Brussels of tomorrow

Brussels mag N°17

She in the plural

Women talking


Reflections on Brussels now and in the future with regard to mobility, the urban landscape and new initiatives. Below are the opinions of three women who are involved with the Brussels landscape.

Anne Vierstraete
Director of Art Brussels – the contemporary art fair.

What comes to mind when envisaging Brussels of today?

AV When you ask foreign tourists what they think of Brussels, the city does not conjure up an immediate attraction as is the case for cities such as Paris, London, New York and many others. Despite its human scale, which might give the impression that one can quickly tour the city, it remains inscrutable and secretive. The city does not reveal itself at first glance. It takes time to appreciate its diversity: time to roam through the city according to one’s mood and interests of the moment, time to divest oneself of one’s preconceptions, time to look in detail at the complex patchwork that makes Brussels so fragmented and enigmatic. Under the surface of a first impression, Brussels has many assets and an unusual charm. This is far from the image of a city which could be seen as grey and full of ‘Eurocrats’. Apart from the magnificent Grand Place, the city’s architecture is a mosaic in which it is rare to find two buildings in a similar style. The population of Brussels offers the same diversity and the city vibrates and lives according to the rhythms and sounds of the second most cosmopolitan community in the world. The question is – community or absence of community? Perhaps that is the identity of Brussels – the fact of being pluralistic, elusive on the whole and fertile ground for individualism. The marvels of the city are hidden. The image of Brussels – the capital of Europe – is imbued with a typical Belgian style of modesty. Following the example of the traffic in the city centre, everything regarding development, transformation and renovation proceeds at a snail’s pace …. an example of this is the Palais de Justice. Many Brussels inhabitants wonder if the day will ever come when they will see the building free of scaffolding, given that the restoration project is as immense as the very construction of this vast building which seems to mark an invisible border between the city’s uptown and downtown areas. And all this is also Brussels: an abundance of eclecticism, a touch of surrealism, a certain bonhomie, the slow pace that marks the landscape hiding a multitude of passions and varied initiatives in sectors that are the hallmark of a unique art de vivre, gastronomy, art in many guises and commerce. In Brussels, one finds veritable signatures, many people passionate about their desire to share their savoir-faire in all sectors where the inhabitants are proud to be on the lookout for the genuine article, authenticity, a beautiful work of art or a special product, a bold approach to life. In brief, all these precious nuggets contribute to making Brussels unique and will not let go of you once it has captivated you!

And what about the future of Brussels?

AV My dream would be that Brussels becomes more attractive without glossing over its imperfections, because they give the city its personality and its charm. The key concept would be to avoid homogenisation, to highlight the special nature of its districts by cultivating its natural treasures, a result of its extremely cosmopolitan nature, while encouraging a more harmonious and more open living side-by-side with others. In my dream, Brussels would become easier to get around, by creating real cycle paths, protected pavements and an efficient public transport system. In my dream, road works would be completed in less time, before any inconvenience was caused. An integrated system would regulate the flow of traffic in real time. In my dream, the distinction between uptown and downtown would be merely geographical. The institutions, businesses and restaurants, theatres, art galleries, everything that contributes to the atmosphere of a city, would be spread out harmoniously with an emphasis on increasing the unique ambiance of the specific districts. High quality stores should be established locally and craft professions encouraged. In my dream, art would become an integral purposeful element of street life, the number of green zones and children’s playgrounds would be increased. The Brussels Canal Zone would become an asset, a place for pleasure and entertainment. Diversity would be incorporated even more than it is today in the range of performances on offer in theatres, concerts and museums. Brussels would have a contemporary art museum of international renown and Brussels’ institutions would be given the means to put on large-scale exhibitions and, for some of them, even the possibility of acquiring works by modern artists. In my dream, the city would become accessible to young people who wish to rent or buy in every district. Residences and artists workshops would be even more numerous than today, which would distinguish Brussels from other European capitals. My dream is even more diverse… I would be seated in a lively Brussels café in the Flagey district, busily writing a text on my computer; at the next table, a group of young students would be enjoying themselves drinking different kinds of Belgian beers, brown beer and lager – as varied as the many languages they are speaking! But I am not dreaming and it’s back to reality! It is now time to consult my favourite app and calculate how long it will take to get to my next appointment. No more dreaming, it’s rush hour in Brussels!

Valérie Paquot
Director of Neuhaus and the Compagnie du Bois Sauvage holding company

Uptown or downtown? Uptown.

Your favourite museum? The Magritte museum, of course

And if Brussels were a smell? The aroma of hot waffles in the city centre.

And a song? “Bruxelles” by Jacques Brel.

What would you bring back from Brussels? Chocolate and Gueuze beer.

What do you miss when you leave the city? The nearness of everything and the possibility of doing everything on foot.

What city is a good alternative to Brussels? London, New York or Paris.

Your latest discovery in the city? It’s been a long time since I last explored Brussels but my latest discovery is what used to be the leather workers’ district and the rue Haute for a great Sunday walk!

Your favourite place to eat? “Chez Lou”, a friendly restaurant in the Châtelain district.

What is your favourite season? Summer, with its sun-drenched terraces.

And if Brussels were a colour? Grey or blue depending on the weather that day!

The most beautiful historical building? The Saint-Michel-and Saint-Gudule Cathedral.

What does Brussels have that other cities do not have? The Brussels inhabitants. They are unique!

Isabelle Hamburger
President of Maison Vervloet, creator of Ferrures d’art (ornamental ironwork)

Uptown or downtown? Both, actually. I work in the downtown area and cannot stand that access has become increasingly difficult. I persist in doing my shopping in the uptown area in order to support all the beautiful boutiques, specialist shops and those offering expertise.

What is your favourite museum? Just one? There’s the Wiels, the Boghossian Foundation and I am looking forward impatiently to the reopening of the Kanal Centre Pompidou. Without forgetting all the private initiatives in the art world.

And if Brussels were a smell? Whelks! The famous periwinkles! Especially in autumn!

A song? Bruxelles, Ma Belle, and of course, Brel’s Bruxelles.

What would you bring back from Brussels? Chocolates, biscuits, etc.

What do you miss when you leave the city? Nothing, but I am always happy to return to Brussels.

Do you have a favourite alternative to Brussels? I adore Paris, Rome and Beirut.

The latest attraction discovered in town? Brussels is full of small delights, stylish boutiques and surprising places. Typographe is a delightful and magnificent store, as is the absolute ‘go-to’ boutique Cachemire Coton Soie.

Your favourite place to eat? Without a doubt, Vini Divini. You really feel at home there, it’s like dining at home with friends. It’s delicious and has a lovely, warm atmosphere!

What is your favourite season? Definitely spring. It’s just magical, seeing nature waking up. Every time, it’s a new marvel.

And if Brussels were a colour? Green! It is full of beautiful parks and streets lined with trees and flowers; and the Soignes Forest which borders part of the city.

The most beautiful historical building? The houses designed by the architect Victor Horta!

What does Brussels have that other cities do not have? The self-mockery of its inhabitants!


qui- Anne Vierstraete