The story of Brussels is told during a journey across boulevards, squares, alleys, urban space… By making a heroine out of these streets, discovering those who tread upon them, work there, pass by, take a stroll there and give up their time to celebrate them or demonstrate on their behalf.
By immersing ourselves in certain districts of Brussels, in collaboration with informed speakers, reacquainting ourselves with the origin and past of these streets and examining the various changes and destruction that they have incurred and the current transformations and imagining what the future holds.
Streets are not just public roads that you drive along and use to get from A to B. They present a whole range of political, economic, urban, societal, cultural, poetic… and amusing issues. To examine these issues is to show how much Brussels is changing and how today, citizens are managing to reclaim their urban space. Fundamentally, when the streets are alive, the city comes alive.
Brussels urban space has a story. Compared to other cities in Europe, its story is chaotic because it is a space in permanent mutation, has suffered many cycles of destruction and (re)construction and, as a result, much of its past is buried. How can you still imagine a versatile river, the meandering Senne, passing through Brussels today lined with dead ends, bridges, mills, small industries and a port? Having become an open sewer in the 19th century, the vaulting of the Senne is one of the most spectacular construction projects of the century. To evoke this past is to understand why, with a river lost from sight, a closed-down port, a north-south junction breaking the east-west axis of the organic medieval town, everything is «twisted» and messy in the urban space of modern-day Brussels.
This urban journey tells the story of a Brussels that seems to be a permanent building site, which often seems irrational but also irresistibly charming. A journey chosen to suit our own quest (others would certainly opt, according to their own preferences or inclination, for other neighborhoods and other streets). This matters little. What matters here is that the chosen streets have become the heroines of the film. From them, has stemmed this desire to question the citizens’ place in these streets. How do we make our public space benevolent? How do we share it? Is it not also where the future of democracy is decided? The street is «the collective appartment,» wrote Walter Benjamin. Nothing is ever neutral. And its users are not anonymous figures who may evolve within a setting.
In their own way, without even realizing it, every- body appropriates urban space, if only by enjoying moving around the streets as they see fit, freely. Questioning the various kinds of appropriation is the main concern of the film. Brussels streets have always been places of conflict, disagreement and usurpation. Thus, for centuries, everyone has walked on the streets. And it took several royal decrees in the 1930s to decide that, from then on, the inhabitants of Brussels would have to walk on the sidewalks, use pedestrian crossings and let the car become queen of the street for a while. Today, we are witnessing a complete paradigm shift, with the car’s place in public space dwindling. This urban journey through Brussels is at the heart of this change and recovery, with, among other things, the pedestrianization of certain boulevards, the reconfiguration of certain places, the reallocation of Canal access and even the birth of new streets.
To visually involve the viewer in these problems is to immerse them as far as possible in the experience of living in these different neighborhoods. How? By filming most of our interviewees on those very streets. Thirty speakers as diverse as Brussels itself show us how the democratic sharing of public space is constantly being reestablished. But it is also a question of their singular attachment to our city which demonstrates a certain Brussels mindset. A mindset that never takes itself too seriously while assuring its right to rant and be passionate. Finally, at certain times of the day or night, according to those who occupy them, the streets of Brussels reveal a singular, beautiful and bitter poetry. In our opinion, the sequences of the film that attest to this show how, when we stop by streets and they come alive, it makes our world.
The film is a precious testimony and contains a wealth of essential information and fascinating stories about Brussels. When asked about what guided his choices in the selection of the issues broached, the author answered the following:
What is exciting about a street, when you consider that it can’t be reduced to just a public road that you walk along or cross over, is that it has a past, a present and a future. A street is always transversal. That’s what guided me in the choice of issues, according to whether my interviewees are interested, by their respective jobs, in a particular aspect of urban space. Thanks to them, I hope that after watching the film, the viewers will take another look at their nearby urban spaces and stop there to, perhaps, (re)discover them.
The film highlights a number of challenges for Brussels (mobility, appropriation of urban space, etc.). Author answered what he considers as the major issues that Brussels will face in the future:
Today we are experiencing a pivotal moment in the perception of Brussels streets and urban spaces. For the first time and consistently, the place of the car, which has been the queen of the streets for almost a hundred years, is dwindling. But what will take its place? Beyond the essential question of mobility, it is the identity of public space that comes into play. How will it be divided up? How will this division be democratically established?
From May 2019, a series of documentary screenings followed by debates throughout Belgium.
To consult the full agenda, please visit the facebook page of the project.