I’m thinking of having a little themed week here on Tumblr, bringing you same bike-related stuff in a little series called ”Seriously, get a bike”. Because let’s face it: biking is awesome.
So, let’s continue where we ended last time. The first Street picnic in Brussels took place on Sunday the 10th of June. About 2,000 people showed up, as you could read in a previous post. Good times were had.
A hard core of activists who wanted actions every week, planned a “Relaxed picnic” yesterday. Apparently, about 20 people showed up. They just stayed on the pavement, the streets weren’t occupied. Pretty relaxed indeed.
The next “official” street picnic will take place this Sunday 24th of June. I wonder how many people will show up. I will.
In the meantime, quite surprisingly, Freddy Thielemans, current mayor of Brussels, has announced that every Sunday afternoon this summer, boulevard Anspach will be car-free between Fontainas and De Brouckère squares! Picnics galore!
MR (I repeat, the main opposition party, generally pro-car), is obviously against this decision (even though their leader, as you no doubt remember, “supported” the first street picnic). Cynics say it’s just a cheap move by the mayor, looking for re-election, giving us this little present so meanwhile he doesn’t have to care about a proper policy.
They are probably right. Mr Thielemans is giving us a nice gift for the summer, but it’s just a token act, not showing any proof of a long-term, comprehensive vision/plan to improve traffic and the quality of life in downtown Brussels. Still, I think we should stay positive, see this as a nice first step, and meanwhile people should stay motivated and keep exerting pressure on our political leaders so that perhaps one day Brussels catches up, gets her shit together and develops a sound, coherent and long-term approach to a sustainable mobility in the city.
Until then, see you on Sunday.
You should never believe the number of attendees registered for a Facebook event. Especially on a Sunday morning, after perhaps a wild night of partying, and for outdoor activities, when rain is predicted. So it was great to see that so many people showed up.
Showed up for what? A street picnic! In the middle of the main thoroughfare of central Brussels, a place that is usually congested with cars; a noisy, smelly urban highway, in a space that, in an ideal world, should be dedicated to pedestrians, cyclists and greenery.
Philosopher Philippe Van Parijs was so fed up with the current traffic situation and the lack of a decent mobility policy, that he wrote an editorial in three different publications/languages, calling for a protest against the ubiquity of cars and the asphyxiation of the inner city. He cited the example of sit-ins in the seventies, organised by - perhaps somewhat surprisingly - expat magazine The Bulletin, to protest about the public car park that used to disfigure Grand Place. In the end, the Brussels main square became car-free, so perhaps, he argued, if people exert the same pressure today, similar changes can be brought about.
Mr Van Parijs didn’t organise the picnic himself. This is 2012 - social media took over. Really quick a date was set and thousands registered. There was no official request for a permission to protest - in his message, Van Parijs explicitly called for an act of civil disobedience. So technically, this would be an illegal manifestation. (Though rather than the police, I think one should fear angry drivers.)
Then of course, politics played up, in a really rather perverted way even. Freddy Thielemans, current mayor, allowed the picnic, saying that “the city of Brussels supports the event, as it is in line with the plans and the policies of the city for a better, more pleasant centre.” Hellooooo mindfuck!? This guy has been mayor for the past 12 years, and all he has ever done during this time was make unaccomplished promises. Already in 2001, he sent out a letter promising to tackle the situation of the central avenues in Brussels and to allow less cars in Bois de la Cambre (letter at the bottom of the article). He promised years ago to reduce the number of cars in Bois de la Cambre, but just a couple of weeks ago he vetoed the actual reduction of traffic in the park. Since 2004 already, there have been concrete plans for a major overhaul of the central avenues, but they have just been lying in a drawer somewhere. Whenever something is done, it always takes forever and results are mediocre at best - think a few stripes of white paint on the roads and utterly ridiculous cycling paths or crossings. So that to claim that the aim of the organisers coincides with the vision and policies of the town council is, to say the least, rather hypocritical. But hey, elections are coming up, and mister Thielemans would really like to be re-elected.
Mindfuck number two: even Alain Courtois, potential candidate for the position of mayor, suddenly also claimed to support the action. Hard to believe from a man whose party, MR, has always put cars in the first place (something about personal liberties?) and was always the biggest opponent to any plans to reduce motorised traffic anywhere in town (“not good for commerce”, they say). Seriously, this political opportunism and hypocrisy is really sickening. My last bit of respect for these people went down the drain last week, together with any ounce of credibility they may have had left. Even before the event, the organisers had already been screwed over by politics again.
But this only increased my determination to attend. As you perhaps know, being a cyclist and all that, this is a subject I particularly relate to. I tried to rally some friends, and they were all like “yeah, if it doesn’t rain…” So it was extra cool that the weather was super nice, and most of them showed up. In the end there were about two thousand people, claiming the space usually reserved for traffic. With chairs and tables, blankets, barbecues, food and drinks …
It was really good fun. Being an armchair activist, yet at the same time having a really good time with people that are dear to you, sharing good food and drinks (which is always, in any context, one of the nicer things one can do). There was a great vibe, it was one of those finer Brussels moments where you really feel part of something bigger, everybody being there for the same cause, sharing the same idea(l)s and having a good time.
As for the outcome, we’ll see. Some die-hards want to have a weekly picnic in the same spot. The next “official” picnic will be Sunday the 24th of June. It remains unclear though what the city council/police will do this time (despite all of them being “in favour” of the action; words are cheap, especially from politicians gearing up for the elections). And regardless of who wins the elections in October, it’s highly probable that the situation will stay the same for many years to come, with Brussels still lagging behind a decade or two when it comes to urban planning/mobility. (Their latest claim is that by the end of 2013 - indeed, in one and a half year - they want to have a concrete plan ready. A plan, that’s it. And then perhaps some more studies, and then perhaps in five years they’ll start building cycle paths. By then we’ll all have choked on diesel fumes.)
But hey, enough politics/doomsday thinking! For now, let’s just cherish the memory of this lovely Sunday morning, and look forward to a possible next picnic.
PS 1: Sorry if you don’t speak Dutch and don’t understand any of the articles I linked to. You can still check the pictures though.
PS 3: Congratulations if you’ve made it all the way down to here.