Any changes to public space generate debate, whether it is the creation of a pedestrianised area, a tunnel or a new road. Parks can also give rise to controversy: the Bois de la Cambre is often the object of such controversy regarding its uses and, in particular, the space to be allocated to cars. The 187th issue of Brussels Studies explores this topic. For Nicola da Schio (VUB), Claire Pelgrims (ULB), Anneloes Vandenbroucke and Sebastiano Cincinnato (Brussels Studies Institute), the debate on whether car traffic should be allowed in urban and suburban parks reflects the opposition between two priorities: urban liveability and geographical accessibility. The authors note that there is a particularly strong opposition between these two priorities in Brussels, where mobility has long been influenced by different visions of the city. The priority given to urban liveability or geographic accessibility is strongly connected to different ways of life, which in turn are supported by different urban imaginaries.
In order to verify this hypothesis in the specific case of the Bois de la Cambre, the researchers traced the history of the organisation of mobility in the park and conducted a survey regarding present-day representations of how the park is used. They note that motorised traffic has never been the result of an explicit plan, but rather the consequence of a laissez-faire approach. Since the late 1960s, however, a number of measures have been proposed, including restrictions on traffic and detours. They reflect societal changes associated with a concern for ecology, heritage, car traffic flow and – more recently – the increased importance attached to the recreational uses of the park
In 2020, the importance of green spaces for the inhabitants of Brussels during lockdown reopened the discussion regarding the uses of the park. The current data presented in the article come from an online survey conducted in the autumn of that year, when the debates were particularly heated. It appears that the different claims which are made today regarding the use of the park are strongly connected to residential location, habitual modes of transport and the use of and access to green spaces. These practices reflect divergent lifestyles which are inspired by dominant imaginaries of mobility and the city, and which evolve slowly. The authors stress the need for new concrete solutions to reduce the pressure on the Bois de la Cambre – more sustainable means of transport, control of urban housing prices and shorter distances between places of residence and places of work. These measures, which are eminently political in nature, must be accompanied by the development of new imaginaries regarding the city and mobility, allowing solutions to be accepted and implemented.
Tatiana Debroux, [email protected].