Healthy air is unfairly distributed in Brussels

Samenvating frans

That is the main result of the citizen survey on air quality, CurieuzenAir

During a month, 3,000 Brussels citizens attached measuring tubes to the facades of their houses to measure the air quality in the Brussels-Capital Region. Last week, the results of the were published. 

Positive progress

Compared to the previous measuring in 2019, the quality of the air in Brussels has certainly improved. The introduction of the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) has proven to greatly impact the air quality. The results of the survey are clear: places with a lot of traffic have higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). 

Brussels has made serious efforts in recent years. With the implementation of the regional ‘Good Move’ plan and the low emission zone, both initiated by Pascal Smet, a true paradigm shift has taken place. 

In recent years, Brussels has made radical choices to transform Brussels from a region for cars to a region for the people. The first results of this turnaround are now starting to show: car-free neighbourhoods, good and electric public transport, safe bicycle lanes, a smoother traffic circulation and a qualitative public space. 

A long-term project

Although we are clearly heading in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. Brussels still exceeds the European standards for NO2, and certainly the norms by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that are much stricter.

Healthy air for the people of Brussels is a long-term project that requires sustained efforts. 

Unfair distribution of the burden

The results clearly show the connection of the proximity of traffic to the quality of the air. The measuring points on the inner ring road near Sint-Joost or the Vlaamsepoort only demonstrate this. 

Moreover, the density of the buildings in these places only heightens the level of pollution as the narrow streets make it difficult for polluted air to escape. 

The best air, on the other hand, is measured in municipalities such as Uccle, Auderghem or Watermael-Boitsfort. It is no coincidence that these are the richer, more residential neighbourhoods of Brussels, far away from the busy traffic routes.  

In short, the region’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable households are breathing air of a significantly different quality from wealthy residents. Most of the inhabitants of the poorer neighbourhoods, do not own a car themselves. However, they still breathe in disproportionately high amounts of polluted air. In other words, the negative consequences and harmful health effects are largely borne by those who are not responsible for the problem in the first place.

Better public transport and infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians  

That is why fights for even better and faster public transport. By investing in new tram lines, an extensive bus plan and the new metro line 3, the car is slowly losing its position as the dominant way of transportation. Separate bicycle lanes and better pavements will give cyclists and pedestrians the space they deserve. In addition, fuel cars will be increasingly phased out in the coming years thanks to the LEZ.

Nevertheless, more than half of the emissions in Brussels are caused by the heating of buildings. Better isolation therefore does not only positively impacts the environment, it is also good for the air quality. That is why the current government, with Secretary of State Pascal Smet, is fully committed to the 'Renolution' strategy, a revolutionary approach to renovate and isolate Brussels' buildings as quickly as possible.

Share the burden, build in compact ways and green-up the public space

As far as we are concerned, building compactly and greening our neighbourhoods is an important part of the solution. In places where there is almost no green space now, we must free up space for parks and trees. This should go hand in hand with more affordable housing. Building more vertically in some places can be one of the many solutions to make room for green space. In addition, it is important to create more affordable and social housing in the neighbourhoods with already plenty of space and greenery. 

Every inhabitant of Brussels deserves healthy air

A healthy environment with clean air is a fundamental right. We must not fail the inhabitants of Brussels who live in densely built neighbourhoods, in poorly isolated houses near busy roads.

The problem of unhealthy air requires an approach that goes beyond the Brussels communes. All 19 communes, rich and poor, must be part of the solution. 

Every inhabitant of Brussels must be able to breathe clean air. Your income should have no influence on this whatsoever. Clean air for everybody - regardless of your place of residence - should be the ambition. 

That require strong social policy, and that is what calls for. 

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