Interview of Benoît Hellings
first alderman of Brussels and alderman dedicated to climate and sport exchanges
2019, November 06th
Benoit Hellings, first alderman of Brussels and alderman dedicated to climate and sport exchanges on Brussels’ sport policy and how the city has truly become an active city. Together we discuss the already visible outcomes of a pro-active cycling policy, the political will to make physical activity accessible to everyone and how the city is currently leading by example.
Since 2014, Brussels has built over 35kms of cycling lanes. What kind of impact has it brought to the city and citizens’ mobility habits?
We see it every day at every red light and on every biking lane in the city centre: there are more and more cyclists in Brussels. We acknowledge the positive impact that daily biking has, especially on an urban and sedentary population, who is used to work in offices. Is it enough Of course not. We have to keep up the efforts at every level in every competence we have. We need to work together with every city’s departments to reach our goals. As an example, my colleague Bart Dhondt, the alderman for mobility implemented a “Bike Plan’’ that aims to improve security on the streets while reducing the pollution and encouraging each and everyone to do sport and ride a bike. As the alderman for sport I can only be glad we started cross-sectorial initiatives like this.
How to facilitate the access to physical activity at every level of the city? For example, how do you reach the people who can’t afford a bike or join a sport club?
In Brussels, we want to make sport affordable and accessible to everyone. Rather than leading monumental projects destined to an elite, we want sporting infrastructures to be opened to everybody, the young and less young of Brussels. To reach that goal, we have engaged to renew the oldest buildings but also to build new and sustainable ones. On one hand, using new construction techniques and more sustainable materials allow to fight the climate disruption and on the other hand, it also makes us save money that we can therefore reinvest in grassroots sport.
Is the city of Brussels’ staff leading by example? Are there any active programmes offered to them?
The city of Brussels wants to do the maximum to push its staff to do sport. The access to sporting facility is free to every group working on behalf of the city’ consortium (be it for workers wanting to build a team or public services like schools or ‘’Bravvo” youth centre). Many clubs have been created by the city staff members badminton, volleyball or mini foot. The Sports Department of the municipality is also building up teams for Brussels’ Ekiden or 20k race. The city participates actively in the Intercommunal Olympiads which are some small Olympics organised between the cities of the Brussel’s region. Finally, an allowance is accessible to every city staff who cycles to work and bikes are put at the disposal of the municipality department to foster sustainable transportation in the context of work.
How effectively to you work with other sectors and departments of the city?
As mentioned above, we have cross-sectorial initiatives. Our aldermen work closely to bring their projects forward for Brussels’ city and its inhabitants. The ‘’Bike plan’’ but also the entire mobility plan elaborated by my collegue Bart Dhondt are made to encourage Brussels’ inhabitants to use soft means of transportation and thus, walk and bike more. In this framework, the ‘’Bike plan’’ sets a series of measures which budget has already been planned, or will soon be, a coordination of the development strategies regarding daily sport and soft transportation.