« Le Soir » on pedestrianism: a GPS that goes wrong

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I hadn’t read it in a long time. The drop in the bucket was one of those promotional campaigns that underline their own emptiness as they try to sell a product on « values » that are not his own: « Le Soir stands up against the unacceptable », « We will always be right to open it,« The Evening, I see it clearly » or « Le Soir. I read therefore I act »… In any case, my withdrawal was immediate and therapeutic. But, thanks to the good graces of the Internet, which threw back in my face what I was trying to escape, I found him on my way and it is especially through local questions that I had the opportunity to test his infallible attachment to the values he displays: « independence, reliability, citizenship, inspiring in action ».

the art of dodging 

A year ago, during the mobilization against the project of the City of Brussels to build a parking lot under the Place du Jeu de Balle, Le Soir showed little eagerness to cover the subject. The newspaper which claims to be a « GPS in the news » and to help its readers to  » sort out what is derisory and essential », had undoubtedly judged that the 23336 signatories (in three weeks) of the petition against this parking lot were leading a derisory fight… 

The City eventually capitulated, improvising to move its project under a public housing building 300 meters away, thus contradicting and complicating the development of its own Neighborhood Contract in the same location. Le Soir did not mention the opposition of the residents, the debacle of the authorities who took 7 months to realize that a parking lot was incompatible with the registration of this land as a green zone, and again their « plan C » consisting in building this parking lot under a station… without having consulted the SNCB, whose refusal fell within 24 hours! The knowledge that the City is proceeding in such an amateurish manner is surely of no interest to readers. 

« Giving weapons » to these people so that they « canmake up their own minds rather than just telling them what to think » is the ambition of Le Soir. This would imply a detailed analysis and a contradictory debate on this excavation frenzy and the program in which it fits: that of  » giving back  » to pedestrians the boulevards of the city center and to cars the basements of four squares and the narrow arteries of the « miniring « . This program — which lacks a coherent vision and is based on a shaky agreement between socialists and liberals — owes its infernal timing and its phobia of democratic procedures to the 2018 elections, as summarized by Mayor Yvan Mayeur: « We have to decide quickly, otherwise I know what will happen. We’re going to be confronted with a bunch of experts and committees that will give their opinion, of course, negative. Not to mention the legal procedures that are a real hassle. » 

The « society projectThe « new rules » that the mayor is imposing go far beyond mobility: a ban on political demonstrations on the boulevards but authorization for commercial happenings, privatization of public space, a ban on the consumption of alcohol in the street (except on the terraces), a development plan to « upgrade » the commercial offer, especially for Chinese tourists, removal of newsstands, installation of giant advertising screens, concession to ClearChannel to develop digital advertising along the pedestrian route, all-to-everything events, etc. But Le Soir prefers to summarize the complexity of the issue in a binary opposition between « the supporters  » and  » The « opponents « , suggesting that the critical voices (cyclists, people with reduced mobility, motorists, associations, employers, regional authorities, shopkeepers, inhabitants — including those who defend the principle of pedestrianism and who had initially demanded it) would only emanate from devious minds, from partisans of the all-to-the-car, in short, a concert of egoisms and archaisms. This editorial dishonesty is not only taking sides with the City’s projects, but doing so in an unassuming manner, giving voice to only some of them, evading information and fragmenting others… 

at night, some reasons not to open it anymore… 

October, Le Soir opened its columns to the philosopher and economist Philippe Van Parijs: he who declared a few months earlier that « the inhabitants are not the owners of the city » proposed its enthusiastic vision of pedestrianism, erasing all complexity, evacuating the democratic question, reducing the impacts of this plan to the minutiae of « software » that will be resolved over time. An opinion that is less the result of the detailed analysis of a member of the academic community than of the hasty bias of a citizen who does not hesitate to take a few liberties with reality and with history. Thus, to evoke « a return to the original design of our boulevards [qui] were designed at the end of the 19th century so that the people of Brussels could stroll along their entire width, chat, let their children play« This is forgetting that the roads were then used by streetcars, carriages and carts (before being taken over by the automobile), while the sidewalks were dedicated to pedestrians. And this is not to say that the City is now complicating bus routes in the center and sending cars back to medieval arteries, certainly not designed for cars and where a child would no longer be allowed to  » stroll » without a gas mask. 

The next day, the daily newspaper that does not give up anything to push back the boundaries of ignorance and conformism brought together in Mons thinkers of the urban question, such as the star architect Santiago Calatrava (designer of the stations of Liège and soon of Mons) and several mayors (among them Elio Di Rupo and Yvan Mayeur), for a high-flying brainstorming session with a conclusion worthy of the audacious « Thecity is a complex, multiple being, with issues as varied as those who live in it ».

The next day, the reader of Le Soir could thus appreciate with more height the report of the Consultation Commission on the pedestrian area. A half page signed by Pierre Vassart (head of the Brussels pages), curiously giving no key to understand that this consultation organized at the end of a public inquiry carried out at the wrong time (while a test phase is underway for several more months) and with the only object to the development of the pedestrian area (benches, removal of flower boxes, …) — did not allow to pronounce on the essential concern of the 200 persons present: that of mobility. Not a word about the many criticisms of the mobility plan, nor about the demand for an impact study, nor even about the lack of preliminary studies — the City is currently facing legal challenges on this very ground. From the 3h30 of debates, the reporter only retained words « [refusant] en bloc the very principle of pedestrianism » or estimating on the contrary  » that this one did not go far enough »… remarks that he is the only one to have heard. It is not surprising, since he points out the absence of an association that was present at the meeting in full view of everyone. In reality, it was the journalist from Le Soir who did not bother to show his nose and who tried to disguise his absence by giving the floor only to the alderman of Urban Planning. 

This treatment of complacency obviously has nothing to do with the proximity between certain journalists and elected officials. Nor with the fact that the municipal authorities published in Le Soir, 15 days after the consultation, a 28-page supplement of unsigned articles praising the benefits of the advertiser on the opposite page. The prize goes to the article « Parking lots, an asset for Brussels pedestrians »… published opposite an advertisement for Interparking! 

Gwenaël Breës

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