What is it actually like, living in Brussels? Is Brussels indeed the hellhole some people make it out to be? Or is it a pretty good place to stay? One thing is certain: Brussels is not unmoved. In the book Brussels Beroert! researcher Elise Schillebeeckx examines the aspirations and motives of people to move to, stay or leave Brussels.
Brussels is stirring! is the result of a study conducted in the period 2017-2019 at the request of Innoviris, which finances research on Brussels. “We spoke to 154 people about their housing wishes in Brussels and the role of Brussels in this,” Schillebeeckx explains.
“There is already a lot of research on reasons why people leave the city. But if you want to keep people in the city, you have to know why people come to live in Brussels and want to stay here. We wanted to investigate that.”
Some people see Brussels as a temporary destination. If their priorities change, for example due to a career change or family expansion, they leave the city again.
Brussels’ fiscal base is impoverishing. “The wealthy people often leave the city. Such people see Brussels as a temporary destination. If their priorities change, for example due to a career change or family expansion, they leave the city again.” And that is also a loss for the Brussels treasury.
Besides obvious economic motives, the rich diversity of residential neighborhoods is another striking asset of Brussels. “Commuters often do not go further than the station areas and the streets around them. But in the interviews I had, it was striking how much people appreciate those different residential areas,” says Schillebeeckx. “And then there is the metropolitan character. Brussels is the only major city in Belgium with more than 1 million inhabitants. The diversity of people and cultures also appeals to many people.”
Converted city dweller
Brussels is stirring! divides residents according to ten profiles, all with their own living expectations. We pick two. The converted city dweller is a first profile in which people can recognize themselves. “These are people who were originally going to live in Brussels temporarily, for example for their first job. But always with the intention of leaving again if they had children. But gradually they get to know Brussels better and decide to stay and raise their children here. Brussels finally convinced them.”
On the other spectrum, Schillebeeckx identifies the disenchanted city dwellers . “These are people who initially speak about Brussels with a lot of passion and fire and who also consciously chose to come and live in the city. They actively participate in association life and may even be politically active locally. They are committed to improving the quality of living in their neighborhood. But gradually they become disappointed by their experiences. Due to the administrative tangle, the fragmentation of powers or due to road safety. The disappointed city dweller then bitterly turns his back on Brussels after a few years.”
What lessons should we learn from the research? In other words: how do we keep Brussels residents in Brussels? According to Schillebeeckx, many people are concerned about basic facilities. ‘And then I think of the long waiting lists for primary education. People leave for fear of not getting a good education for their children. And the same applies to road safety. People are also afraid of sending children into traffic. And then there are the people who would like to live in Brussels, but simply cannot afford it.”