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Focus: the green network
For around twenty years, the initiatives developed in terms of the planning or renovation of regional green spaces have been part of the general green network programme, an inclusive concept combining socio-recreational, environmental and landscape objectives. On the occasion of the draft regional plan for sustainable development (PRDD), Brussels Environment has conducted a study designed to update this programme and the map of the green network which goes hand in hand with it. The new priority green network amounts to around 161km of green continuities which link together green spaces which are essentially public, but also private. In addition to the development or redevelopment of numerous green spaces, the green network programme has also borne fruit by the realisation of the green promenade, a circular trail of 62km in the outer suburbs which has been fully marked out since 2009.
The green network: an inclusive concept
The initiatives developed for the green spaces in Brussels fall within the general framework of green and blue network programmes. These are designed to improve, via an integrated strategy, the supply and quality of green and blue spaces, as well as the environment and quality of life in the Brussels Region. The structure of the green network is based on a network of "green continuities", which link together the various green spaces. The blue network, inseparable from the green network of which it is part, is intended to re-establish the continuity of the surface hydrographic network as much as possible, and ensure that clean water flows there. Developed in the mid-1990s by Brussels Environment, these programmes were subsequently integrated into the regional planning.
Throughout its application, the green network concept has been gradually refined and supplemented, specifically since its scope, which was initially focused on public spaces (streets, parks), has extended to built assets (roofs and green facades) and private assets (gardens and private spheres), and the importance of its ecological function has been increasingly recognised. The draft regional plan for sustainable development (PRDD), which was adopted by the Brussels Government at the end of 2013, also highlights the green network's contribution to the preservation of the urban system's capacity to respond to the phenomena of climate change.
The various functions of the green network are also outlined in the plan, namely:
- socio-recreational (recreation, promenades and active mobility, practising outdoor sports, social links, contact with nature, etc.);
- ecological and environmental (support for biodiversity, establishment of links between green and blue spaces, enabling a better circulation of the flora and fauna and genetic exchanges between populations, the supply of ecosystem services such as the reduction of heat island effects, regulation of the water cycle, etc.);
- landscape, cultural and heritage (the landscape, heritage or historical value of green spaces, enhancement of built assets, embellishment of the city, etc.).
The multiplicity of these objectives implies a division of the green network across the different "strategic networks" described in the PRDD:
The socio-recreational network and games network
This network is specifically designed to satisfy a large range of socio-recreational functions in a pleasant and healthy environment (calming or sporting promenades, social encounters, recreation, tranquillity, resourcing, etc.). The aim is to extend the availability of green spaces and improve the quality of existing green spaces so that every inhabitant has a quality green space near their living place. The concept of a network also implies that a maximum of green spaces are linked together by green paths, streets, squares, etc. The preservation and development of vegetable plots and other forms of urban agriculture are also part of the green network strategy.
Given its importance and specific nature, the “game” function is part of a specific strategy developed by Brussels Environment. In the general context of demographic growth and the rejuvenation of the population, the games network is designed to increase and improve the availability of recreational and sports spaces, particularly in dense environments, with the aim of satisfying demand more effectively.
For more information, the interested reader can consult the focus of the report on the State of the Environment 2011-2014 which is specifically devoted to the games network as well as the focus and documented sheets devoted to the urban vegetable plots which highlight the vegetable plot network in particular.
The ecological network
This network, which is made up of natural and semi-natural elements, aims to preserve the natural environment and strengthen the diversity and dynamic function of existing ecosystems. Numerous studies have actually shown that the potential for attracting biodiversity enjoyed by natural habitats is much larger, for equally sized areas, when these habitats are linked together by ecological corridors, compared with when they are separated from each other. The existing ecosystems then become more balanced, stable and resilient, in other words they are capable of overcoming any disruption including, for example, that linked to climate change or biological invasions (draft nature plan, 2014). The ecological network also aims to ensure the preservation or re-establishment, in a favourable conservation status, of species and habitats protected by European legislation (Natura 2000) or regional legislation (nature ordinance) (see focus and documented sheet devoted to semi-natural sites and protected green spaces). The implementation of an ecological network constitutes one of the main objectives of the nature ordinance.
