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Housing production in Brussels: the neighbourhood city to stand the test of urban densification

La production du logement à Bruxelles : la ville de proximité à l’épreuve de la densification urbaine
Woningproductie in Brussel: de buurtstad tegenover de stedelijke verdichting
Priscilla Ananian
Vertaling van Jane Corrigan
Dit artikel is een vertaling van :
La production du logement à Bruxelles : la ville de proximité à l’épreuve de la densification urbaine
Andere vertaling(en) van dit artikel
Woningproductie in Brussel: de buurtstad tegenover de stedelijke verdichting


Sinds enkele jaren is de verdichting van de woonomgeving in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest een uitdaging en tevens een tool voor stedelijke ontwikkeling geworden om het hoofd te bieden aan de demografische boom en het toenemende verschil tussen het aanbod aan en de vraag naar sociale woningen en woningen voor de middeninkomens. De keuze van de plaats waar de woningen worden geproduceerd - de lokalisatie - is van cruciaal belang om die uitdagingen aan te nemen, die onder meer worden omschreven in het ontwerp van Gewestelijk Plan voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling. Met een park van 39 000 sociale woningen en meer dan 45 000 gezinnen die kandidaat-huurder zijn, lijken de openbare vastgoedoperatoren de lokalisatie evenwel niet te beschouwen als een prioritair criterium bij hun beslissingen over de nieuwe woonprojecten op het gewestelijk grondgebied. Dit artikel is bedoeld als geüpdatete synthese van een onderzoekstraject dat een tiental jaar geleden werd aangevat en ertoe strekt de openbare en particuliere woningproductie sinds 1989 te analyseren in het licht van de evolutie van het stadsproject [Ananian, 2010]. Naast die initiële doelstelling wordt een tweede doelstelling nagestreefd, namelijk die conclusies toetsen aan de productie in het kader van het Gewestelijk Huisvestingsplan (2005) en het financieel kader van de Alliantie Wonen (2015). Uit deze synthese komt naar voren dat de overheden hun inspanningen moeten richten op een geïntegreerde strategie voor stadsplanning en openbare woningproductie die rekening houdt met de nabijheid van de uitrustingen, diensten en faciliteiten voor het dagelijkse leven.


Integrale tekst


1The Brussels-Capital Region is at a turning point in its development. It must face several challenges identified in particular in the Sustainable Regional Development Plan [PRDD, 2013], such as demographic expansion and the fight against poverty. The city already has more than 1 175 000 inhabitants [IBSA, Direction générale Statistique, 1 January 2015]. And, according to forecasts by the Institut Bruxellois de Statistique et d’Analyse [IBSA, 2010], the demographic growth under way since 1996 should continue. The recent demographic perspectives of the Bureau fédéral du Plan (BFP) and the Direction générale Statistique (DGS) (2016) announce a population increase for the Brussels-Capital Region of approximately 32 % by 2060 with respect to 2015, compared to 14 % and 16 % in Flanders and Wallonia respectively.

2As underlined in other studies, despite the importance of migrations, demographic expansion in Brussels is greatly endogenous. It is the consequence of a high birth rate and for the most part concerns populations which are disadvantaged due to their socioeconomic conditions, as well as their difficulties in obtaining housing [Bernard et al., 2009; ADT États des lieux de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, 2011]. More recently, the short-term annual growth of the population was revised upwards following the influx of asylum seekers [Bureau fédéral du Plan, 2016].

3Demographic expansion leads to an increase in the number of inhabitants per km2 and in the number of dwellings in the territory. This densification of the Brussels-Capital Region influences the types of housing produced and their location [Dessouroux, Romainville, 2011].

4Let us point out, in the case of the Brussels-Capital Region, densification and the challenges it presents in terms of housing production are not confined to the regional boundaries. This phenomenon must be seen in the context of metropolisation and urban sprawl in its hinterland (Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant in particular).

5Urban densification and housing production may influence the migration of more disadvantaged populations and create new forms of social inequality at metropolitan level [Bassand, 1997]. This is due in part to the dynamics of gentrification caused by the construction of new housing in certain neighbourhoods, which could above all weaken the disadvantaged households living in Brussels [Dessouroux et al., 2016].

