As the cultural and political centre of Europe, Brussels has the function of bringing all social differences together into one complex urban context. This diversity has been built up through the years and is clearly expressed in the contemporary identity of the capital, namely an ambiguous fragmented whole, in which no clear image of the city emerges.
In Brussels we can still clearly notice it’s great, historical duality, referring to the high and low districts, which contain the rich and poor accordingly. This polarity contains political mechanisms that create plenty of limits on the perception and development of the city, making it virtually impossible to evolve from what is currently being built.
‘The European capital is expected to be an original and innovative product, easier to define by what it should not be. This is also due to the fact that it is a product in making, still unclear in its final outcome.’
AAVV, in: Brussels, Capital of Europe, p.28
The European capital should be a physical hub that allows for cultural interactions which can be stimulated by interlacing the actual urban network. The most important means of keeping the metropolitan area together across these fragments is its infrastructure. This makes the urban region what it is, a catalyst for further development and experience of the city.
‘The corridor along the canal, a former industrial section of the lower city, is currently one of the most heterogeneous parts of the city, inhabited by a highly diverse socioeconomic composition of inhabitants. It is a part of the city that is currently neglected and to many citizens is the symbol of the east-west disconnection and imbalance.’
Brussels A manifesto, p.132
Taking this into consideration, we created ‘Streamcity’, a research project, where the stream is treated like a city boulevard, showing how the Brussels canal can contribute to the further evolution of the city. The analysis establishes multi-modal nodes, acting as urban catalysts and providing exchange between railway, road, air and water. They show how in addition to collecting traffic, the river also has the power to spatially gather a diversity of urban fragments and programs. It can facilitate the coexistence of residences, offices and industry.
Areas formerly denied from any form of development will inverse into new potential sites just because of their proximity to the international waterway system. The river infrastructure is also the backbone supporting a flexible and dynamic development crossing regional borders and reconnecting the capital with its hinterland. In this way, the canal is the ideal place to strengthen Brussels.
The city as a city boulevard