Belgium is Europe’s most urbanised nation. It has one city (region), Brussels, with a population of over 1.1 million inhabitants. Other major cities are Antwerp (508,000 inhabitants), Ghent (249,000 inhabitants), Charleroi (204,000 inhabitants) and Liège (196,000 inhabitants). They are followed by a lot off medium-sized cities. There is three Regions of Belgium: Flanders, the Brussels-Capital Region, and Wallonia.
Belgian cities have not escaped the combined economic, social and environmental problems common to many European cities: migration of the population to the suburbs, a lack of security, unemployment, pockets of poverty, problems of cohabitation, etc. The need to focus on the urban dimension is felt at all levels of power in Belgium, as it is in many other countries. At the regional level, urban initiatives have been underway since the end of the 70s. The federal authorities placed an integrated urban approach on their agenda in 1999. The main objective of urban policy at all levels is to keep cities liveable, combining the main functions of work and leisure, to strengthen social cohesion and support the economic development of urban areas.
Basics of the urban system
Belgium’s federal structure influences the way urban policy is structured. Urban issues are also considered at the various political levels. Belgium in fact has a political and administrative structure based on the recognition, in its Constitution, of three Communities and three Regions, to which the federal state has devolved wide-ranging powers. These include housing, urban planning, urban renewal, economic development or environment issues…
Legal framework of urban policy
Belgian federal urban policy ensures that specific urban issues are considered in various federal policy areas: fiscal issues, sustainable development, security, employment, social integration, etc. The Flemish Region has made Flemish Urban Policy one of its priorities—a sustainable policy which must provide structural solutions. The principal challenge is halting the migration of residents from the cities. The Brussels-Capital Region has a strategic Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD), which encompasses a gradual shift towards a more sustainable development approach. Based on an analysis focused on the city, this RPSD is the driving force for the region’s future development. The Region has also developed specific urban policies within a perspective of integrated development of the deprived districts. The main objectives are to maintain or bring back inhabitants to the city and to improve its economic development and employment. In the Walloon Region, the policy of urban renovation has always been part of the trend towards regional development and town planning.
Being a highly urbanised country, Belgium adopted an approach to urban affairs quite early. The federal government, as well as the three Regions, have developed their own urban approach, each of them with their own distinct characteristics and quite regularly in collaboration with each other. Throughout programmes such as the city and housing contracts, Sustainable Cities-contracts, Neighbourhood Contracts, Urban Renewal Contracts and other urban revitalisation programmes attention is primarily given to social cohesion, sustainable development and urban regeneration in general, often, but not exclusively, in vulnerable or deprived neighbourhoods.