Challenge / Goal
The shrinking population of Heerlen, and thus, declining need for homes, has led to the demolishment of housing blocks and apartment complexes thoughout the city. This has in turn led to an increasing acreage under the responsibility of the urban authority’s maintenance department. The steady rising costs for maintaining the public space, has become an eyesore for the municipality. It is looking for ways and tools to do the maintainenance much more cost-efficiently. This is especially the case, since the demolition of housing is in itself an already very costly undertaking.
The city council has been seeking ways to cut costs of maintaining the public space. Local initiatives have popped up, such as where citizens garden neighbourhood flower beds, once the municipality has planted their choice of vegetation. For the maintenance of public parks and its facilities, pavements and flower beds, the municipality can no longer offer its desired level of cleanliness or counter-vandalism adequately. According to surveys among citizens, the living environment ratings are dropping and an increasing number find Heerlen’s public spaces unpleasant.
Heerlen’s city centre, as well as its main shopping centres, have a high rotation of shops, and an ever increasing vacancy rate. Due to the rise of e-commerce, many midsized European cities have to cope with this retail challenge, but the number of vacant shops in cities with a declining population are far exceeding the average. The economic department of the municipality of Heerlen is having a hard time in finding the right solution to break this downward spiral. During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 for example, the city centre management organisation Heerlen Mijn Stad (Heerlen My/Mining City) launched a campaign to have Heerlen’s citizens buy local products and support local businesses.
- High cost for public space maintenance
- Low civic engagement
- High vacancy rate of shops
To counter the high cost of public space maintenance, as well as both the low civic engagement and the high vacancy rate of retail in Heerlen, the Municipality of Heerlen and its partners, developed a ground-breaking idea into an innovative solution. They developed a digital platform by applying blockchain technology for commissioning community service tasks to citizens. The digital platform contains three main features:
- A smartphone application for citizens that shows the tasks and the rewards
- A web application for shop entrepreneurs to receive their payments and see who else is involved
- A dashboard tool for the city authority to commission tasks & deliver transactions
The reward for each of the tasks done properly, is in the form of local digital currency. These coins can only be used by Heerlen’s citizens in the local economy. The currency is named ‘t Heerlens Heitje, derived from Dutch for bob-a-job: ‘heitje voor karweitje’. One Heitje is worth one euro. For citizens, the solution can improve their community engagement and meaningful wellbeing. The gamification aspect of the currency has been proven effective to stimulate further engagement. For entrepreneurs, the local currency can stimulate their businesses and attract local customers. For the municipality of Heerlen, the new rewarding system can help them to handle the maintenance of the public spaces and gain much more insight in active community engagement.
At the launch of the project in March 2021, the neighbourhood association GMS (Grasboek-Musschemig-Schandelen) engaged the first group of 20 active users.
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