The theme of productive cities plays an important role in territorial development in Brussels. Unlike many new districts in other European cities, Brussels has made the decision to keep its productive economy in the city and in close relation to other functions. In 2012, the Brussels-Capital Region’s Canal Plan was put down on paper; the approach of this plan aimed both to respond to a need for new homes and to retain productive activity in the city.
When we look at new urban developments in other European cities, one thing is clear, namely that one function is systematically excluded – the productive economy. Production activities have therefore moved from the city to the outskirts, either to industrial areas in the suburbs of the city itself or to countries on the other side of the world.
The aim is not to bring heavy industry back to the city. However, it is ridiculous that a plumber living in the heart of Molenbeek and working in houses in the city centre is forced to go to an SME park in Drogenbos to look for parts as there are no more warehouse spaces left in the city.
Should “dirty” jobs not be included alongside offices when we are planning urban economic activities? Should we not bring together the products we use in our urban environment and the location where these products are produced ?
BENEFITS AT ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND SPATIAL LEVEL
Keeping productive activities in cities is advantageous for economic, social and spatial reasons.
Firstly, a diversified economy is always more beneficial. The current monoculture of offices or tourism in Brussels is in fact fragile. Urban industry, for its part, offers other job opportunities than those in the hotel and catering or office maintenance sectors. Urban industry generally takes the form of an SME and offers more local jobs, thus promoting the integration of more disadvantaged young workers.
In terms of mobility, businesses in the city clearly have the advantage of proximity and contribute to a more sustainable urban metabolism.
Added to that is the sometimes harsh, but typical, nature of post-industrial zones, which should not be completely erased and whose urban renovation may give it a more authentic form.
Nowadays, the creative manufacturing industry (hand-produced jewellery and designer bicycles, urban agriculture, craft breweries, etc.) is on the rise and is welcome in the city. But this does not cover the socioeconomic and sustanbility challenges of our urban environment. We also need to provide space for more “ordinary” activities, such as repair workshops, concrete mixing plants and our “legendary” plumber.
The future economy will, we hope, be fairer, greener and more local, thus more urban. We need to plan space for businesses now, so that later we do not regret the loss of this essential urban actor.
Lastly, we must not forget the symbolic dimension: just as we consider that city children need to know where milk comes from, we must also make sure they know that objects are manufactured and that there are jobs for which we have to provide space in our urban environment.
It goes without saying that architects are facing a daunting task, like for instant reducing nuisance issues between residential and industrial activities. We therefore need inventive solutions to ensure that housing and industries can coexist in the same building or the same district. For this to happen, we need to boost the creativity of our architects so that they create innovative solutions that can act as a response to the typological challenges we are facing. The organisation of competitions may act as a catalyst. This is what the BMA does, we launch and support a number of architectural competitions in the area of urban productivity and mixed projects.
BRUSSELS PRODUCTIVE CITY
The Brochure Brussels Productive City lists 25 architectural projects in Brussels that celebrate productivity and mixed land-use in cities. The projects are described by the architects themselves and introduced by the BMA.
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