Last Sunday we had beaucoup fun at Piknik [formerly Piknik Elektronik], an open-air music event that takes place every week (weather permitting), where some of the coolest DJs and positive-vibe crowds in Brussels, come together. Held in different parks or green spaces, all you have to do is check the location on the Piknik Website or Facebook page, put on your hat, sunscreen and best party mood, throw in your picnic tablecloth and just have a good time. The music is always great, the drinks strong and the smiles bright; there is food for your picnic too, if you haven’t prepared any. And since it is a Sunday event taking place in a park, it is family friendly – and that includes all members of the family.
This time it was held in Manhattan. Did you know there is a Manhattan in down town Brussels? Like in New York only smaller, quieter and spookier, with its river (the Senne/Zenne) forced underground beneath layers of concrete. Source of much resentment and controversy, the Manhattan of Brussels is a glaring example of the disastrous urban policy that inspired the term Brusselization/Bruxellisation.
The name hails back to the sixties when the seeds of ideas about redeveloping the North District of Brussels were sown. It was an ambitious plan involving the demolition of an area close to 540.000 m² in the vicinity of the North Station; the raising of 80 skyscrapers in a huge complex centered around the World Trade Center; and the construction of two urban motorways with the WTC complex being their main intersection. The buildings would be connected with elevated walkways and bridges for pedestrians to walk safely, confining the traffic at ground and underground level. Looking keenly towards America, the symbol of modernisation and development, the project was called ”Manhattan” and received approval in 1967.
Dark years followed, marked by crises and bankruptcies. The first WTC tower was built but there were not enough occupants to fill in the thousands of empty square metres. The first housing project to accommodate the residents whose properties were expropriated and demolished, was only completed in 1975. Eventually three more buildings would be raised before the project would be finally abandoned. The utopia was soon to be turned into a dystopia.
It was not until the mid-1990s when the economy picked up, that construction work started again with the twin ”Belgacom Towers”. More tall buildings followed as multinational corporations and government bodies agreed to move in; the area is still under development today. The ”Manhattan” project was never to be mentioned again but, as expected, the name stuck albeit unofficially.
Last Sunday, Piknik was held at Espace Gaucheret, a green urban space that acts as a buffer zone between the glass buildings of ”Manhattan” and the residential apartment blocks beyond them. And, yes, of course there was rain! Just enough for an extra stop to take shelter and then the sun was shining again:
Bld du Roi Albert II/Koning Albert II laan
Brussels, Sunday 03 August 2014