By Federica Fusi.

Bruxelles Underworld2
Brussels, Boulevard du Regent – 21 May 2012

The picture shows one of my favorite places since my arrival here.

I am pretty conscious that it seems a building site like many others, but I have to admit that I am used to bring friends, coming to visit me from Italy, exactly there. Some of them are surprised – What does it mean, Fede? – but some others understand what I see in this big empty space along a crowded street in the middle of the European neighborhood and why I think it is so representative of Brussels urbanity – so representative, that I decided to make it my first urban vignette of this city.

First of all, I love what it is: an empty space in the middle of the city. Nowhere but here I discovered so many big and unoccupied spaces, hidden among buildings or centrally located in the core of apparently uptown neighborhoods. They create gaps in this city’s physical form and prove that it is still going to change. In fact, the presence of the European Union main institutions, along with their enormous iron and glass buildings, force the city to be continuously modified. New projects are taking place everywhere to adapt the Belgian capital to its role as the EU headquarter and to host all the upper income classes arriving here from all over European and non-European countries. The image of the super modern shopping centre on the right wall shows exactly what I mean.

However, the surrounding old buildings are the best evidence of another and completely opposite (or complementary?) movement that is characterizing the city in recent years. They are the symbols of the hundreds of young people currently living in Brussels. Most of them are interns in EU institutions and lobbying organizations. But a new and growing group is emerging, made up of young people landing in Brussels just to look for their place to be. They are the creative users of all the old stores and shops forgotten by the upper classes and by the institutions, and now turned into affordable but cozy apartments and small theatres, ateliers, bars and exhibition spaces. Without great ambitions and in a certain way aware that Brussels is (still) not as famous as Berlin and Amsterdam, they are creating culture, arts and social movements open to Brussels’ population, and with great impacts on citizens’ everyday life (Never heard about the Zinneke Parade?).

So, even if some friends look at me in astonishment, trying to guess what the hell it is that I find in this empty space, I enjoy its view every morning on my way to work. It reminds me that cities change, but their present, past and future urban shapes are intrinsically linked. Building the city of tomorrow, old things are all but useless. Jane Jacobs may have told us this clearly before. But Brussels taught me this once more.