These days, when talking about water in the city, it is often about (potential) destruction through storms and rising sea levels caused by climate change. But let’s not forget that water still equals (city) life at the same time.
Water works like a magnet on people, no matter their background or age. It can actually bring out the inner child in all of us. A nicely renovated waterfront, or a well conceived fountain can do wonders to bring squares and streets to life. Cities around the world are steadily picking up on this.
One of the best examples I came across lately is the mirror d’eau in Bordeaux. It’s one of the largest reflecting pools/spray machines in the world, and probably also one of the greatest urban playgrounds. All kinds of people, including a lot of children, come together to enjoy some refreshment and the surrounding cityscape.
Cities without much natural water should try to bring water back into the city. In Brussels, the popularity of the splash fountains on Place Flagey, already copied at several other renovated squares, shows how much people are craving water, especially on warm summer days.
The planned renewal of downtown boulevard Anspach is an excellent opportunity to do something about the city’s lack of blue surface. Especially because the boulevard more or less follows the old river bed of the Senne/Zenne that was put underground in the 19th century. So it makes sense that new fountains are planned at Beurs/Bourse and De Brouckère. But that should be just the start. The city could bring part of its river back to the surface. Two areas directly north and south of the centre are perfect for this.
1) At Yser, the oversized street next to the future contemporary arts museum can give way to a small river bed along the existing Maximiliaan Park. This was actually proposed by Alexandre Chemetoff, who came up with a master plan for the canal area.
2) Around Porte d’Anderlecht, the parking jungle in the middle of the inner ring road could be replaced with a river bed, alongside the tram tracks that are already there. There would still be room for a nice promenade and dedicated cycle track to connect the international train
station Brussels Midi with the planned new parc at Porte de Ninove and the up-and-coming canal area. It could look something like this (image courtesy Damiaan De Jonge):
What are we waiting for?
Laurent Vermeersch is a Brussels-based historian and journalist. He works for local news outlet brusselnieuws.be and keeps a blog called The City Geek. Connect with him on Twitter @thecitygeek.