Dear Brussels, I’m afraid I’m done with you.
Maybe it’s because we’ve had the harshest winter in a long, long time, and life here was a bit harder than usual, or maybe I’ve just been reading too many articles on Brusselnieuws with readers’ comments from people who have nothing to do but whine all day, but honestly, dear Brussels, I think you and me are done.
Can I even call you ‘dear’ still? I’m sorry to say this, but it’s getting harder and harder every day.
I’ve lived here happily for thirteen years or so, but when I stop and look at you now, what I see is more or less exactly the same place as thirteen years ago. Perhaps a little worse off.
I wish I still had the enthusiasm of a freshly arrived French immigrant in the nice/cool/hip (add your own nuance) borough of Saint-Gilles. Hey, I was once an enthusiastic freshly arrived Flemish immigrant in Saint-Gilles myself. But now that enthusiasm has largely disappeared. (Perhaps I should just move to Saint-Gilles again, instead of staying in the not always very uplifting borough of Anderlecht.)
Yes, you are multicultural and diverse; I have friends from all over Europe and I love shopping at the Turkish and Moroccan corner stores. Yes, you are rather affordable for a European capital. And yes, there’s an incredible amount of culture here: contemporary dance, theatre in three languages or more, good museums, and fantastic gigs every week. I’m not complaining about that. But the excuse is wearing thin. The one thing you truly excel at, dear Brussels, seems to be mediocrity.
I’m sick of the inertia here. I’m sick of your pathetic politicians, lacking any credibility or competence, any ambition or integrity. I’m sick of this impotence – or is it just plain unwillingness? – to get anything done. There are hundreds of unfinished projects lying around in hidden drawers. Projects that have been talked about for years and years, pretty much since I arrived here, but that will probably never ever see the light (open air swimming pool anyone?). And whenever something actually gets done, it is always with years and years of delay, and results are mediocre at best.
I am sick of your boorish inhabitants, your reckless drivers, your cretinous citizens. (Although calling them citizens would actually imply a certain amount of civic sense, which often seems to be lacking.) I’ve had it with your bad services. I am sick of your dirty streets, the endless littering, the ubiquitous smell of urine. One could run the risk of getting used to it (“it’s part of living in the capital, right?”) until you travel abroad and realize that yes, it is actually possible to enjoy clean cities and friendly people.
I am sick and tired of your congested streets, of your air pollution, of your unabated love for diesel engines. I am through with being treated like shit for riding a bike rather than a car. I’ve had it with your shocking lack of proper cycling lanes. At best you’ll slap some paint on the road, or build some crazy obstacle course abruptly ending in some seriously dangerous situation, and call it “bicycle infrastructure”. I’m not having it anymore. This city is not made for cyclists or pedestrians, it’s not made for public transport, but driving in you is a nightmare too. Is there anybody who actually likes to move around in Brussels?
When I moved here, I sensed a great feeling of optimism and energy. Brussels was cultural capital of the year, I felt really excited about being a new Brusseleir, I felt this place was going somewhere. Now, as said, this excitement has largely gone – it seems to me Brussels has gone nowhere and is rooted more firmly than ever in its mediocrity. I look at the central thoroughfare in downtown Brussels and wonder whether we are in 2013 or 1993. Good luck in competing for the title of European Green Capital 2015, but seriously, who do you think you’re fooling? You’re lagging behind several decades compared to other cities when it comes to mobility, urban planning, ecology. Get your shit together first, and then maybe try again instead of throwing dust in people’s eyes like that.
As for me, I believe it’s time to move on. Thirteen years in one place is a lot. Caring readers can always send me suggestions for places to move to. (Extra points awarded for seaside locations – or at least a big river, nearby mountains, good food/music scene/climate, proper cycle lanes.)
So long, dear Brussels.