Mapping the Invisible City. Spatial Manifestations of sub-Saharan African Diaspora in the mid-size city in Europe (the case of Belgium)

October 2016 to September 2020
University of Leuven (KU Leuven)
University of Antwerp
Research fields
Social Sciences
  • Period: 2016-2020
  • Additional host institutions: Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp) and Karel Arnaut (IMMRC, KU Leuven)
  • Sites: secondary or 'mid-sized cities' in Belgium

Short description

While migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe is omnipresent in the media with hundreds of migrants arriving weelky in ramshackle boats on Lampedusa, the presence of African migrants in European cities seems almost invisible. The research proposal aims at visualizing the 'invisible' spaces that are occupied by sub-Saharan African migrants in secondary or 'mid-sized cities' in Belgium. The focus is on the places that are inhabited or daily used by African migrants, such as the house, church or shop. Since African migrants mostly occupy existing buildings in the city, this research will show how how they have transformed and appropriated these buildings. This will be done through a detailed study of the outside and inside of the buildings, in which attention will be given to both the physical aspects and the use of the buildings. To better understand how African migrants use and transform buildings in Belgian cities, we also look at comparable practices in their countries of origin, but also in other European countries where they have families or economic contacts. This research will also show the location of the buildings in the city to see if the settlement patterns of sub Saharan African migrants differ from more established immigrant groups, such as Turkish or Moroccan people. Finally, we will examine to what extent African migrants have, outside any government intervention, contributed to the renewal of the city, by occupying and upgrading dilapidated buildings.

Outcomes and Societal Relevance

The outcome of the research will provide us with new and essential knowledge on (1) the architecture of everyday spaces of African migration in the mid-sized city in Belgium, as well as on (2) the transnational exchange of African place-making strageties. Moreover, this research aims to examine (3) to what extent the spaces of African migration may be considered alternative forms of urban regeneration in the mid-sized city.