The Square Kilometre

The Square Kilometre, a project coordinated and funded by STAM Ghent City Museum and the Ghent Heritage Cell, represents a visionary undertaking that not only empowers communities to reclaim their heritage but also enriches our understanding of urban history and diversity. For the past five years, a ‘historian in residence’ has been travelling the most diverse parts of Ghent. Per ‘square kilometre’, she has invited locals to bring forth ‘hidden histories’.

The Square Kilometre, Ghent, BELGIUM

As a medium-sized European city, the historic city of Ghent is superdiverse, international and rapidly changing in every aspect. Often referred to as a ‘pocket-sized metropolis’, with its 260,000 inhabitants, it boasts over 160 nationalities.

The ‘historian in residence’ took up residence in five specifically designated square kilometres, corresponding to the squares depicted in a massive aerial image showcased within the museum. These areas are prime spots of urban renewal today, yet their history remains largely unexplored and overlooked in the dominant narratives in museums and archives.

Starting by simply walking around in the lived environment, local residents acted as leaders of participatory action research. These residents, affectionately referred to as ’rememberers’, represent diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, age, education, and their connection to the neighbourhood. However, they all share a profound bond with both the past and the future of their continually evolving working-class neighbourhoods, which are grappling with gentrification and urban transformation.

The Square Kilometre, Ghent, BELGIUM

Through shared authority over their contemporary surroundings, these dedicated rememberers collaboratively decide, research, present, and engage in ‘hidden histories’ on topics such as religious diversity, resistance, and entrepreneurship.

Each residency culminates in an exhibition within the museum and numerous heritage guides where the narration is shaped by the rememberers themselves. This has resulted in an extensive calendar of activities.

This approach facilitates the emergence of new, personal insights into Ghent’s urban fabric. Furthermore, it empowers citizens to act as agents of change, fosters a sense of belonging, promotes mutual understanding, transcends the confines of urban contexts, and integrates a global perspective.

Through these public history-projects, The Square Kilometre has not only been able to make ‘unheard voices’ heard, but also started up negotiations with cultural heritage peers about democratising their practices. As the project revolves around ownership and recognition, it has proved to be an accelerator of civic participation, emancipation and neighbourhood engagement.


The great strength of The Square Kilometre project is its deep and meaningful engagement with the community, positioning local residents, in a larger city, as key actors in the heritage process. This inspiring initiative has great transferability and is highly replicable to other urban environments. Using an innovative methodology, it is a model for the democratisation of heritage and emerging European stories”, the Awards’ Jury commended.

In validating everyone’s heritage, The Square Kilometre project empowers community members and fosters belonging. Through storytelling and the recording of personal narratives, it ensures that all voices are heard and is a true reflection of European identity, the diversity of which is essential. As a museum-led initiative, it is a commendable example of a cultural institution working with and for its community”, the Jury added.

Contact: Tijs De Schacht | | Tina De Gendt | |  |