The regeneration of large-scale social estates in Brussels


This report gives an overview of the historical context, the different social and participatory programs and the renovation instruments within the regeneration of large-scale social estates in the Brussels Capital Region. Three regeneration experiences enable to look at the interaction between them.

In comparison to other Western-European countries such as France, the Netherlands and the UK, the regeneration of large scale social estates hasn't been a key concern in Brussels urban and housing policies. The main reason for this is the small share of such estates in the housing stock, which is related to historical and contemporary policy choices.
Since its very inception, social housing has occupied a very modest position in the Belgian housing policy. The stimulation of homeownership has been the primary policy goal. Until the present day, this did not change fundamentally. To illustrate, in the Brussels Capital Region, there are 39.399 social housing (out of which 36.248 are rented), which represents less than 8% of the total housing stock. This while the number of households on the waiting list for social housing is more than the double of this number (39.153 households after various eliminations ), and the access to qualitative owner-occupied and rental dwelling becomes increasingly difficult for an important share of the population .
The promotion of homeownership in Belgium and subsequently in Brussels created the proverbial 'brick in the stomach' among Belgian households. The stimulation of homeownership through various fiscal grants went along with the attractiveness of suburban living through the availability of affordable land and the provision of cheap railway tickets that provided a good connection with the city. Within this suburban living, inhabitants were often strongly involved in the construction process of their own house, especially when it comes to various extensions in the back of the house.
The dominance of private ownership in which individuals contribute to the design of their own house and garden over compact housing developments by externals did however lead to an image problem of large-scale social estates. It lured away the more well-off renters from social housing and led to important social-demographic transformations within social housing. Although in comparison to the above-mentioned countries, relatively few large-scale social estates were developed, the liveability of these estates has been subject to debates in media and regional parliaments. Similar to international debates, starting from the 1990s the 'endangered social mix' of high-rise estates were central in these debates , despite its small amount. The stigma on high-rise building, in turn, has led to an aversion to high-rise estates in the social housing sector. Big gestures have made place for notions such as small-scale production and the integration within the existing urban patrimony .
Nowadays, the limited patrimony of high-rise estates that was built in the post-war period until the end of the 70s is in need of renovation. Various regeneration processes in estates across the Belgian territory, such as Krakeel (Brussels centre, 1955-1978), Rabot (Ghent, 1970), Modelwijk (Laeken, 1958-1979), Europark (Antwerp, Linkeroever, 1967-1979), Droixhe (Liège, 1959-1976) and our case study Peterbos (Anderlecht, 1968-1981) are evidences of this. In some cases, like Rabot and Droixhe, high-rise towers have been demolished to make place for apartment blocks, while in others, such as Europark, new functions and typologies have been developed on empty areas. An overall vision on the position of inhabitants within this process seems to be lacking, and perhaps rightly so. It is therefore worthwhile to focus on the institutional conditions in which these projects on the one hand and their renovation on the other hand got shape. This in order to understand whether this stigma on large-scale social estates continues to linger in the minds of policy makers, and if and how attempts are made to give a privileged position to inhabitants in regeneration processes.