City Structure Guide
Brussels is a typical older city in that it has both old and new, creating a contrast in some parts of the city that is tasteful, while the areas with a greater number of newer constructions are thought by locals and expats to bear the least character and feel of the rest of the city. There is a good amount of green space in the city, with most communes having several parks.
There are squares all around the city where restaurants and bars have seating outside, particularly in the summer, the biggest one being the “Big Square” (La Grand Place/Groote Markt). Throughout the city there is a mix of residential and business buildings, making it possible to live very close to where you work should that be what you want. In the main business districts your options of accommodation, however, are limited mainly to apartments as opposed to a bit further into the suburbs where there are houses and larger yards as well.
There are several business districts in the city, the two main ones being the area around Brussels North Station which has the newer, more modern glass buildings, and the “European District”, so-called because of all the European institutes (European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, for example) that is a mix of new and older buildings. The main business districts are inside what is known locally as the “inner-ring” road, a series of roads 8kms long that create the nucleus of the pentagon-shaped historic city centre. Though the city does not have a major river running through it, there is a canal that runs fairly close to the city centre. Traditionally it has been used as a water route to connect the south of Belgium to the port of Antwerp. Now, there are improvements being made that will make it a more attractive social hub with a beach as well as boat trips and a general revamp of areas lined along it.
The main residential areas (with more housing options, as apartments are available almost everywhere) lie largely outside the “inner-ring”. Areas like Uccle, Ixelles, Saint Gilles, Schaerbeek, the Woluwes and Etterbeek offer more choice in accommodation than the centre. In many ways Brussels is a very segregated city, divided along socio-economic lines that have caused the poorer segments of the population, which is largely an immigrant populace, to live closer to the canal. These areas are generally considered the more working class areas. This is largely due to chain migration, and has resulted in invisible boundaries of communities that live next to each other but have otherwise almost no social interaction at all. Traditionally regarded as “bad neighborhoods”, places like the City of Brussels, Saint Gilles and Schaerbeek have large immigrant populations (over 30%), but are now undergoing a gentrification process, making them increasingly popular because of lower prices, proximity to the city centre, and the fact these areas are considered solid long-term real-estate investments.
Brussels also has a large outer-ring road, mainly highway, separating the 19 communes from the 17 not considered part of the city. The outskirts of the city vary, with farmland in the north and forest in the south-east. The western side is generally more clustered with small towns/communes.