Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

Opinion

Brussels: From a city for cars to a city for people

  • Brussels' De Bouckere square after it was closed to traffic in June 2015. (Photo: Miguel Discart)

There were three open letters in the past couple of weeks by residents of Brussels saying enough is enough, that things aren’t going well, asking why one would wish to continue living in this city. 

First, a group of doctors and health organisations rightly expressed their concerns about poor air quality.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Second came expat Gareth Harding, who [in an EUobserver article] is irritated by the longstanding and messy building sites in Brussels - a disgrace to a city that refers to itself as the capital of Europe.

Third, Celia Ledoux, a writer and a big fan of the city for many years, has fallen out of love with it, because too many promises remain unfulfilled.

All three letters should be taken seriously, because they are written by people who are not the moaning type. On the contrary, these are people who are genuinely concerned about Brussels and who mean well. 

Cars ruled the roads

People are right in saying it's not utopian to want clean air, beautiful squares, safe streets, and more green areas. People are also frustrated because they have the feeling that Brussels is a city with (too) many politicians, few of whom actually take responsibility. 

It is clear that a city with a regional government, 19 communes, in a federal country such as Belgium, is a priori complex.

But Brussels also suffers from the fact that cars, for many decades, have ruled the roads. There are hellish traffic jams everyday, congested tunnels, and bad air.   

But allow me to be optimistic. As a politician in this city it is my moral duty. Bear with me before calling me naive. I am noticing change, something new is happening. 

There is a new generation of Bruxellois - including those who have written these letters - people with a heart for the city who want to make it a better place, more enjoyable for its residents. They want more space for cyclists, parks, pedestrian zones, and safe play areas for their kids.

They are right.

A number of basic issues must be tackled elsewhere, such as: federal subsidies for the company cars used by the 250,000 people who enter and leave the city every day, most of them driving in on their own; a tax regime that stimulates living in rural areas; or tackling the cuts in public transport just outside Brussels.

New public areas

But we shouldn’t hide and point the finger. There is much to do at the local level as well. Concrete cancers that divide neighbourhoods and give priority to cars must disappear. 

Recent actions such as demolishing the Reyers viaduct and making parts of the city centre car-free are, as far as I'm concerned, just the starting point of a broader move which is aimed at giving the city back to its people. 

The aim should be to invest in new public areas. Other projects are in the pipeline: there will be new a park at the Porte de Ninove, another one near Tour & Taxis, and pedestrian squares in Jette and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.

But we have more ambitious goals: in the next 10 years  we will invest more than €5 billion in extra subways, more tramlines and eco-friendly buses that will provide a better service. 

From next year on, families will also benefit from a reduction on their children’s season tickets, as an incentive to use public transport. 

Very soon Gareth Harding will receive an invitation for the opening of the refurbished Schuman and Arts-Loi metro stations, because these projects have been speeded up and are now close to being (finally) concluded.

'I hope Gareth will be proud'

Furthermore, we will provide for some extra 80 (!) kilometers of new cycling lanes, including around the inner city ring where parking will have to give way to new space for trees, cyclists, and pedestrians. 

And, last but not least, this government aims to come up with an ambitious green taxing system by next year. These are not vague promises, but real projects that will materialise in the years to come.

We have started to move in the direction of a new, attractive and more enjoyable Brussels and I truly believe that we will continue to make things better.  

I hope that Celia will fall in love with Brussels again, that Gareth can be proud of his host city, and that we can let our children play outdoors without having to be worried. 

As the Danish architect Jan Gehl so clearly said: We should go from a city for cars to a city for people.

Pascal Smet is minister for mobility and public work in the Brussels-Capital regional government

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights

Behind the smiles and handshakes, the signature of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment deals agreed on Tuesday and to be signed this week have dire consequences for human well-being and our ability to prevent climate and ecological breakdown.

Council of Europe vs Russia: stay or go?

We have reached the point where Russia threatens to leave the Council of Europe and cease to be party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan

This so-called "Deal of the Century" on Israel/Palestine is likely to be no more than a big sham, and the US-led economic peace workshop in Bahrain will hardly change this perception.

News in Brief

  1. EU universities to share students, curricula
  2. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  3. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  4. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  5. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  6. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  7. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'
  8. Share trading ban looms as Swiss row with EU escalates

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us