Understanding housing sprawl: the case of Flanders, Belgium
Between 1995 and 1999 the Flemish government succeeded in approving pieces of legislation intended to counter the spatial developments that had characterised the preceding periods, namely suburbanisation and urban decay. It passed a law to combat vacancy and slum housing (1995), a law to invest in social urban renewal (1996), a housing law (1997), a new law on spatial planning (1999), and the first comprehensive spatial plan (1997). Unfortunately, recent information and an evaluation of the spatial planning effort reveal that these initiatives have not been successful. The suburbanisation of native Belgians did not stop: on the contrary, it is accelerating again. And the population growth in the cities is due to people coming from abroad (through family reunification or formation or as asylum seekers). In this contribution I investigate suburbanisation and deurbanisation, asking why housing sprawl in Flanders is so persistent. I examine the structures behind sprawl, viewing them as the consequence of a longstanding dialectical process whereby physical artefacts interact with political choices and actions, cultural convictions, and economic possibilities that have reinforced each other in daily practice over and over again in one predominant direction. The basic argument is that Flanders’ spatial planning and urban policies are locked into historical choices, making it difficult to implement new options successfully.
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