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5 beautiful Brussels squares that shouldn’t be parking lots
It’s hard to imagine a time when cars drove through Brussels’ stunning Grand Place, but in the early 1970s that was exactly the case. In 1971, this very magazine, The Bulletin, already nearly a decade old, launched a campaign to ban traffic in the square. “The most beautiful parking lot in the world,” they wrote and organised a picnic where hundreds of people came to eat sandwiches on the square in protest. The outrage worked and the Grand Place became car-free.
In June, amid no small amount of grumbling, the city took its next step in loosing the stranglehold automobiles have had on parts of the city for decades by surrendering a large part of the city centre to foot traffic only. This move has given Brussels the second largest car-free zone in Europe after Venice.
Still, there remains many a pretty square around the city that is dominated by our motored friends. Of course, driving is a part of life and the aim is not to do away with cars and parking entirely. But a well functioning city manages to make its traffic flow as smoothly and unobtrusively as possible, while valuing the beautiful and history of the space around it.
With that in mind, here are five classic squares in Brussels that currently function as parking lots, and could perhaps use a picnic.
1. Grand Sablon
With its rows of stately, old homes sloping upward to the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, the Grand Sablon (pictured) is one of the handsomest squares in Brussels. Unfortunately, most days a week – except when there’s an antique market on – most of the square is given over to parking, disrupting the idyllic stroll through one of the city’s oldest, most beautiful quarters.
2. Place Jourdan
Filled with ambience, good food, not to mention the most famous chip shop in Brussels, Place Jourdan is brimming with potential. Except when the weekend market isn’t on, what could be perhaps a public plaza like Place Flagey is – as you might have guessed – a parking lot. Hopping from a coffee and cake at Au Vatel to a pint at The First involves squeezing between side mirrors and looking both ways.
3. Place Chatelain
Famous for its Wednesday night open air market, filled with young expats, food stalls and good wine, some may not realise that the cosy, tree lined square of Chatelain stands as a depot for neighbourhood cars most of the week. For the carless, one could imagine many would appreciate a greener space with a bench or two.
4. Place Colignon
The town hall of Schaerbeek almost gets it perfect. This elegant Flemish neo-Renaissance edifice is among the prettiest in Brussels, scene from the elegant view as you approach from the Rue Royale Sainte-Marie. A brightly flowering circle of green stands in the middle of the square, whose beauty is only diminished by the prism of automobiles squeezed tightly in around it. Parking is a practical need for a town hall, but a few fewer would greatly enhance the aesthetic.
5. Place Maurice van Meenen
Another town hall, six days a week (again, not on Monday market days) Place Maurice van Meenem in front of the commune of Saint Gilles, is a parking lot. As with Schaerbeek, the issue here is one of consistency. A stunning and stately city hall towers above you, and precisely where ought to be a space for the people to gather and hold conference, there are, instead, scores of vehicles awaiting their owners to finish work for the day.
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