11/10/2007

Should Brussels become a city region ? [3]

The term ‘city region’ has been in use since about 1950 by urbanists, economists and urban planners to mean not just the administrative area of a recognizable city or conurbation but also its hinterland that will often be far bigger. Conventionally, if one lives in an apparently rural area, suburb or county town where a majority of wage-earners travel into a particular city for a full or part-time job then one is (in effect) residing in the city region [10]. As explained above, this is the Brussels’ existing situation for around 30 % of the persons.

A city region is an official realization that a municipality’s economic, cultural and demographic reach can extend beyond the political or administrative boundaries of the city itself. The role of a city region is clearly pointed out by J. Homan of the Birmingham City Council[11] :

  • The ‘economic’ city : a bigger footprint ;
  • Adding value : a critical mass of people, talent, businesses, transport connections, gateways ;
  • Better joining up of urban assets, e.g. integrating employment, housing and transport ;
  • Providing a strategic urban vision for the long-term ;
  • Twin track approach : improving liveability and competitiveness.

Since several years, many city regions have been created in Europe initially to counterpart the extensive influence of the capital of the country : Barcelona, Bilbao, Bologna, Dublin, Lille, Munich, Randstad, Stuttgart, etc…[12]. One good example – less than 100 kilometers from Brussels - is the Communauté Urbaine de Lille which is today seen as the dynamo driving the whole of the economy of the north east of France[13].

Are citizens ready to this ? A recent web-pool – although such survey cannot be considered as scientifically valid - organized by the French-speaking newspaper Le Soir showed that only 8 % of the responders chosen this option from Brussels [14].

Are politicians ready to this ? Last month the Reformator Party asked the Brussels’ Region Presidency to evaluate the future of Brussels as a “ Communauté Urbaine “[15].

Recently Van Wynsberghe discussed the Brussels metropolis[16]. She proposes minimalist versions , which can be envisaged without requiring institutional reform and without touching the geographical borders of the BCR.

<< Part 2

Sources

[10] Wikipedia.

[11] Metrogov : Urbact working group.

[12] More details on the Improvement and Development Agency's (IDeA's) web site.

[13] Lille city was devastated by the collapse of its textile industry in the second half of the last century. This caused crippling unemployment, especially in the immigrant communities that had come to work in the mills. In the late 60s, a citywide authority was set up to reverse its decline. It is elected by the 88 councils covering the built up area; and shares with them both income from local taxes, and powers over transport, economic development and housing. Lille's development is based on two territories: the urban community that groups municipalities and the metropolis that transcends state borders.

A key element in Lille’s transformation was the city leadership’s powers to do deals and ability to overcome parochial local rivalries. The results have been impressive. The centre has been transformed and new office developments; an expanded university and a booming financial services sector have boosted jobs.

[14] On 5182 votes to the question « What kind of future for Brussels in case of scission of Belgium ? [Quel avenir pour Bruxelles en cas de scission de la Belgique ? ]» the answers were : a city region 7.9 %, independency 10.7 %, capital of Brussels 12.5 %, capital of Wallonia 30.6%, an European district 38.3%. Pool Le Soir, September 2007.

[15] Le MR demandeur d’un grand Bruxelles, Le Soir Oct. 16, 2007.

[16] C. Van Wynsberghe - The Brussels metropolis : developments between Lille and Berlin ? Brussels Studies - 5/11/2007.

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