Do most of the Africans in Brussels live in neighborhoods with less access to green spaces?

In All by Teju Adisa-Farrar

When you first glance at these maps, they look like the inverse of each other. At first sight it seems that the presence of green spaces in Brussels neighborhoods is opposite to the presence of Sub-Saharan Africans in Brussels neighborhoods. I must note there is no more than 10% of Sub-Saharan Africans in any neighborhood in Brussels. The neighborhoods in Brussels that have the highest percentage of Sub-Saharan Africans also tend to have the highest percentages of Moroccans and Turkish people. Though there is no neighborhood in Brussels, according to the data, that is made up exclusively of Africans. 

The dark red areas on the map on the left are the neighborhoods in Brussels with the highest share of Sub-Saharan Africans, they are also the neighborhoods with even larger shares of Moroccans and Turkish people. They are all clustered together in and around Brussels’ city centre pentagon. Academics often refer to this cluster of neighborhoods as the poor crescent. This area has the highest unemployment, low-income, low education, and high percentages of Africans and Turkish people, which are some of the most disadvantaged communities in Brussels; it is also sort of shaped like a crescent.

The poor crescent neighborhoods generally have a lower proximity to green spaces (as you can see in pale yellow on the right map); this could also be because they are poorer areas. It is very common that poorer areas have less accessible green spaces and less desirable environments in general. It is also not uncommon that green spaces popping up in poorer inner city neighborhoods are indications that an area may be undergoing gentrification, with the overall demographic changing: becoming less poor, less ethnic, and more “hip[ster].”

These maps showing neighborhoods with higher shares of Sub-Saharan Africans having less access to green spaces is not causation, it is correlation. Additionally, Brussels has a relatively high rate of access to green spaces with the average being around 80 percent. Keep in mind, however, that the Sonian Forest (the biggest accessible green space) borders Brussels to the Southeast–on the edges of the city, where many of the wealthiest neighborhoods are.

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The off center spatial cluster seen on the left map with the dark red color (high share of Sub-Saharan Africans) as opposed to the same pale yellow color (low access to green spaces) cluster on the right map may allude to a reality of polarization. Meaning, in areas that have the highest share of Sub-Saharan Africans and lowest income are the neighborhoods that are more likely to have less access to green spaces. For example, Annessens and Cureghem Bara are both in the lowest ten percent for income and highest ten percent for share of North and Sub-Saharan Africans, they also have the lowest proximity to green spaces.

This spatial reality may hold true the other way around as well. There is a cluster of six neighborhoods (dark red on the right map) in the south east of Brussels that have high or very high income, low share of Africans and the highest proximity to green spaces–above 95%. This is the other side of this polarized reality. We may only see extreme environmental segregation in Brussels in very polarized neighborhoods, ones that are on either side of the same extreme.

There are many issues with the spatial segregation in Brussels, which is not unlike that of other cities in Europe and America. There are often strong correlations between high shares of ethnic communities, low income and low education, and a less pleasant environment. These neighborhoods have less access to green spaces, less nice places around their neighborhood to spend time in, and less resources.

Mapping social, economic, and environmental differences within a city is a productive way to analyze how the consequences of urbanization, gentrification, and other processes affect a city and the inhabitants who live within its boundaries. By mapping differences and inequities we can see how cities are representations of the injustices that already exist within society, while simultaneously being nuclei of diversity. We can see who is on the map and in what way, as well as what is on the map and its importance within a city system.

Spatial segregation within cities is one of the many ways certain ethnic communities, in this case Sub-Saharan Africans, are excluded from the city. There are a few minority groups that are subtly, and less subtly, excluded from the city and the lovely parts of it many of us take for granted. I’m interested in understanding the type of exclusion, the magnitude, as well as the responses to it. It’s important for local city governments and municipalities to acknowledge the realities of the segregation and exclusion in their cities and the consequences that may–and have–arisen as a result. It is also crucial to understand the resilience of the excluded groups and the alternative communities they create as a result of their exclusion and segregation.

All data used or referenced in this article is from 2012 and 2013. It is only for The Brussels Capital Region and comes from Monitoring des Quartiers (Service Public Regional De Bruxelles).