Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Brussels, Belgium: 2003

Despite its drab reputation, Brussels is actually one of Europe’s most livable cities — compact, international, and wreathed by a vast green belt. One reason for its bad press, no doubt, is the way the megalithic headquarters of European Union institutions have been artlessly plopped into the European Quarter east of the city center. There is nothing there to warm the urban heart. The old Gare du Luxembourg station has been reduced to a façade — after a local uproar, it was preserved while the rest of the train station was put underground. The glass-and-steel carbuncle of the European Parliament, opened in 1998, lords over the Place du Luxembourg — and is now being expanded to accommodate new members. The endless construction has engendered a powerful preservation movement in Brussels, but the resulting clinch between bureaucrats and preservationists does little to serve the city’s interests.