  • 1 By “model”, we mean the physical expression of the city project acknowledged as desirable and posit (...)

6Urban densification is overseen by the public authorities via urban planning, whose land-use planning models1 are based on the concept of the neighbourhood city.

7This article is divided into four sections. The first presents the main schools of thought which proposed the neighbourhood city as a model to favour for the development and use of land in the process of urban densification. The second analyses the issues related to the location of public and private housing production in Brussels since 1989. The third section compares these results to the production of public housing by the Regional Housing Plan and Alliance Habitat. Finally, the fourth and last section discusses the perspectives of an integrated urban planning strategy intended to favour the neighbourhood city in the densification process in the Brussels Region.

1. Urban densification and the notion of proximity

8The process of urban densification, an inescapable phenomenon of the industrious 19th century city which had a negative connotation at the time, has become a virtuous model of the territorial project in the paradigm of sustainable development [Declève, Ananian et al., 2009]. Nevertheless, the debate regarding urban densification and the right urban form has often been limited to environmental and economic dimensions, with the social dimension being neglected [Breheny, 1992; Jenks et al., 1996; Burton, 2000].

9From an environmental point of view, since the energy crisis in the 1970s, researchers have contrasted the dense/compact city and the diffuse city, in search of a model of the ideal city which meets criteria regarding energy consumption, the optimisation of resources and the rationalisation of transport in a managerial approach [Newman and Kenworthy, 1989; Gordon and Richardson, 1997]. Furthermore, density and densification dealt with in their social dimension (in particular through social acceptability) are developed between the lines in the literature regarding gentrification and the right to housing [Amphoux, 1999; Smith, 2004; Lees, 2000 and 2008; Bidou-Zachariasen, 2003; Van Criekingen, 2013]. Certain authors criticise more directly the social mix policies associated with urban densification and defend the notion of environmental justice, a concept specific to the field of ecology and the environment [Bonard, Thomann, 2009].

10While densification has an impact on the configuration of urban centres and their physical and spatial forms, it also potentially restructures the social fabric and leads to new forms of social mix [Bromley et al., 2005; Rose, 2006] and the cohabitation of activities, which creates many challenges for the public authorities. These are the reasons why densification, used as an urban development tool [Da Cunha, Kaiser, 2009], questions the neighbourhood city as a desirable and positive model for the development and use of land. The concept of neighbourhood city advocates social and functional mix, access to services and facilities close to home, as well as a reduction in the length and cost of journeys.

  • 2 Léon Krier speaks in favour of the reorganisation of the city according to a federation of autonomo (...)
  • 3 Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a North American model used in urban and metropolitan plannin (...)

11The neighbourhood city is inspired by several principles and schools of thought, such as the neighbourhood unit proposed in 1920 by Clarence Perry. The neighbourhood unit is based on principles of social, physical and institutional design at neighbourhood level. In these neighbourhoods, schools, services and parks are situated within walking distance from home. This model was proposed in order to meet the need to preserve the living conditions of the neighbourhood with respect to the emergence of the car in the industrial city, and was revisited later in Europe by Léon Krier [1977] with the notion of public comfort of the neighbourhood2 and in the United States by the forerunners of New Urbanism [Walters and Brown, 2004]. The New Urbanism movement complicates the principles of neighbourhood design (TND, Traditional Neighbourhood Development) by integrating a perspective of regional planning based on public transport infrastructures (TOD, Transit-oriented Development)3.These different models all advocate the proximity of housing to services, amenities and facilities, which should be within walking distance from home [Ananian, Declève, 2010].

12Nearly one hundred years after the emergence of the concept of the neighbourhood unit, mobility and the reduction of distances by new information and communication technologies [Huriot, 1998] call into question the notion of physical proximity behind these models.

