Aula Magna's approach

Brussels is above all a city. Our reflective approach is therefore first and foremost that of citizens who want to think about the future of their city.

While in no way denying that it is a fully-fledged Region, a member of the Belgian Federation, it seems to us more essential to tackle its problems from the angle of an urban system, which by definition is more complex.

The city is a place where all kinds of creation take place (economic wealth, social tissue, cultural movements), partly because it is a melting pot of people of very different ethnic, linguistic, religious and social origins.

On the other hand, the mix of functions present in the city (manufacturing, commerce, services, warehouses, accommodation, education, administration, leisure activities, traffic) further strengthens the diversity of intentions of these groups of people of different origins. These factors, among many others, show what a complex living entity the city is.

The city is full of paradoxes that have to be highlighted in order to understand the effects of certain decisions taken by the political authorities, generally with praise-worthy intentions, but sometimes with the opposite effect to the one intended or one that generates unexpected collateral damage. This can be due to unanticipated interactions or to uncontrollable reactions of some actors over which the public authorities have no direct hold, such as the private sector.

Neighbourhood contracts are a case in point. The aim of these contracts was to revitalize urban nuclei by renovating public spaces (roads, parks, lighting) but they have sometimes resulted in the renovation of neighbouring buildings by private owners, leading to an increase in the cost of accommodation (whether bought or rented) and the partial replacement of the original inhabitants by more wealthy ones. This phenomenon, known as ‘gentrification’, is not without impact on the way in which the population is distributed across the city.

Moreover, an urban entity, like any complex system, is full of interdependences. This means that a decision that may seem to affect just one domain actually has repercussions on other sectors. Aula Magna endeavours to highlight this crossover effect. The decoupling of place of work and place of residence is a good example. The urban exodus, typical of Brussels, involves middle class and even wealthy inhabitants who leave the city in order to find in the outskirts the calm, space and natural environment that are impossible to find in the city at a reasonable price. The very fact that most jobs continue to be in the city (ie. in the 19 communes of the Brussels Capital Region) automatically generates a mobility problem that worsens as the exodus increases. The increasing but more recent delocalization of companies outside the city mitigates this phenomenon, limiting radial mobility problems (traffic into and out of the city) but increasing tangential mobility problems.

As a result, faced with an urban reality that often rebels against intentions that are very obviously well intentioned but only take into account one dimension of the problem, it is sometimes necessary to imagine solutions of greater complexity that can be translated into provocative hypotheses.

Similarly, we need to identify the dynamics that are at work in the city without public authority involvement and, on the other hand, the virtuous circles in which the political authorities can decide to position the city. For example, an increasing number of young people, both educated and uneducated, are arriving from many countries within Europe but more predominantly from countries outside Europe. They contribute considerably to the multicultural nature of the city and its creativity (a phenomenon which is independent of all political initiatives). But this phenomenon can also go hand in hand with a political will to favour the conditions that accelerate it and translate it into cultural activities with a strong economic impact, through the setting up and organization of a genuine cultural industry.

The conception of a city is thus a complex business. A group of citizens who are well informed about its constantly evolving realities is capable of making a contribution, even if it is a modest one, to the reflections which should not be the preserve of politicians.







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