Caroline Westberg is a student at the University of South Carolina and an ISA Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Brussels, Belgium.
I began thinking about Brussels as a sustainable city the moment our ISA Resident Staff gave us a run-down on the city’s trash and recycling policy. I was somewhat taken aback by how intimidating it sounded at first, considering the fine attached to making a mistake: separate all waste into three bags of various colors (white, blue, yellow) and make sure to put the correct bag out on the correct day at the correct time.
Although it was perhaps daunting at first, this intimidation quickly transformed into fascination for me. Thus, I ask: how else is Brussels being Green?
Naturally, I was stoked to see that my new home was taking initiatives to be environmentally friendly. It most certainly makes sense, considering Brussels is the capital of Europe and home to numerous European institutions and international organizations, making it an ideal city to be a pioneer in sustainability.
As a result of its leadership role in Europe, Brussels has made an effort to expand the use of sustainable building and green architecture. One of the most prominent examples of this is the green design of the buildings that house the European Parliament and European Commission, both meeting strict environmental standards for energy use.
Green Community Development
On a more community-oriented basis, Brussels is taking numerous initiatives to develop green communities both economically and socially. When faced with the challenges of urban development, Brussels has sparked projects and missions within various communes to create a stronger community feel within the city. This has been accomplished by controlling the densification of neighborhoods around public transportation hubs and centers of communal character.
One particular initiative of community development in Brussels is to create new green neighborhood spaces in highly populated and urbanized areas, taking a community-participatory approach by getting the local population involved in their design, implementation, and management.
As I have mentioned in my other blog posts, one of my all-time favorite quirks about Brussels is the plethora of markets scattered throughout the city on various days. Markets with fresh food not only promote healthy and sustainable living practices, but they establish a stronger sense of community amongst the locals. There’s nothing quite like walking through the Gare du Midi market on Sundays with a soundtrack of bargaining filling your ears, fresh fruit and meats keeping your smelling senses on alert, and a vibrancy of color to appease your wandering eyes.
Brussels encourages “smart consumption” by businesses, second-hand and rental shops, sustainable cafeterias, public garden “kitchens”, and sustainable practices among restaurants, cafes and hotels.
What is a “green city” without alternative forms of transportation? As common in most cities, Brussels has no shortage of traffic congestion and noise/air pollution. Indeed, nearly 225,000 cars enter or leave Brussels region each day, in addition to the 175,000 used daily by residents of the region. Thus, Brussels has a vision of mobility plan that consists of a series of steps to improve the daily lives of those visiting, living, or traveling through Brussels.
Some of the most visible initiatives in Brussels to relieve this congestion are the various forms of public transportation, including tram, metro, bus, and train.
On top of the STIB transport system, there are a numerous other alternatives, such as car-sharing, walking, and carpooling. Oh, and don’t forget bicycling!
A Green City… Literally
Lastly, it is impossible to walk through this city and not take notice of just how green everything really is. In fact, half of the land in the Brussels region is covered in green spaces, including private and public parks, forests, sports grounds, recreation grounds, cemeteries, agricultural areas, gardens, etc. Not to mention “The Green Trail”, a trailblazing (pun intended) initiative of 60 km of pedestrian and cycle routes developed throughout Brussels.
This is just a glimpse into what Brussels is doing to play a leading role in making a more sustainable Europe. Even if you aren’t an environmental junkie, it’s easy to appreciate the simple beauty of stepping outside in a cosmopolitan hub and having a refreshing bit of nature at your fingertips.
Keep wandering, world travelers.
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