Encourage climate-neutral initiatives and neighbourhoods by means of a subsidy
City/Region : City of Mechelen , Belgium

Are you tired of the bad news about climate change and do you want to do something positive for the climate together? Then this is your chance. Since 2012 we want to become climate neutral by 2030. Now we go a step further and give all inhabitants the opportunity to help build a climate-neutral Mechelen by providing support of up to 5000 euros. 
A workshop, Samentuinen, a shared chicken run, energy evenings, cooperative heat networks, collective renovation, cycling, electric driving. These are just a few of the possible projects that you can undertake with your neighbourhood or association. 

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationUrban mobilityBiodiversity
Greenfield land and natural spaceWater resources and air qualityClimate change
Public spaceHousingSocial inclusion and integration
Local economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Support open data standards
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Library for tools

Mechelen has a long history as a central city in Northern Europe. Mechelen is located in the heart of Flanders, between Brussels and Antwerp. The territory (65,19 km²) not only hosts the historical city center but also five smaller villages: Heffen, Hombeek, Leest, Muizen and Walem. This accumulates in a total of 86.404 inhabitants and a population density of 1321 inhabitants/km². The population is very diverse, 30,48% of the population has non Belgian roots. Mechelen has a lot of historical places. The more than 300 historical buildings and 3 UNESCO heritage sites attract a lot of tourists. The city has different transversal red lines, such as climate neutrality, diversity. In June 2019 the city won the "European Green Leaf Award 2020". The city is very much committed to participation and a bottom-up approach, which is also the reason why the regulations for climate-neutral initiatives and neighbourhoods was created ( 

In Action
Recycle plastics- plastic moon

In 2016, the city noticed that the citizens were ready to work on their own initiatives to make their neighbourhood more climate-neutral, and this in all themes. At that time, this was really visible in the number of questions from citizens who wanted to start initiatives e.g. cargo bike parts, cohousing initiatives, setting up repair cafes, and establishing a library for tools. That is why the city has taken the initiative to support them by means of a subsidy regulation for climate-neutral neighbourhoods initiatives, which was approved on 15 December 2015. 

Projects that focus on CO₂ reduction or climate adaptation receive a maximum subsidy of 5000 euros from the city. With the money, the winning neighbourhoods or organisations can further develop their project and communicate about it. 

There is an association that builds a complete stand-alone unit of solar panels in combination with a refrigerator so that associations can borrow it when they go to camp. It is currently such a success that they are going to make units on a voluntary basis. 

Esdoornplein is a neighbourhood with 44 almost identical houses. Resident Bram organised a neighbourhood meeting, which showed that at least a quarter of the local residents were interested in a joint renovation project. They then asked Mechelen Klimaatneutraal for advice on renovation, which was commissioned by the autonomous provincial company Kamp C. The project was completed in October 2011. "Most of the houses needed more and better cavity wall insulation. Others also went on to provide external wall and basement ceiling insulation, repair of the roofs, renewal of the joinery or the provision of a ventilation system", says the initiator.

Last year, the city also granted a neighbourhood subsidy of 3,750 euros. Bram: "We invest this money partly in raising awareness and communication and partly in support. We hired a renovation coach for Home 2 Home Real Estate Coaching. He visits everyone, draws up specifications, contacts contractors, negotiates group discounts, applies for permits etc'.

solar panels- fridge

That is why the city has taken the initiative to support them by means of a subsidy regulation for climate-neutral neighbourhoods initiatives, which was approved on 15 December 2015. 

There is an annual budget of 15,000 euros, but this is never enough. The city is always looking for more money, so that these enthusiastic citizens can be supported. There are currently 45 projects that have received support in those four years, which is good for an amount of € 131297 . The city has already more than doubled its budget every year in order to be able to support all applicants.

"With this regulation we want to activate citizens for the climate and stimulate bottom-up engagement that is growing. The various projects not only raise awareness, but also bring people together. It's also very popular with the people of Mechelen, because we receive more and more requests every year. This year, we released more than twice as much budget to give projects that focus on climate and sustainability the final financial push," says Alderman for Sustainability and Climate Marina De Bie.

This is to use the creative mind of your citizens in order to go to a clean and better future.


Every applicant for a climate-neutral neighbourhood or initiative application usually visits the sustainable development and energy department first. This means that the department gives advice on how to refine and improve the dossier and to focus on communication. An application will only be approved if at least four neighbours or Malinois (different address) actively confirm their participation. If you calculate that there are currently 45 approved applications, with an average of 25 people involved per application (e.g. a chicken project in the public domain, a communal garden, an educational project at a school), you arrive at 1125 (1.3% of the population) citizens involved, but this number is probably many times higher if you take into account that the library for materials alone has 100 subscriptions and that a cargo bike participation project also finds its candidates. The impact to support these initiatives from the bottom up is enormous and this action is currently one of the most beautiful and best current actions in the climate plan: showing creative and committed citizens who have a good future for our city and who want to make it a more liveable city for the future. This transformation action is one with an enormous success. While in other cities the initiative of citizens has come to a standstill, this runs like a train. It is difficult to estimate the reduction of CO2, as there are so many different projects involved: communal gardens (local cultivation of food), cargo bike parts, sub-economy that is experiencing enormous growth, but this cannot be expressed in figures. 

Challenges and lessons learned
greening Korte Veluwestraat

One of the things that the city of Mechelen has learned is that it makes citizens dream of a better and carbon-free city. Let them devise their own actions and develop their own initiatives. The last call contains creative citizens who want to develop a complete measurement network for air pollution. At first glance, you would say that you should not start this without prior scientific knowledge, but you should dare and be able to believe in your citizens. You can give them instructions on how to improve communication, but do not touch on the essence of their idea. 



ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
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