Why can’t we swim here? New campaign targets outdoor swimming in Brussels
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    Why can’t we swim here? New campaign targets outdoor swimming in Brussels

    Credit: Belga

    The issue of public swimming – a long-standing issue in the Brussels Region – has once again come to debate, following news that several locations have been put forward by a local advocacy group.

    “Every major city in Europe has one or many public open-air pools, the capital of Europe has none,” said Pool Is Cool, an organisation that “takes up the challenge to change this, believing strongly in the contribution of outdoor swimming to the living quality of our city.”

    In its latest push, the organisation has launched a petition calling for a public swimming pool, and presenting the public with options. Ultimately the aim of the group is to raise awareness through “urban actions throughout Brussels.” The organisation “investigates the possibilities for outdoor swimming in Brussels” and does so through research, design and debate.

    With that in mind, here are the options being presented for the creation of an outdoor public pool in Brussels.

    Mayfair Pond

    The first option is the Mayfair pond in Anderlecht, according to Bruzz. “Because they have built the infrastructure for future water sports enthusiasts, 21 young people from Cureghem will be able to join” an Uccle swimming club “in the coming months, every time the swimming club trains there. This is a first, and also the most concrete open-air swimming project in Brussels,” Bruzz reported.

    Anderlecht sports alderman Julien Milquet wants to make the pond available for water sports camps during vacations and open it up to a larger public in 2021. There would still be a maximum of 50 people in the pond at any time to protect its plants and animals.

    The Brussels Region is interested in the pond as it is “easy to disconnect from the water network, so its quality is easier to control,” said spokesperson Pascale Hourman. The water quality is already good thanks to the presence of two settling basins with reed beds, according to Hourman.

    Natural pool

    The second option would be what’s known as a natural pool in either Laeken or Neder-over-Heembeek. “A ‘natural pool’ is a pool with natural filtration, which happens in a pond just next to it,” said Brussels sports alderman Benoît Hellings.

    Several such pools were studied in other European cities and it was found to be possible in Brussels as well, with four possible locations shortlisted.

    Four locations – two in Laeken and two in Neder-over-Heembeek – are being considered for a natural pool. Costs could be anywhere from €2.5 million to €4 million, Hellings said. Financing will be discussed with the Brussels Region, Hellings announced.

    Manufakture

    A third option would be to build a swimming pool on the roof of the Manufakture abattoir in Anderlecht, as was brought up by architect Kristiaan Borret in 2019. He suggested adding an extra storey of car parking, freeing up 10,000 square metres for a swimming pool on the roof.

    “The residual heat from the cooling systems on the ground floor could even be recycled to heat the baths,” the architect’s team said according to Bruzz.

    For the alderman, this project is merely in an idea phase, but “other political insiders call the Abattoir outdoor pool the most realistic project,” Bruzz reported.

    In any case, the Manufakture project is being delayed as the abattoir is suffering financially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally planned to be completed in January 2023, it is now being pushed back by a year.

    The costs for such a pool could run up to €12 million.

    Biestebroek

    For a fourth possibility, Pool is Cool is suggesting a temporary open-air pool at the Biestebroek dock, also in Anderlecht.

    “The masses of people who during the heatwave dove into the canal illegally at the temporary guinguette La Mouette show that demand is high,” Bruzz wrote.

    Pool is Cool has asked for subsidies to have a 20-metre basin put there, according to its spokesperson Paul Steinbrück. The organisation was inspired by the Badeschiff in Berlin, a floating public swimming pool that’s been operational since 2004 and started as an art project by local artist Susanne Lorenz.

    Charroi

    Finally, the Charroi site in Forest could serve as a location for a swimming pool, as the commune wants to develop a “Forest by the Senne” area there, with Pool is Cool activists pushing for a swimming pool that could be covered during when it’s not summer, and the commune being one of the only ones in Brussels without its own swimming pool.

    Forest by the Senne is a long-term project, aiming to develop a vision for what the Charroi area would look like by 2040.

    While Alain Mugabo, Forest’s alderman for city planning, water and green spaces, confirmed that the commune was looking for a location for a swimming pool, it would be “complicated” to install it at Charroi, he said. “The grounds are not public property. Because it’s one of the few spots where the Senne is still visible, the site might have to be bought by the Region first.”

    Jason Spinks
    The Brussels Times