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Thread: Brussels, a city built the wrong way round ?

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    Post Brussels, a city built the wrong way round ?



    A city with no river, but ponds

    Brussels is an exception among European capitals, or major cities worldwide. Most cities are built along a river, but in Brussels this (small) river passes under the city, so that it is invisible. The reason might have been that it was too small and that it consequently couldn't eliminate the pollution caused by the sewers and factories.

    A wider canal replaces it for boats. As a result, all the area along the canal is industrial, the opposite of most cities where the nicest residential neighbourhoods and famous museums or government buildings are built along the river.

    The nicer residential neighbourhoods are thus concentrated in the greener eastern and southern suburbs, particularily along the Woluwe valley (not a river, but a mere brook) and the numerous ponds that surround it.

    Give the nice houses to the poor, so that the rich live in shacks

    Another weirdness of Brussels is that the historical centre, where all the most handsome houses are to be found, is one of the poorest area of the city (e.g. Brussels-City, Saint-Gilles, Northern Ixelles, Schaerbeek). And as a consequence, the richer suburbs, which happen to be also the most distant from the centre, are ugliest and least tasteful or lavish of the capital (e.g. Woluwe-St-Lambert, Auderghem, Watermael-Boitsfort).

    In Paris and many other French cities, it is just the opposite that happens. The innermost wards of Paris (1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, all along the river !) are the poshest and most expensive, while the poorest districts are all in the far-away banlieues (suburbs) made of ugly concrete residential towers (known as HLM in France).

    The reason where richer Brusselers chose to leave the centre is that it was too noisy and polluted. So they left the architectural wonders of the European captal to the poor immigrants, and most of them are now run-down, some to the point of becoming ruins just good to dismantle. What a waste ! It is all the more shocking when you see the miserable-looking 1920's and 30's art-deco houses that the upper-middle class have traded for their former elegant 19th-century residences.

    Fortunately the most beautiful constructions in the centre have been saved by companies (esp. banks and shops), law firms, restaurants or hotels that have aquired them. But too much is still falling into a state of shameful disrepair, especially in the western half of the city centre.

    The (re-)gentrification process has started, with more young people coming back to the centre and renovating old houses. But how long will it take to resore central Brussels to its former glory ? Could it be the absence of river that has caused this uncanny situation to happen ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Another weirdness of Brussels is that the historical centre, where all the most handsome houses are to be found, is one of the poorest area of the city (e.g. Brussels-City, Saint-Gilles, Northern Ixelles, Schaerbeek). And as a consequence, the richer suburbs, which happen to be also the most distant from the centre, are ugliest and least tasteful or lavish of the capital (e.g. Woluwe-St-Lambert, Auderghem, Watermael-Boitsfort).
    Sometimes that can happen in England too... not necessarily London (I think so but I haven't evidence ), but some cities, that large and old houses, very beautiful in themselves and once luxurious residences for the rich, get split up into flats and then become run-down and poorer areas. ;_; And as well as big old houses, often the Victorian terraced houses, which are pretty nice and quality houses (although not as large as those I think you are talking about) constitute the 'bad' areas of the city, whereas the horrible tacky matchboxes of the suburbs are the 'posh' areas. (not always, since there are some 'posh' areas of terraces, particularly where they are larger and better-maintained, but...)

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    In the U.S. where I live generally you get both status of people in the same area but we help each other out. I like it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad VanGuard View Post
    In the U.S. where I live generally you get both status of people in the same area but we help each other out. I like it.
    That is not true of everywhere in the USA. The US is the Western country with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor. Gated communities for the rich (the pinnacle of class distinction) are common in places like California or Florida, although I have never seen any in Europe. The poorest Americans live in trailer parks, a phenomenon also nearly non-existent in Europe.

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    So the poor immigrants are the "wrong" people to live in a beautiful city centre? What a warped point of view. And the rich may prefer 1920s and 1930s Art Deco houses which are probably beautiful!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    That is not true of everywhere in the USA. The US is the Western country with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor. Gated communities for the rich (the pinnacle of class distinction) are common in places like California or Florida, although I have never seen any in Europe. The poorest Americans live in trailer parks, a phenomenon also nearly non-existent in Europe.
    True. But the equivalent of trailer parks in Europe would be the urban slums and rural shanties that are quite common. Or else the housing projects/public estates in the UK.

    The lack of gated communities may be due to the antiquity of settlements and the prices of land. That and the general lack of suburban populations compared to the US due to the European propensity to train travel, high fuel prices, and generally close-together cities to begin with.

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    I agree that Brussels has many weird aspects, but it does offer the major advantage of having many nice residential suburbs around the city centre composed of detached villas with gardens (like Uccle and Tervuren), which is very uncommon elsewhere in Europe where most suburbs tend to be the poorest parts of the city as you said.

    PS: I lived in Brussels for some 14 years and know the city very well!

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