Green is popping –up!

Brussels is supposed to be a very green city; however, not all inhabitants can equally enjoy these green spaces… this is particularly the case for the Brussels canal zone. Although half of the Brussels population lives at only two kilometers distance from the canal, there is only half square meter of public green per inhabitant in this area. Many promises have been made to address this issue, however – Brussels is still Brussels – and the decision-taking process is still complex… and slow. Nevertheless, top down inefficient complexity triggers many initiatives among the inhabitants. That is why more and more often, through so-called “urban commons”, urban spaces are being appropriated by citizens.

In this context, a particularly interesting example is Ninoofsepoort / Porte de Ninove, which is -together with Tour & Taxis- one of the most notorious and strategically located urban voids in the canal area. This contested piece of no man’s land is located on the intersection of three different administrative entities: Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Anderlecht, and Brussels.

Already ten years ago, plans were made for the construction of a large park on the site. However, responsibilities were too often put aside, and decisions kept being postponed. As a consequence, the platform Canal Park came to existence, in order to point out those responsibilities. The idea for this platform emerged as a spin-off from the Picnic the Streets movement, during a protest-picnic at Ninoofsepoort in September 2013. Within Canal Park, several organizations – such as JNM Brussels, Soft Revolution and Stand Up Activism– joined forces with the local residents committee and together created a small ‘pop-up’ park (or squat park, it depends how you like to call it) on the vacant site between the Heyvaertstraat and Nijverheidskaai.

After a big clean-up of the terrain, a brainstorm session was organized to make arrangements for the future intervention on the site. The participants created different working groups -each with a specific task- and organized a crowdfunding campaign, collecting more than 6000 €, enough to finance the construction of their own collective space. About ten fruit trees were planted and for the children play equipments were installed. By March 2014 the park was ready to be used. It was warmly welcomed by the neighborhood, and frequently used by the locals. Although during wintertime things have been quiet around Canal Park, without any doubt the early summer days already started attracting users again. Last summer, Canal Park hosted many local events and became one of the locations for the football-get-togethers of O Canto. Moreover, there’s good news for the inhabitants of Ninoofsepoort. Besides their self-created park, now finally the building permit for the ‘real’ large park has been approved.

Urban commons, such as Canal Park, have shown the ability to test, in a quick way, more permanent future developments. As local inhabitants are managing the site, already a solid base is being formed for future use of the park. This becomes particularly important for the Brussels canal area, where the challenge remains to revalue old industrial neighborhoods, without pushing away the current population. Bottom-up projects have the advantage of being originated from the needs of the current inhabitants, therefore conceived to fit the scale of the neighborhood. Furthermore, they have the ability to bring citizens together and to strengthen the social capital. In this sense the pop-up Canal Park reflects (only a small piece) of what the future Ninoofsepoort could be like.

(Text: Elise Candry // photos: Stijn Beeckman and Paul Steinbrück / cover photo: Bram Dewolfs / Gerben Van den Abbeele)


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