At the end of January of this year, the City of Brussels announced its project for reorganizing the city center’s squares and boulevards, labelled “A New Heart for Brussels!” to great fanfare. The most striking proposition of this plan is the redevelopment of public spaces in the heart of the city’s historic center, consisting of a large expansion of pedestrian zones in the downtown area with the ambition to allow “citizens to re-appropriate public space.”
The project is made up of several parts: urban planning, business, tourism, sanitation measures, as well as mobility. In regards to this last category, the local government wants to grant greater importance to active modes of transportation and to limit automobile traffic, intentions that the Atelier de Recherche de d’Action Urbaine (or Research and Urban Action Agency) can certainly agree with. But there is another side to the story; the city is not proposing any real measures to limit the flow of automobiles destined for downtown. Worse, by planning to build no less than 4 new underground public parking lots, the city government is giving the following signal: “Continue taking your car to go downtown.”
Despite their recognizable effect as far as traffic is concerned, as well as their high cost and already (excessively) large presence, public parking lots remain popular with city officials. We were hoping that the model of encouraging automobile access to city centers was a thing of the past. Alas, the city of Brussels is moving towards proving the exact opposite by keeping policies from the 60s and 70s alive. And so we are seeing parking lots grow like weeds simultaneously with highway projects, including the “mini ring,” a proposed beltway for the center of Brussels.
Maintaining a large flood of cars into the city has major impacts on livability and air pollution; a city’s center must remain livable. All urban planning efforts are oriented towards improving living conditions in a city, still it is necessary to maintain these conditions and create proper ones.
Through wanting to place more importance on active modes of transportation and allowing citizens to re-appropriate public spaces, the city of Brussels is taking a step forwards. Through wanting to build 4 new underground parking lots, it is unfortunately taking two steps backward. The ARAU asks that Yvan Mayeur, the bourgmestre (mayor), of the City of Brussels organize a dialogue with organizations and groups rather than communicating through press releases.
In addition to environmental concerns, which arguments could best convince average citizens to consider abandoning their cars in busy downtown areas?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.