The blue network
The blue network aims to re-establish the continuity of the surface hydrographical network as much as possible, which has become largely fragmented by urbanisation, and ensure clean water flows there with the objectives of:
- ensuring the quality of water and enhancing rivers, ponds and wetlands from a landscape and recreational perspective, whilst developing the ecological assets of these environments;
- reintroducing clean water (surface water, drainage water, rainwater) into waterways and wetlands in order to revitalise them, reduce flooding problems and divert this water from water treatment plants.
This network therefore pursues hydrological, ecological, landscape and heritage objectives (the history of Brussels is strongly linked to the presence of water), as well as recreational objectives. Interested readers can consult the specific documented sheet devoted to the blue network programme.
These various strategic networks would be able to coexist if focused on one particular species, if synergies can be developed. Competitive situations may however appear and an adequate balance may need to be found.
The issues associated with the constituent green and blue spaces of the green network
The green network is based above all on green spaces, both small neighbourhood parks and larger parks and wooded areas, as well as green connections lining streets, rail tracks, canals and waterways. It also includes the private areas around buildings and houses as well as the interiors of housing blocks, facades and green roofs.
In summary, the main issues associated with the different constituent elements of the network are:
- the creation of new green and recreational spaces in neighbourhoods where these are lacking - usually in central areas - as well as the greening of streets and public places;
- the preservation, renovation and sustainable management of existing public green spaces by integrating their various functions in the best manner (cfr. above), taking into account the local context;
- the maximum preservation - despite demographic pressure - and ecological management of the remaining semi-natural green spaces;
- the integration of the green network policy within regional urban projects (regional interest zones, the Canal plan, etc.);
- the greening of interstitial spaces adjoining schools, businesses or offices, apartment buildings, gardens, courtyards, facades, roofs, etc.;
- the integration of the water issue within public or private urban projects (the re-opening of covered waterways, separate networks for drains and rainwater, seepage zones, green roofs, water bodies, limiting the stranglehold of buildings and structures, etc.);
- the continuation and reinforcement of the ecological management of railway embankments (effective ecological corridors);
- the preservation and sustainable use of existing agricultural lands (this objective is also part of the strategy "Towards a sustainable food system in the Brussels-Capital Region" or "Good food" strategy adopted at the end of 2015);
- the preservation of existing vegetable plots and the promotion of their accessibility to the public;
- the development of green pathways which are separate from road traffic (including along the Canal and rail tracks) in order to encourage active modes of transport (pedestrians, cyclists, etc.).
Successes of the green network programme
In the context of developing the PRDD project, a study which was commissioned by Brussels Environment was conducted between 2011 and 2013, with the aim of bringing the green network programme up to date. Firstly, it concerned an analysis of the existing situation and secondly, an adaptation of the green network map. For certain priority sites, projects designed to achieve the green network principles on the ground have been developed.
The map below illustrates schematically the degree of completion of the various sections (or "green continuities") of the green network programme as they were defined in 1998 (Annex of the Government Decree of the Brussels-Capital Region of 9 July 1998 decreeing the draft regional development plan and modifying the indicative provisions of the regional development plan of 1995).
Developments completed on the sections of the priority green network (1998-2011)
Source: Brussels Environment & Agora 2014
It can be loosely ascertained, without taking the green promenade into account, that:
- in 1998, development work proposals designed to improve the existing situation were drafted for 70% of the technical sheets pertaining to the various sections of the priority green network (the "backbone" of the green network);
- these proposals were fully or partially implemented for 23% and 35% of cases respectively.
The study also demonstrated that, overall, the potential for improving the landscape, recreational and ecological qualities of the priority green network is greater to the west of the Region.
