Before-and-after photos of the Boulevard Anspach in Brussels, Belgium, are a dramatic illustration of how different cities could be if they were built for people rather than cars.
The comparison came from Cars Destroyed Our Cities (@cars.destroyed.our.cities) on Instagram, an account dedicated to showing how urban spaces have changed because of people’s reliance on automobiles.
In a post from March, the account shared a rare and encouraging example of what happens when a city goes the other direction.
The Boulevard Anspach is a central, well-known street in Belgium’s capital. Cars Destroyed Our Cities’ photos from 2009 show a busy four-lane road with packed parking along the sides. A few trees and planters made it pleasant for a city street, but it was still clearly designed with drivers in mind, not pedestrians or cyclists.
But in the last 14 years, things have changed.
“The city pedestrianized the street in 2016, and by 2019 the street was fully open for bikes and pedestrians,” Cars Destroyed Our Cities said in the post’s description.
The photo from 2022 was a completely different place. The asphalt road from the 2009 photo had been demolished and replaced with a narrower, gray-brick bike path. Cyclists were separated from pedestrians by wide stretches of green lawn with large, healthy trees and bushes. Inviting park benches and outdoor cafe spaces gave visitors a place to relax in between browsing the shops on either side.
The unbelievable change came with several benefits for residents and visitors.
For one thing, replacing pavement with green space is an effective way to keep the street from becoming a heat island. As Cars Destroyed Our Cities pointed out, “The street is also significantly quieter, less polluted, and more pleasant to walk around.”
“The transformation of Brussels towards a car-free city is not just factual; it’s monumental,” said one commenter who lives in the Brussels city center. “I wish other cities could believe that this is not just feasible but instantly effective.”
“The Anspach boulevard is filled with pedestrians, bicycle riders, and scooter riders, almost 24/7,” they added. “Where there once were shady kebab shops … now you have bars, restaurants, record stores, a comic book shop, a concert hall. All this, in just five years.”
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