Is the City of Brussels winning the battle against empty floors?
Since the Fifties the number of people living in shopping streets has dwindled markedly, but over the past years the City of Brussels has made every effort to arrest this trend: with success! Over the past decade 270 new homes have been created in the Nieuwstraat, the main commercial artery of the Belgian and Flemish capital.
The demise of residential accommodation above shops grew over the years. Originally shopkeepers often owned the entire premises and lived above the shop. In many cases there was no separate entrance to the premises above the shop. The creation of the North South rail link signalled an exodus of residents from the inner city. Retail too evolved: products made by craftsmen disappeared and were replaced by standardised goods. Shops became bigger and formed part of chains. Shopkeepers no longer lived above the shop. Often premises above shops were used for storage or were turned into offices. Sometimes existing separate entrances were removed to increase store or window space. This became routine in the Nieuwstraat. Until recently it consisted of stores with nobody living above.
In recent years the City of Brussels has made quite an effort to ensure premises above shops are occupied and to encourage empty floors being turned into living spaces. It’s been a success. In only ten years 270 extra homes have been created in the Nieuwstraat. The City of Brussels offers a grant to landlords who reinstate separate entrances to the premises above their stores.
Ans Persoons is alderman for urban planning (one.brussels – Flemish socialist): “Our battle against empty premises is bearing fruit. During the last decade we issued 270 licences allowing the creation of homes above shops. We can’t permit these floors to remain empty: population numbers are increasing and finding affordable accommodation is becoming increasingly difficult for more and more people. Store owners can also get a grant to create a separate entrance. We hope to increase the availability of housing in the city centre even more”.
More people living in commercial areas is also a good thing. After end of trading the Nieuwstraat used to empty. There was less social control and people felt unsafe. By creating more homes, it remains a lively and safer area throughout the day.