Space for SMEs in the city is a hot topic for groups interested in urban and economic transformation. Various studies have shown that the situation in the Brussels Capital Region is worrying: SMEs are leaving the city. That’s why VUB researchers Alexandre Orban and Fabio Vanin, with Corentin Sanchez-Trenado of ULB, examined production activities in the Cureghem district. They found that new, trendy production activities are succeeding, resulting in gentrification of the area. “These new production activities contribute to the gentrification of Cureghem, while the old activities have just slowed down this process and are still slowing it down. The new production activities attract wealthier customers but do not bring many stable jobs,’ says Orban.
Between 1997 and 2011, more than a million square metres of production space disappeared in Brussels and moved to locations outside the city. In itself, this is not a new or typical Brussels phenomenon; in the past, many Western European cities have also been confronted with it. Nevertheless, Brussels stands out because of the intensity and speed of the process. Whereas Brussels was still the largest industrial city in the country at the beginning of the 1960s, today manufacturing activities represent only a small part of its urban space. The industrial sectors in Brussels account for some 22,000 jobs, barely 3% of the total waged labour force. The cause is to be found in increasingly fierce competition for urban space with housing, offices and retail, and in the fact that the Brussels economy is increasingly turning to the service sector.
Old and new production activities in Cureghem
However, some production activities are being developed in the urban environment, and these are new SMEs. Enterprises such as urban agriculture projects, food processing activities and fab labs receive a lot of public support, easier access to land and subsidised jobs.
“In Brussels, it is especially important to put the functions that promote the attractiveness of the area first in the competition between regions, such as the organisation of events and the construction of large cultural and sports facilities,’ says Vanin. “The production activities that are least in line with the interests of determining actors of territorial development are often pushed away from the city.’
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