13The notion of proximity is also mobilised by the regional economy, which defends the idea of urban area to reinforce the attractiveness and competitiveness of territories based on polycentric development [Kloosterman, Musterd, 2001]. As regards physical and spatial on polycen, these thebdand spDtheies ncetion m>urbehindce from home.d city

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2. Public and private housing production: location challenges, 1roximity

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2.2. The contribution of housing production to the Brussels regional urban ity


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2.2. The contribution of housing producsed the neighbouro ity

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1 By “model”, we mean the physical expression of the city project acknowledged as desirable and positive in order to meet the development challenges of the territory.

2 Léon Krier speaks in favour of the reorganisation of the city according to a federation of autonomous – and therefore mixed – neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood should have its own centre, its outskirts and its boundary. It must be a city in the city, integrating the daily functions laid out in a territory which may be crossed on foot in 10 minutes, resulting in neighbourhoods of a maximum of 35 hectares and 15 000 inhabitants.

3 Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a North American model used in urban and metropolitan planning which concerns the development of residential and mixed areas within walking distance from a local train station or public transport.

4 By public housing production, we mean the creation of new housing units by public real estate developers, in accordance with the definition of the Code bruxellois du logement (2003). According to the Code, a public real estate developer may be a municipality, a CPAS, an autonomous municipal company, the Régie foncière de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, the Société du Logement de la Région bruxelloise (SLRB), a Société Immobilière de Service public (SISP), the Fonds du Logement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale and the Société de Développement pour la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (SDRB).

5 Verification carried out for housing authorised between 1989 and 2007.

6 The three areas of accessibility defined by the RRU refer to a zoning of the regional territory based on accessibility by public transport in view of defining parking standards outside public roads. For more information, see Titre 8 of the Arrêté du gouvernement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale du 21 novembre 2006, Normes de stationnement en dehors de la voie publique

7 PRAS démographique aims to adapt the reference plan for land-use planning constituted by PRAS to the rapid population growth in the Brussels Region, which is particularly noticeable in the central neighbourhoods and the canal area. For more information:

8 The planning permission charges related to housing have been provided for recently in the Arrêté du gouvernement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale du 26 septembre 2013. This mechanism provides that all housing operations of 1 000 m2 or more which are overseen by the private sector are subject to planning permission charges. These charges may be paid in cash or in kind by creating public facilities or by designating 15 % of the operation as supported or subsidised housing according to the Code bruxellois du logement.



Titel Figure 1. Public housing production, 1989-2013 (Operations of 10 or more housing units)
Bestand image/png, 1,1M
Titel Figure 2. The entire housing production, 1989-2013 (Operations of 10 or more housing units)
Bestand image/png, 609k
Titel Table 1. Number of dwellings authorised according to type of production (annual average)
Bestand image/png, 52k
Titel Figure 4. Share of the average annual number of authorised dwellings in public (PB) and private (PP) housing production in the development poles and their surroundings (PRDD project), (operations of 10 or more housing units)
Bestand image/png, 60k
Titel Table 2. Number of dwellings programmed in the framework of the Regional Housing Plan and the Alliance Habitat financial framework
Illustratierechten Source: SLRB, June 2015
Bestand image/png, 47k
Titel Figure 5. Types of operation of the Regional Housing Plan and Alliance Habitat
Illustratierechten Source: SLRB, 2015
Bestand image/png, 826k
Titel Figure 6. Progress of Regional Housing Plan and Alliance Habitat operations
Illustratierechten Source: SLRB, 2015
Bestand image/png, 404k
Titel Figure 7. Level of access and freedom of intervention of Regional Housing Plan and Alliance Habitat operations
Bestand image/png, 398k

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Elektronische referentie

Priscilla Ananian, « Housing production in Brussels: the neighbourhood city to stand the test of urban densification », Brussels Studies [Online], Algemene collectie, nr 107, Online op 19 december 2016, geraadpleegd op 13 december 2017. URL :



Priscilla Ananian

Priscilla Ananian is a professor of urbanism and urban studies at École des sciences de la gestion at Université du Québec à Montréal. She studied urban architecture and has a master’s degree in design, a DEA in territorial planning and development, and a doctorate in the art of construction and town planning (UCL, 2010). She recently published “Bruxelles, région de l’innovation : urbanisme et intégration urbaine de l’économie de la connaissance” in Cahiers de Géographie du Québec. ananian.priscilla[at]



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