Since its launch in 1999, the regional green promenade - a circular trail located in the outer suburbs and designed for active modes of mobility - has been developed through various developments intended to create new routes (walkways, new sections, etc.), or to improve existing sections with regards to their practicality for users or their landscape or ecological qualities. To date, 55 projects - of varying importance - have been achieved over the route of the green promenade, including 17 intended to improve accessibility to the "promenade of the former Brussels - Tervuren railway" section (between Auderghem and Woluwé Saint-Lambert). Some connections have been made with municipal promenades as well as with the recreational cycle network in Flemish Brabant. The entire route of the green promenade has been marked out since 2009 and information sites have been installed in various sections. Other projects are in progress, or are planned. The green promenade is currently a 62km-long route of which 41% is situated in green spaces, 47% in streets and 12% in streets with limited or prohibited access (excluding green spaces), or along canal towpaths. The specific developments constructed for the green promenade represent 26% of the total route. The remainder was existing infrastructure which depended on other regional actors (essentially municipalities and Brussels Mobility).
Furthermore, a large number of parks were developed or renovated. In this respect, we can mention 2 new multi-functional parks in particular which were created on industrial wasteland within central districts and which opened to the public in 2014, namely the 'Line 28' park, situated at the boundary between Molenbeek, Jette and Brussels (Project owner: Beliris, manager: Brussels Environment) and Parckfarm, situated on the former railway line of Tour & Taxis (Project owner and manager: Brussels Environment with the support of residents). The completion of this park is part of an experimental project designed to devise new uses for public spaces, relying in particular on the complete involvement of residents. These parks are connected to a small municipal park which was completed in the context of a neighbourhood contract, and also to the new private park of Tour & Taxis. In the coming years, this group of parks will be supplemented by a green connection to Place Bockstael (Laeken) and to the canal, as well as the regional recreational hub project "Allée du Kaai".
The new map of the green network
Based on the study mentioned above, the map showing the green continuities to be developed as a priority was adapted and used to draw up the "Quality of life" map of the regional development project, including the green network in particular (see below).
These adaptations were intended, as a matter of priority, to:
- adapt the layout to the evolutions of the situation on the ground (e.g. new constructions, change of owners, etc.);
- improve the efficiency and connectivity of the network;
- integrate certain railway lines as the main lines of the green network;
- create more green continuities within the city centre;
- create or strengthen links between the green spaces and green continuities of the Flemish periphery.
It can be ascertained from this work that, although a significant part of the sections of the green network which was planned in 1998 have been retained, the new map of the green network also includes numerous changes (the inclusion of new sections, the elimination or adaptation of old sections).
The new priority network proposed in the study amounts to roughly 161km of green continuities, excluding the green promenade. This new project presents connectivity with other green spaces which is slightly better that the previous version, meaning that, overall, more green spaces of the network are situated less than 200 metres from another green space or linear feature of the network.
Levers for implementing the green network
The regional development plan constitutes a road map which will interpret the political vision for the city's development. However, it only has indicative value, unlike the Regional Land Use Plan (PRAS), which has regulatory value, and which establishes possible use in the territory and the provisions applying to each area.
At the level of the PRAS, the green network is only reflected by the use of certain parts of the territory for various types of green zones (see focus and documented sheet "Protected semi-natural sites and green spaces") and, for other uses, by provisions pertaining to greening. The creation of green spaces is therefore authorised without restriction in all areas even though, in practice, this is rarely observed. However, the construction projects pertaining to a land surface area larger than 5,000 m² must include at least 10% green spaces. In certain strategic areas (regional interest zones), the PRAS also imposes the inclusion of a given surface area for green spaces. Although, in general, the green zones of the PRAS are relatively well protected, exceptions are actually possible for public utility projects. However, some areas used as green zones are sometimes barely green at all (cfr. some cemeteries and sports zones).
Maps showing the completion of the green network or ecological network are included in regional development plans ("quality of life" maps), as well as in the draft nature plan.
