At first, Brussels looks like a city rather turned towards the past. Cobblestones cover the city from one end to the other. But because of its role as European capital, substantial construction work has been undertaken which has permanently changed its appearance. The city is indeed being modernized, much to the pleasure of the local scene. These transformations are giving rise to an underground and wild city, which needs to be tamed.
A divided city
Brussels is divided into three parts: the upper part of the city with its well-off neighbourhoods, the thriving European neighbourhood and its load of big and small spots, the down-town area with its post-war buildings (the Mont des Arts, the Administrative town, the passage 44 and Recyclart) and finally the lower part of the city which includes the rue Neuve (and surroundings) and the new buildings of the Gare du Nord district.
Although the spots are of average size, Brussels is actually a gigantic skatepark where creativity constantly causes skateboard lovers to push their limits, travel around and discover new places. In Brussels, skateboarding builds itself from one spot to another in a city on the move.
After being underground for years, the practice of skateboarding finally exists in the eyes of the public authorities.
Such characteristics have made local skateboarders persevering and determined. No matter the spot, there is always indeed a little something that is not quite right be it a metal grate in front of a set of steps, a rough landing, a shitty run-up or even the distance to reach a spot -not to mention the infamous cobblestones!
Skateboarders usually meet downtown, at the Mont des Arts or Recyclart during the day or around the DNA (punk bar) at night. These places are the point of departure of all sessions (be it skating or partying ones).
Things have also evolved on a political level. After being underground for years, the practice of skateboarding finally exists now in the eyes of the public authorities. Projects are nowadays flourishing in the small capital where skateboarding is on the rise just like everywhere else.
Everything started in the spring 2000 when the burgomaster ordered to drive out skateboarders from the Mont des Arts. But much to everybody’s surprise at the beginning of June a politician made a statement to local newspaper Le Soir: “This is another step towards a city where young people are banned, a city where everything happening on the fringe of institutionalised paths is prohibited in the heart of the city.” And this is how skateboarding came to be accepted and respected in the political spheres.
Riders united their efforts, and grouped into a collective (BRUSK) to show their discontent to the authorities.
This was then followed by the case of the bowls, which started in the beginning of spring 2003. Until three years ago, Brussels had a small free public skatepark (two bowls connected by a spine) but since it no longer complied with European standards, it was torn down after twelve years of good and faithful service. Everybody was depressed, even though it was not THE skate spot it was nevertheless the proof that skateboarding existed. As a consequence, riders united their efforts and wishes, and grouped into a collective (BRUSK) so as to show their discontent to the public authorities. And they more or less won the case since a refurbished version of the place was officially inaugurated this spring 2005. The new skatepark (BRUSK and Escaut architecture) with its big ledges and banks will not compensate the void left by the bowls, but it is better than nothing…
Winning the fight
A couple months later, after the hubbub caused by the skateboarders, it was the region’s turn to offer a new skatepark, developed according to the skateboarders’ wishes. It is not really a skatepark but more of a new public space development notably intended for the practice of skateboarding. A contest was launched for architecture and town planning students, the final project being chosen by a jury composed of people from different backgrounds (including skateboarders). The Escaut architecture workshop (which includes a member of the collective) was in charge of carrying out the project, BRUSK participated as a consultant and Recyclart took care of the social aspect. By the time you will be reading these lines, the construction of the skatepark will be underway and it should normally be inaugurated in November 2005. This public space of 2,500 square metres located downtown will include a street spot and even a bowl. Things are evolving and it is an asset; it is the proof that you have to fight, shout and negotiate.
At a time in which skateboarding carries weight in the media and therefore political world, we have to grasp the opportunity to control the skatable installations of our cities. There is too much abuse on behalf of unscrupulous turnkey skatepark builders (see the court action of a similar company taken against the Dutch Skateboarding Federation because it denounced the abuse of the latter. Worst is: the Federation lost!). What kind of world are we living in?
Because of its central position in Europe as well as in Belgium, nothing is really far. Did you know that to cross this flat country it takes three hours at the most; this shows how small this kingdom is. One hour and twenty minutes away from Paris and three hours from London (by TGV)… So what are you waiting for? Come over for a beer and some chips!
Top 10 shops:
- RAD (sk8)
- SIX SHOP (sk8)
- MR EGO (fashion)
- MUSIC MANIA (music)
- WHITE NIGHT (night shop)
- TROPISME (library)
- ALICE (street style)
- EPICERIE DU BONHEUR (music etc.)
- JEU DE BALLE (free market)
- MAGASIN DE PHOTO (rue du midi)
Top 10 bars & parties:
- DNA (bar)
- RECYCLART (party)
- ARCHIDUC (bar)
- MODERLAMBIC (specializing in all kinds of beers)
- SOIREE GAZON (free party on w-e)
- PLEINOPENAIR (cinema and free concerts during w-e in July and August)
- MAGAZIN 4 (concerts)
- HALLE ST GERY (bars)
- BELGA (bar)