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.

09/22/2007

Should Brussels become a city region ? [2]

The attractiveness of the BCR is not limited to work positions. Around fifty percent of the students enrolled in the Brussels Higher Education Institutes are coming from Flanders and Wallonia. For example, 53%, 36% and, 11 % of the students of the Free University of Brussels (the largest French-speaking university of the BCR) are respectively coming from the BCR, Wallonia and Flanders[7]. Its Flemish counter-part (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) reports quite similar figures.

From a social/geographical point of view; Van Hecke recently evaluated the Belgian urban regions. An urban region is a sociological “set” – a quite homogeneous social and economical area – taking into account the housing, the people flow (travel), the work place and the exchanges between the center and the periphery. He pointed out that the Brussels’ urban region in facts covers 62 communes[8].

 © Selon la KUL, la région bruxelloise compte 62 communes. La Libre Belgique Aug 2, 2008. Whithout permission

From a business point of view, similar conclusions can be drawn. When Agoria evaluated the IT business in Belgium, the BCR was considered as the center of the “Senne digital valley”, a virtual construction flowing from Antwerp to Charleroi with 65% of the Belgian work positions of which 30% only in the BCR[9]. Since decades companies are leaving the 19 communes of the BCR for multiple reasons (fiscal benefits, traffic congestion…). They moved their headquarters some kilometers away in order to be located in Flanders or in Wallonia. In reality, nothing has been changed : those companies are still active in the BCR.

The corporate and cultural significance of Brussels stretches far beyond its administrative limit.

<< Part 1                                                                              Part 3 >>

References 

[7] Statistics of the Conseil des Recteurs des institutions universitaires de la Communauté française de Belgique. 2006-2007.This generate an additional inflow of 7500 students.

[8] Selon la KUL, la région bruxelloise compte 62 communes. La Libre Belgique Aug 2, 2008.

[9] Bruxelles, Capitale digitale de l'Europe "The Iris(h) Plan" (2005).

09/01/2007

Should Brussels become a city region ? [1]

As a result of the institutional reforms implemented over the past three decades, today Belgium is a Federal State composed by Communities (French Community, Flemish Community and German-speaking Community) and Regions (Wallonia, Brussels-Capital and Flanders).

Since 1989, nine years after Flanders and Wallonia, the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) is an autonomous region with its own competencies : (1) town and country planning, environment and water policy ; (2) nature conservation, housing ; (3) economy, energy ; (4) local authorities, employment ; (5) public works ; (6) transportation ; (7) external relations ; (8) scientific research. It tooks another 17 years to issue (in 2006), the Brussels’ Innovation plan which has been recently evaluated[1].

Now, what are the next steps needed for the BCR in the knowledge-based economy[2] ?

Capital of Belgium, capital of Flanders and, de facto, capital of Europe, the BCR is the third wealthiest European region with a GDP of € 55.442 per inhabitant – two to three times the GDP of the two others region of Belgium[3]. Like other large cities, the Brussels’ GDP is pushed up by the commuter flow (around 356.000 persons compared to the 1.020.000 inhabitants) to a level that could not be achieved by the resident active population on its own[4]. In fact, the number of salaried workers employed in the BCR is 18 % of the number of salaried workers in Belgium approximately two times the percentage of Brussels’ inhabitants in Belgium[5]. As a result of the commuter flow, only 47 % of the Brussels’ work positions are taken by Brussels’ inhabitants[6].

As a consequence, from a work positions point of view, the BCR cannot be considered as limited to the 19 communes making the administrative region.

Part 2 >>

References

[1] S. Wojcik (2007) - Evaluation of the Brussels-Capital Region Innovation System. Submitted to publication.

[2] The knowledge economy differs from the traditional economy in several key respects : information and knowledge can be shared, and actually grow through application. The effect of location is either diminished, in some economic activities: using appropriate technology and methods, virtual marketplaces and virtual organizations that offer benefits of speed, agility, round the clock operation and global reach can be created, or, on the contrary, reinforced in some other economic fields, by the creation of business clusters around centres of knowledge, such as universities and research centres having reached world-wide excellence [Wikipedia, 2007].

[3] Eurostat News release Feb. 19, 2007.

[4] Using the same ratio, the outflow can be estimated at 35.000 persons.

[5] Mini-Bru. Aperçu statistique de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale. 2006.

[6] Baromètre conjoncturel de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale. Juillet 2007. This inflow has another consequence : the BCR’s unemployment rate (around 20%) is two times that of the country. A high unemployment rate, at equal GDP per capita, is a sign of healthier economic conditions. It certainly shows that the productivity is higher, as fewer people generate the same wealth per capita. This also means that salaries (before tax) are higher. As countries with generous unemployment benefits tend to generate more officially unemployed people, it means that the country is rich enough to give all these people a minimum income. This is indeed a sign of wealth. Such a system also greatly help reduce poverty, which is yet another sign of national wealth if the country can afford it.