"Quality of life" maps of the PRDD project: priorities of the green network
Source: Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, 2013 (see https://perspective.brussels/sites/default/files/documents/181105_cdc.pdf)
The map of the "green zones" cuts the Brussels territory into 3 concentric zones, namely, starting from the centre:
- A : Priority green zone
- B : Reinforcement of the green character of the interiors of housing blocks
- C : Protection of the green city of the outer suburbs
Depending on the zone in which they are established, the urban projects must give priority to one or other function of the green network. In zone A, in the central and dense part of Brussels, there is a considerable shortage of public and private green spaces, although there is a high density of inhabitants. The objective is to create new green spaces as much as possible, but also, more generally, to improve the quality of the urban space by planting trees in streets, or the enhancement of residential spaces, the interiors of housing blocks, flat roofs or facades. At the outer suburbs level, in zone C, the intention is to preserve the green character and the quality of the built environment fabric, despite the fact that this has become much more dense. For zone B, in the inner suburbs, the objective is to preserve and strengthen the green character of the interiors of housing blocks.
The "Quality of life" map proposes the planning of the green network and situates the various constituent elements of the green network, namely:
- the open structuring spaces to be reinforced (these open environments, concentrated in relict rural areas of the periphery, have a high biological, heritage, landscape and recreational interest);
- existing green continuities, the green promenade and green spaces of the PRAS, to be preserved;
- new green spaces, pedestrian and cyclist connections, to be created or studied;
- regional streets whose green character needs to be strengthened;
- parks to be renovated;
- regional recreational hubs, either already existing or to be created;
- protection and upgrading zones of semi-natural sites (sites enjoying significant heritage, social and ecological value which should be protected and upgraded in the context of denser levels of housing);
- reinforcement zones for the connectivity of the ecological network (essentially situated between Natura 2000 areas);
- trans-regional routes of landscape cooperation.
It should also be noted that a map of the Brussels ecological network is included in the draft nature plan.
In practice, the implementation of the green network is based on various levers, in particular:
- the planning, development, renovation and management of green spaces (parks, but also green squares and streets) and blue spaces by the public bodies following the guidelines of the regional development plan and the draft PRDD (in particular in the context of the "sustainable neighbourhood contracts", the drawing up of planning scheme, subdivisions permits, etc.);
- the procedure for issuing planning permission (for the construction of a new district, the redevelopment of streets or squares, the construction or extension of a building, etc.):
- the obligation for project owners to comply with the regulatory framework imposed by the PRAS (or, as the case may be, the specific land use plan) and the regional planning regulations (the rules regarding green roofs and soil sealing);
- the intervention of Brussels Environment as advisory body (based on the guidelines of the regional development plan and the draft PRDD);
- the possibility (anticipated by the Brussels land use code, or COBAT) of imposing planning permission charges which can pertain in particular to the realisation, transformation or renovation of green spaces.
- the provision of Brussels Environment's expertise, for example on matters linked to the development of green spaces or water management, in the context of urban or real estate projects developed by the public authorities or promoters (based on solicitation in their capacity as advisory body, or proactively by direct contact);
- land acquisitions of new plots for the Region, or the conclusion of emphyteutic leases for the creation of new green spaces which would contribute to the green network;
- the possibility to use article 66 of the nature ordinance which enables the Government to adopt specific protection decrees and measures to encourage the preservation, management and development of urban biotopes, as well as landscape elements which (...) are essential for the migration of wild species and which improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network and the Brussels ecological network;
- the provision of expertise or the establishment of contracts and agreements for the takeover of the management of green spaces by Brussels Environment, with the intention of guaranteeing a more ecological management of certain green spaces currently managed by e.g. municipalities, housing companies (Natura 2000 stations), Infrabel (e.g. railway embankments), Brussels Mobility (central berms and street edging), private owners (land situated in Natura 2000 areas), the Ministry of Defence (military terrain), etc.;
- the awarding of municipal or regional grants (e.g. for constructing green roofs, making facades green or improving the interiors of housing blocks by demolishing annexes, or the permeabilisation of soils);
- calls for projects encouraging citizens' initiatives connected with the greening of neighbourhoods or the development of collective vegetable plots (financial and technical support);
- awareness-raising and communication (publication of a "vade mecum" on the games network, for example);
- the implementation of participatory processes during the creation or renovation of certain green spaces.
