Under the sympathetic appearance of allowing « citizens to reappropriate public space », the pedestrian area that many Brussels residents had called for has been transformed into a theme park project flanked by its « parking road ». 

With the plans and announcements that have followed one another for more than a year, the City of Brussels’ plans for the birth of a  » new urban heart  » (« BXL. Heart ») are becoming clearer. The central boulevards are destined to become « a succession of squares and plazas » with, on one side, the Place De Brouckère redesigned as an  » agora  » (also called  » Times Square  ») and on the other, the Place Fontainas as a  » garden « . In between: the space in front of the current Administrative Center would be transformed into a  » foyer « , the Place de la Bourse into an « urban theater  » and the Bourse building into a  » New Beer Temple « . The tone is set: in the self-proclaimed  » largest pedestrian zone in Europe « , it will be « Winter Fun » all year round. 

Public transportation will be diverted from this  » comfort zone « , but a small electric train will allow tourists to travel there and cabs to reach the casino. 

To complete this plan to fight  » bronchiolitis, the number one childhood disease in our City, due to the extremely high pollution rate in our City », Mayeur and his College want to build four new underground parking lots under historic squares. They will be conceded for a period of 35 years to private investors who will be responsible for designing and implementing the redevelopment of public spaces. To those who are surprised by this project in contradiction with the over-supply of parking spaces in the area and with the Regional Mobility Plan (which aims to reduce the use of private cars by 20% by 2018), we would remind you that the Regional Minister of Mobility is also elected in Brussels-City and that he defends these measures negotiated between the parties of the municipal majority. It is therefore not surprising that the Region has made its stand at the MIPIM in Cannes (the international property development market) available to the City to promote its project, named « BXL.Park » for the occasion. 

Around the  » comfort zone « : a car  » service loop » , which is likely to saturate inhabited arteries, some of which are already completely congested at rush hour. If the Mayor takes offence at the term  » mini-ring », his Deputy Mayor for Mobility does not hesitate to speak of a « parking road « . She asks  » people who don’t have cars to be in solidarity with those who do, » and says, « We’re trying to get motorists into the Pentagon to avoid residential areas as much as possible. The inhabitants of the Pentagon can suffer from the  » discomfort zone » and its automotive pollution… 


The Alderman for Economic Affairs sees these parking lots as an opportunity to increase  » the attractiveness of housing, with the possible consequence of the arrival of inhabitants with a better ability to pay », and the pedestrian area as « a plan for economic redeployment  » allowing « to boost the heart of the city ». On the agenda: extending the authorization of Sunday opening of shops,  » upgrade the commercial offer « by attracting quality signs » and discouraging « This will be done by not renewing certain commercial leases on City-owned first floors, or by prohibitingtheoperation of hotels and restaurants in certain locations. 

The City wants to act, because the shops in the city center are threatened by Neo, the vast project to transform the Heysel plateau into a business, leisure and shopping center, which was initiated by the City in the form of a highly opaque public-private partnership. The advent of Neo, with its 70,000 m² shopping center, offices and parking lots, would result in a 23% loss of clientele for the center’s businesses. At least that’s the result of a study commissioned by the city from a private consultant specializing in « geomarketing »… who also worked for Neo. 

The alderwoman for Economic Affairs, who was opposed to Neo when she was in opposition, now defends it  » out of political consistency « . Embarrassed, she wants to avoid building « a success that would be based on the collapse of the city center . Recommended remedy: specialize the  » commercial cores » by giving them  » new identities « . Thus, Neuve Street would become the  » Belgian High Street No. 1 « Attractive in particular branded store concepts (e.g. Disney) »; the Place De Brouckère a « modern creative heart of interconnection » withpermanent pop up store focused on innovations »,  » augmented reality terminals » and « housing for creative class »; Adolphe Max Boulevard would play the card of a « high-end offer in connection with the tourist/congress clientele » ; Anspach Boulevard would welcome  » impulse buys « , etc. 

Farewell to simple bars, craftsmen, bookshops, grocery stores, pharmacies, night shops and other local businesses? Make way for the  » open-air shopping mall « ? Those who feared a « disneylandification » of the downtown area did not think so. 


Behind the repeated assertion that one must have  » a  » and« vision ambitions  » for the city, and that these should « be to benefit the residents first », the  » The « coherence  » that emerges from the city’s plans is rather that of an urbanism determined by tourism and the « new economy ».international benchmark ».

The College thus struggles to justify the fact that its plans have not been subject to any impact study or public inquiry, that they are so poorly coordinated with its administrative services and that they contradict other City plans still in progress, such as certain Neighbourhood Contracts. 

As for the « participatory process » put in place, it is content with « informing to guarantee the adhesion » of the inhabitants. 

 » I know this plan is scary. It’s normal, because it’s new and when it’s new, it’s scary.« repeated over and over again the alderman of Mobility to explain the many criticisms she has to face. But in terms of  » modernity  » and  » innovation ‚ » the system that allows these projects to flourish is a banal replica of the neo-liberal governance model, promoted as the ultimate horizon of local democracy. 

On closer inspection, there is also something medieval about this system. You have to attend a municipal council meeting in Brussels City to see how the mayor and his aldermen, sitting in their plush chairs under the gilded panelling of the council chamber, despise any questioning or criticism of their plans. « Power is not sharing all the information and keeping it to yourself.said the Mayor in response to a question from elected members of the opposition… Elected officials who sometimes receive the complete agenda of a municipal council only a few days before it is held, or even important and complex legal documents on the day they are voted on. 

You have to see it to believe it. To see the Mayeur brandish the result of a study entrusted to a private office that is  » participatory  » in name only, and to assert, under fire from critics, that he enjoys broad support from the population. Seeing the members of his Court gloomily discussing the questions of the communal councillors, whom they hardly listen to, too busy surfing on their Smartphone or sniggering among themselves. To see them evacuate the embarrassing questions without answering them, while claiming to have « already answered them », or to claim that studies are public when they are secret… or even non-existent. To see the Mayor yelling at the disgruntled citizens, confined to a tiny space at the back of the room, that they just have the right to keep quiet, « to run for office, to be candidates, to be elected and then to speak out »! A funny sentence for an unelected mayor. For this unpopular official owes his appointment only to his thirst for power and to the stratagem of his party, which hoisted him into the chair in place of his predecessor, who was considered too old, in exchange for a golden retirement. The latter has been rehired at the helm of… Neo(1).

Gwenaël Breës

Notes et références
  1. Voir le dossier du Kairos de septembre-novembre 2012 «invasion des méga-centres commerciaux ».

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