Renovation plans ramped up for central Brussels square

Renovation plans ramped up for central Brussels square
Place Marguerite Duras is finally getting the renovation it has been waiting for. Credit: Brussels government

In its current form, Place Marguerite Duras in the city centre appears green and peaceful, but people rarely linger. Now, long-stalled plans to make it more inviting are now finally being put into action.

The square, named after the French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker, is located just a stone's throw from Place Sainte-Catherine, between the Dansaert and Quais districts in the city centre. The original plans for its redevelopment were not approved by Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism Pascal Smet due to a "lack of ambition."

"The plans have now been modified, with the project much better integrated into the surroundings and significantly improving road safety and comfort for cyclists. The project now meets our minimum quality standards,” said Smet, confirming that the Brussels Region will deliver a planning permit for a new Square Marguerite Duras.

Lacking ambition

Discussions and first steps to realise the renovations started with a "very complete diagnosis" of the area in February 2020, with a view of finishing the works in early 2022.

In 2021, the City of Brussels’ green space department submitted a building application for the renovations, but Smet did not receive these plans with enthusiasm, arguing that they were not ambitious enough. A consultation committee shared this view and imposed several conditions.

Tweet translation: This project by Zoubida Jellab has not been consulted and will not be licensed in that form. Not ambitious enough. The park should be widened and extended. I will work out an alternative with Ans Persoons [Brussels alderman for Urban Planning and Public Space].

This resulted in consultations between the city authorities and to ensure the project’s integration in the urban context, traffic safety, comfort for pedestrians and cyclists, planting more trees and rainwater management.

“Urbanism means developing a long-term vision for the city and setting project standards in order to turn this vision into reality," Smet noted.

"It also means project guidance and, of course, this also includes quality control. I always prefer constructive consultation during project preparations, but when it is really necessary we also send projects back to the drawing table."

A pedestrian axis

The new plans that were derived from the consultations will see the central part of Square Marguerite Duras being redesigned as an "enjoyable pedestrian axis with green areas," where long benches will be placed which are "more inviting to sit down on and rest or meet people." In the surrounding streets, rows of trees will be planted along the facades.

The plans will also provide space for a play area and a space for dogs, and more attention will be paid to water permeability elsewhere in the project. The revised project also foresees a wide two-way cycle path of 3.5 metres, sectioned off from the pedestrian walking lane by a strip of rainwater gardens or other "green" borders of about 2 metres.

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In line with Smet's Good Living Urban Development Regulations, the parking places along Quai au Bois de Construction and Quai aux Barques will disappear. In addition, "parallel parking will no longer be allowed anywhere in the Brussels Region" due to the space it takes up.

“The new Place Marguerite Duras will greatly improve public space in the city centre," Smet concluded.

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