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Ten years of expropriations and evictions 
in the Brussels North Quarter (1965-1975): 
what are the legacies today?

Press release

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Albert Martens, published on October 05, 2009. Read the article.

The history of urban planning in Brussels has been eventful, to say the least. Among its memorable episodes have been the 'urban struggles' which have left traces in our minds and in urban management practices. This is the case with the 'Battle of the Marolle' in 1969, during which the inhabitants of this working-class neighbourhood revolted – and won their fight – against a project aimed at robbing them of their place in Brussels. The same is true of the inhabitants’ struggles (1965-1975) in the North Quarter, which used to be a lively residential area not so long ago. But why was this second case not a success? What were the factors which allowed an urban massacre to take place despite the mobilisation of the inhabitants?

In issue number 29 of Brussels Studies, Albert Martens, emeritus professor at KUL and stakeholder in this conflict alongside the inhabitants, analyses the characteristics of the struggle in the North Quarter. 11,000 people lived in an area covering 53 hectares in the municipalities of Brussels, Schaerbeek and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode when the pharaonic project involving the demolition of more than 40 blocks emerged. 80 buildings measuring 18 to 162 metres in height would be built. The developers made plans for 684,000 m² of offices, hotel infrastructures for 22,000 people, 554,000 m² of parking and warehouses, 375,000 m² of business spaces and 405,000 m² of housing for 13 to 15,000 people in 5,000 new dwellings.

This project resulted in a large-scale conflict. The politicians and the media – seduced by a grandiose modernist project and probably captivated by the scope of the interests at stake – followed close on the heels of the property developers. The inhabitants who did not have the means to escape took action to save their neighbourhood or, at the very least, to be rehoused. But this was all in vain. The demolition

asted more than 10 years and the reconstruction, more than 40 years. It must be acknowledged today that the inhabitants were well and truly the losers in the battle, as on        ly 15% of them were rehoused.

The coalition of huge private interests, the involvement of three different municipalities in the project, the lack of support for the inhabitants from civil society and workers' organisations, internal divisions and the length of the struggle are some of the factors which may explain why the residents were not able to put a stop to the project.

However, something has changed since then. The North Quarter project is referred to as an example not to be followed. Public consultation procedures have been established in the area of urban planning; they continue to enjoy great success, with a high level of participation. Furthermore, organisations for the defence of inhabitants have been created and have made themselves heard thanks to the example of the North Quarter. Still today, the scope of urban planning is structured by groups which are the heirs of the pioneering struggles of the 1960s and 1970s.

It nevertheless remains to be seen whether the dark cloud of urban destruction has lifted once and for all. 

These questions will be examined further in an article to be published next week centred on the master plan. This new instrument has been used in recent years for the development of certain 'areas of regional interest' in the Brussels region, and its functioning is perhaps an example of new ambitions in terms of the participatory management of the city.

Martens, Albert, “Ten years of expropriations and evictions 
in the Brussels North Quarter (1965-1975): 
what are the legacies today ?“ Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 29, 5 October 2009. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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