The urge for cities to nurture a distinctive identity is baked into the mindset of local authorities around the world. It's more than just a tourist hook, mayors and urban planners give a lot of airtime to the "spirit" of their place which distinguishes it from elsewhere – the human element that transcends the brick and mortar we move between.
This desire to promote stand-out characteristics that go beyond physical limitations is especially strong in capital cities, where the pressure is on to exude a personality that can speak for the nation. It's a tricky concept to grasp and manipulate, both physical in the city's design and intangible in its culture. Is it Brussels that turns people into Bruxellois or the locals that make Brussels?
Perhaps the closest we can get to answering this conundrum is seeing how people react to changes in their environment. What better to gauge the mood of a neighbourhood than a mass outcry against modifications to the local infrastructure? Brussels is making a big effort to transform the town we know by pushing cars away from the centre of town and has recently implemented its Good Move plan which changes the traffic plan in central neighbourhoods.
Cue uproar and small-scale protests in affected areas that resulted in new road furniture being angrily removed. It seemed to be a resounding "no" from residents frustrated by modifications forced upon them. The authorities insist that they will press ahead with the new plans but will consult locals before trying again. Moreover, several traders in the centre voiced concerns that customers would be driven away to retail parks on the city outskirts.
So the news that since the plan's introduction visitors to central Brussels have actually increased might be seen as a silent vote by feet to allay criticisms that had been expressed so audibly. The centre of town has a lot to offer and it is difficult to reason that this is helped by allowing cars to clog up the districts packed with shops, restaurants, and cultural spaces.
Brussels City certainly has a way to go in re-greening the centre and could improve the transport connections for those visiting from further afield, but clearly the appeal of walking the streets is growing.
Have you noticed the change? Let @Orlando_tbt know.
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