanding the concerns of entrepreneurs— and holistic —creating a total experience for families and children. Design was integrated in the process since the very first stages
The team organized a 2-day workshop (picture below) with all stakeholders involved (entrepreneurs, parents, service design students, local servants working on tourism, local economy or child-friendly Mechelen). For the workshop, Thomas More University College and Design Flanders used the service design toolkit developed by Design Flanders, based on the following stages: framing, user insights, personas, design scope. As a result of the workshop, service design students created mudboards with the different ideas and organized a reflection day. Various problems to be addressed came out of this process, such as the need to create an evening offer for families or the need to offer an inclusive social offer, i.e., affordable for all kind of families.


After the workshop, the ideas and problems identified, in October 2015 the City of Mechelen launched a Design Challenge for the service design students of the school targeting one of the challenges identified: “Turning Korenmarkt square into a hospitable, sustainable and family-friendly hub”. The square had been completely refurbished with a heavy investment a few years before, but the space was not used at all. The design challenge was to regenerate the area with no monetary or infrastructure investment —since this had already been done unsuccessfully.

 Students came up with 5 design projects that were presented to the city of Mechelen. One of them was selected and its implementation was planned to start in spring 2016 (the project has not been realized yet). Following service design methodology, students identified that some of the problems for underusing the square had nothing to do with expensive investments, i.e.: the square offers no pick-nick space forcing users to go to bar or restaurants; the new benches were made of marble (always wet and cold) preventing people to stay; there was never any activity going on in the square.
The service design process initiated by the city of Mechelen gave the opportunity to design students to work on a real case; it provided the municipality with a project that, with little intervention, could regenerate an area and make the most of an already-made investment; but most importantly it gave the opportunity to citizens to participate in shaping activities and policies in its city.


Nansi van Geetsom

International Coordinator and Coordinator for Interior and Service Design at Thomas More University College

Thomas Rottiers

Centrummanager, Municipality of Mechelen