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Expensive houses & suburban sprawl ‘tearing Belgium apart’

12:30 11/06/2013

Suburban sprawl is literally tearing Belgium apart, writes Slate’s Matthew Yglesias. “The basic situation is that Belgium is like three countries in one," he writes. "There's French-speaking Wallonia, there's Dutch-speaking Flanders, and then there's Brussels. Brussels is officially bilingual, but it's geographically surrounded by Flanders and yet primarily inhabited by French-dominant individuals. Brussels is also a major international city thanks to the presence of European Union institutions and NATO headquarters here as well as being a big location for lower skilled immigration from developing countries. Since French is a much more widely spoken language than Dutch, new arrivals to Brussels tend to speak French. Which is all well and good, except that the Dutch-speaking nature of the Flemish communities near Brussels is integral to the grand bargain on which Belgium's existence as a nation is predicated. So while in the United States housing scarcity in central cities drives unnecessarily long commutes and unnecessary environmental damage, in Belgium it becomes a cause of profound political crisis since the increasing population of French speaking in rim municipalities around Brussels exacerbates the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde dispute. Obviously it would be pretty flip to just say that Belgian could solve all its intra-communal disputes with more residential high-rises in Brussels, but the extent to which the relative price of housing in Brussels has risen compared to outside Brussels is striking.”

Written by The Bulletin