6 guiding principles for sharing Bruxsels amongst each other in 2030
For one year we have been talking to citizens and experts about the past, present and futures on our research question ‘How will we share the city amongst each other in Bruxsels in 2030?’. This happened from October 2020 to November 2021 with 482 people over 10 LabAVenirs, 5 Window Cafes, 40 one-to-one meetings with experts and partners.
We gathered many insights and statements that show us possible futures. Inspired by that, we framed 6 principles for sharing the city amongst each other in 2030. We presented these principles in an online experts lab, and refined them together. The 6 principles are the base for our futures stories.
Below some excerpts from the various conversations as ‘citizen testimonials’ and the principles that derived from it.
“I don’t want forced mixing or futuristic hybridisation” ; “Sharing would mean opening up my culture” ; “Going out of my bubble means negotiating my identity with the local identity” ; “To open up means none of the communities, not even the domestic ones, can pretend to have enough cultural rules to become the dominant culture in our society” ; “We need to question the dominant behaviour ruling in the open spaces” ; “Everything is too organised, it kills spontaneity” ; “Let’s do the opera in Molenbeek and do rap in Woluwe” ; “It’s not comfortable when there is too much intercultural; we need opening up of cultures but also maintain spaces where people can have their cultures” ; “Brussels is a melting pot, people here are not caught up in ‘this is how you do things’. We can appreciate the mixity here”
CROSS-POLLINATION BETWEEN GROUPS
Sharing the city amongst each other in 2030 is not only about coexistence but cross-pollination of groups. The idea is to go from tolerance to a true interest for other cultures and practices in a respectful manner. This would mean getting rid of stereotypes and of bubblification.
“It would be interesting to have temporary spaces around different cultures, communities, and practices to challenge our ideas. It’s a way for the city to evolve with its citizens.” ; “We can have zinnekeparade, car free sunday and a carnaval but with less preparations to lower the threshold for participation” ; “We need undefined spaces in the city that are designed for spontaneity” ; “We need more mixed housing” ; “We need everyday spaces in the city designed to host multigenerational, multicultural needs” ; “It’s not by expressing your own culture so much that you build bridges. Building bridges happens when respecting the boundaries of others”
“It is difficult to develop trust and solidarity with people different from you” ; “There should be no difference between expats and immigrants” ; “Diversity is foremost about acknowledging inequality” ; “There is a lot of fear around differences” ; “Everything is too regulated, I don’t see children climbing trees” ; “The over-institutionalised care limits us in relying on others” ; “So many people see Brussels as a transition city, this is hard for social cohesion” ; “It’s hard to connect with people who are in transition in Brussels” ; “How do you educate people about diversity who have just arrived and that might not stay that long”
EXTENDED MUTUAL CARE AND SOLIDARITY FOR EVERYONE
Sharing the city amongst each other in Brussels in 2030 requires us to go beyond the care and solidarity for only people we know. Solidarity is mostly based on familiarity, it is hard to be solidair with people who are very different from us or who are here temporarily. There is a need to emphasise on the common rather than differences. The individualistic lifestyle can give way to more interdependence and mutual care.
“One must be free of prejudice, free of clichés, free of ghettos” ; “We see a rise of solidarity among strangers because of shared struggles during the crisis. We can fake a crisis in the city” ; “Integration in Brussels can be compulsory and for everyone, it is an opportunity to become Brusseleir even if you are here temporarily. We can have different stages and more personalised approach to integration” ; “Educating newcomers about diversity and respect is a political act and it’s a matter of prioritising this” ; “Cultural activities and organisational life (volunteering) helps newcomers in building social networks” ; “We need low threshold open community centres where different people can come in and organise several activities”
“For me the question is: does everyone have to go to all the places in the city?” ; “If we talk about sharing the city, it seems that we are talking about cutting it up, drawing lines, and giving places to one another” ; “It’s not easy to find a flat in Uccle or Woluwe, people don’t want to rent a flat to foreigners. So we have to go to Molenbeek or Anderlecht” ; “We don’t cross the canal” ; “I wouldn’t feel part of any other neighbourhood in Brussels than the one I’m living in” ; “I feel safe in my commune” ; “Some neighbourhoods are dead. Places like youth centres should be developed everywhere, they make dead neighbourhoods lively” ; “I don’t romanticise the idea that we need to be “all together everywhere”. What we do need is better accessibility to different neighbourhoods. Today, if I want to go to Uccle, it takes me an hour”
Sharing the city amongst each other in Brussels in 2030 can build more literal and figurative bridges and connect different municipalities to get rid of the neighbourhood biases. People feel good in a neighbourhood when its characteristics bring a sense of familiarity but that often renders it unwelcoming for others. This creates a paradox between making sure that people should feel at home versus making everyone feel welcome. We don’t have to make everyone feel at home everywhere, rather they should just feel welcome.
