The Josaphat site, a beautiful, slightly hidden, open and green space in Schaerbeek/Evere, which my colleagues and I rather call ‘The Island’, was property of the Belgian railway company for years. But in 2005, the Brussels government bought the site and since then citizens started to gain interest for this empty plot.
A variety of events started taking place spontaneously in the Josaphat area. Festivals, open air cinema’s, theatre plays,… and then there are the ‘Commons Josaphat’, a group of people motivated to bring to the site people from the neighborhood to think, dream and debate about their common desires for a lively living space. To that purpose, the Josaphat Commons organize a variety of activities a like the Recup’kitchen or the the shaping and maintaining of collective gardens.
But, every great story has an end… The Josaphat area is one of the top priority districts the Brussels Government wishes to further develop. They already provided us with a masterplan, without involving the Josaphat Commons and their knowledge about the needs of the neighborhood. The project is called ’Living and Working in a Park’. It is mainly a housing project that provides, be it with a lot of green spaces, no room anymore for the local initiatives like the Commons.
This past semester, I have been studying, working and debating on the Josaphat site for my Design Studio and during one of our last sessions of Architecture and Activism the following quote was thrown into the scene :
‘Empty spaces are lost opportunities’
It strongly reminded me of the Josaphat site, as I am indeed a strong believer that empty spaces are not necessarily ‘lost’ spaces, no, empty spaces can definitely offer a much wanted way of certain freedom. Why would somebody wish to build on one of the last remaining empty spaces in Brussels, whilst this space just frees up the necessary breathing space in a city, almost suffocated by its own drowning density ?
Why not open it to the public as a ‘every man’s no-man’s land’?
We nevertheless also should consider the imminent lack of appropriate housing facilities in a growing city like Brussels, and this is what the Brussels Government’s project is indeed all about. However, I believe that an architect, or any organization taking part in this project should at least try and listen to the local society, and have them participate in the conception and realization of this project.
So, I feel it is time for us, students in architecture, to call for action and assist these Commons with their views and ideas, and to stand up for their interests.
By Ikarina Lamonte