Theme « Occupation des sols et paysages bruxellois »
n°06 Le maillage vert (a new version is being developed)
Theme « L’eau à Bruxelles »
Theme « Contexte bruxellois »
State of the Environment's sheet(s)
Focus : Urban vegetable plots (edition 2011-2014)
Focus : Multi-annual plans (edition 2011-2014)
Focus : Fragmentation and isolation of green spaces (edition 2011-2012)
Other publications from Brussels Environment
BRUXELLES ENVIRONNEMENT, BRAT et L’ESCAUT 2015. « Le jeu dans la ville – Pour un maillage jeux à Bruxelles », Study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 122 pp. (.pdf , in French and Dutch only)
Study(ies) and reports
AGORA 2011. « Etude sur le maillage vert dans le cadre du plan régional de développement durable (PRDD) », intermediate report - study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment (in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel – partie 1 : approche générale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 96 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel - partie 2 : Etude de conception – Continuité Cureghem (L28), connexion station Jacques Brel - Cureghem », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 18 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel - partie 2 : Etude de conception – Continuité Fleuriste, connexion Bockstael - parc de la Senne – Jardins du Fleuriste », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 23 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel - partie 2 : Etude de conception – Continuité Foyer Jettois, connexion Parc de la Jeunesse – Tour&Taxis », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 16 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel - partie 2 : Etude de conception – Continuité Van Praet, connexion Flandre (Strombeek-Bever) -Canal-Schaerbeek », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 18 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
AGORA 2014. « Maillage vert – PRDD, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, phase 2 : volet opérationnel - partie 2 : Etude de conception – Continuité senne (sud), connexion Promenade verte – Gare du midi », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 30 pp. (.pdf, in French only )
BRAT 2009. « Inventaire des espaces verts et espaces récréatifs accessibles au public en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 40 pp. + appendices (.pdf, in French only)
BRAT et RUIMTECEL 2009. « Etude pour un redéploiement des aires ludiques et sportives en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 49 pp. (.pdf in French and Dutch only)
BRUXELLES ENVIRONNEMENT, BRAT et L’ESCAUT 2015. « Le jeu dans la ville - Pour un maillage jeux à Bruxelles », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 122 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
MICHEL DESVIGNE PAYSAGISTE 2011. « Développement des sites d’espaces publics dans la zone Tour&Taxis – Note de synthèse d’un marché d’études urbanistiques et paysagères », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 22 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
MICHEL DESVIGNE PAYSAGISTE 2011. « Développement des sites d’espaces publics dans la zone Tour&Taxis – Rapport bilingue », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 161 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
SUM RESEARCH 2015. « Plan directeur interrégional pour Neerpede – Vlezenbeek – Saint Anna-Pede », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment and the Vlaamse Landmaatschappij, 110 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
SUM RESEARCH 2015. « Plan directeur interrégional pour Neerpede – Vlezenbeek - Sint Anna-Pede n°2 : Rapport phase 2 – VISION », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment and the Vlaamse Landmaatschappij, 38 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
SUM RESEARCH 2015. « Plan directeur interrégional pour Neerpede – Vlezenbeek - Sint Anna-Pede n°3 : Rapport phase 3 – PLANS D'ACTION», study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment and the Vlaamse Landmaatschappij, 138 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
VAN DE VOORDE T., CANTERS F. ET CHEUNG-WAI CHAN J. 2010. « Mapping update and analysis of the evolution of non-built (green) spaces in the Brussels Capital Region – Part I & II», cartography and GIS Research Group - department of geography (VUB), study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 35 pp. (.pdf )
Plan(s) and programme(s)
Plan régional de développement, 2002 (in French and Dutch only)
Plan régional d’affectation du sol, 2001(in French and Dutch only)