“Feelings of safety can be stimulated by collectively going to different neighbourhoods” ; “We need a big polygamous marriage between different communes in Brussels” ; “We need more social housing in richer neighbourhoods” ; “Existing places such as libraries can act as bridges between communes” ; “More participative projects at the regional level can bring people from different municipalities together” ; “We need something like a Sister-city policy for communes where each commune has another sister commune for 2 years to do things together and then it rotates”
“Do I have to choose one or the other language in Brussels?” ; “The promotion of monolingualism in a multicultural city like Brussels is questionable while sharing the city” ; “I dream in Molenbeek of a beautiful hammam with mosaics, with a tea room,… a magnificent place that shows the Moroccan culture” ; “During Covid, we were in echo chambers online, and outside we were sharing the parks and fitness tools with strangers. It made differences very visible in the public spaces and it felt unsafe to be there” ; “The institutional view on diversity as a topic is still old school, often talking about diversity, we think of immigrants and vulnerable populations” ; “For 2030 we have to be ambitious. Will we still divide people by gender? Maybe there will also be bots with AI?” ; “The language conflict will grow because of the huge influx of migrants brought by climate change and wars” ; “Language is a barrier for people to be themselves and to connect with others. We can go beyond it by connecting through skills and interests.” ; “We should normalise issues like sexual orientation and let it be expressed in public . But you have to feel safe to do this. Ideally everyone should feel safe to express themselves. Super utopic”
Sharing the city amongst each other in Brussels in 2030 facilitates the plurality of lifestyles and identities. It is about welcoming the plurality of cultural expressions, languages, genders, perspectives and species. By making social and political space for plurality, we can make Brussels truly a lab for the future of cities. Education has an important role to play to teach multiculturalism and multilingualism.
“There is also a comfort in the fact that everyone is so visually different, you are not the odd one. Show how powerful it can be to be unapologetically yourself” ; “It is not just the education system but also the cities have a responsibility to teach plurality. If a young kid doesn’t find answers at school it would be amazing if they find these things in the city” ; “What if we can learn a language while cooking or climbing?” ; “We need to rethink the pronouns we use in our everyday language” ; “English can become an official language and we should be able to do admin work in any language” ; “We need collective celebrations of diverse festivals and through that display of different cultures” ; “The introduction and the democratisation of real-time interpretation devices can be a real game changer”
“In Brussels I need a person to help me get in and out of the metro. It’s a bit sad. It is time consuming” ; “The school books are white, not diverse enough. You see perfection everywhere” ; “We segregate people with a handicap, put them on a bus, in a social block, in a special school. Mix them with the others” ; “When someone has an assistant, people talk to the assistant, not to the person directly” ; “It would be amazing if I would be able to take the bus without planning and organising. That I can just participate with my friends that are already there, instead of coming to get me” ; “People lack education on differences as they are not confronted with the differences” ; “I would love to participate in the zinneke parade, but everyone is standing and looking up, I’m down on my wheelchair” ; “Dealing with opposing needs and desires makes sharing hard. Eg: party vs dement people, spontaneous vs taking handicaped people into account” ; “The behaviour in public places like sports places is gendered. The masculine sphere dominates over others”
Sharing the city amongst each other in Brussels in 2030 cannot happen without putting Inclusive design as a starting point of everything. In general if you need to make something accessible, you need to plan a lot. This kills spontaneity. Not if we have a multi-needs design panel from the beginning to imagine, plan and execute everything in the city. Multi-needs refers to not different physical or mental abilities but also other ‘handicaps’, such as not speaking local languages, cultural understandings, etc. Getting rid of taboos to discuss diverse needs can be a starting point. To provide equality of design and services that allows people to participate in a meaningful way in everyday life is important for the futures of cities.
“For people to meaningfully participate in projects, communication and information needs to be inclusive; in multiple formats, visual, audio; and brought by organisations that reach special groups. It benefits everyone, not only handicapped people but also newcomers” ; “Places to get away from the chaos in the city, like helmets or pods” ; “Designs that make you smile at each other” ; “Everyone should be trained with diversity so that people with special needs don’t have to pay a lot for assistance” ; “During processions or parades or events, it is necessary to have vehicles part of the parade, a place on a grandstand, adapted public toilets, support for senior citizens, babysit for kids to support mothers to participate” ; “To include diverse voices in participatory urban planning we need participatory credits”
“There is a strong tension between the official norm of ‘active citizenship’ and the bureaucratic integration of newcomers” ; “The integration process is frustrating for newcomers and it doesn’t fit their personal and professional motivations” ; “Not having an active role as a citizen makes most people not have a sense of belonging” ; “Diversity is seen as richness only by the privileged” ; “People of European origin (other than Belgium) living in Brussels are those who have the lowest interest in local politics (municipal and regional)” ; “The presence of distincts Flemish and Francophone reception agencies does not provide a unitary response service in terms of practices and principles” ; “Not everyone has the headspace to participate in the city malking” ; “So many families evicted in the last two years because of unaffordable prices”
A HOME FOR EVERYONE
Sharing the city amongst each other in Brussels in 2030 can happen if we leave no one behind and make everyone feel at home in Brussels. You can feel at home in a city if you live in a decent home. Access to decent housing for everyone is a priority. Followed by social activities and occasions where people can free themselves and mingle with others to build rich social networks.
“No one should be allowed to own more than one house” ; “Ultimate safety for everyone means a good housing” ; “Key party for homeless where we fill-up all empty spaces in Brussels” ; “Language learning can be a platform for exchange between people, exchange of information and the production of networks of support” ; “A culture where we don’t need police necessarily but everybody can tell each other how to be in a respectful way” ; “People who are temporarily here can vote on some matters if not elections”