Study outlines increasing diversity and spatial inequality in Flanders and Brussels

Flanders and Brussels have become much more diverse, which has translated into spatial inequality. This is according to the Atlas Superdiversity Flanders, a new report that mapped the distribution, extent and evolution of diversity in Flanders and Brussels over the past 30 years.

In 2020, 25 per cent of people in Flanders, with a population of some 6.5 million, were of non-Belgian origin. In 1990, the figure was 6.5 per cent, the report states.

In particular, areas where people with an immigrant background have lived longer have become more diverse in recent years, including the old mining region of Limburg and metropolitan areas such as Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. In addition, border municipalities with France and the Netherlands have also seen more French and Dutch residents, making those areas more diverse.

Furthermore, the last two decades have seen the addition of previously less diverse areas, especially from Brussels. "In the eastern edge of Brussels, it is mainly people of EU or OECD origin, in the west rather people of non-EU origin," said Dirk Geldof, a researcher at Odisee University College.

Social mobility and gentrification

The report points to upward social mobility and processes of gentrification and scarcity in the Brussels housing market. But even in "smaller cities with an industrial past and outdated working-class housing," the report speaks of increasing diversity.

Neighbourhoods with more residents of non-Belgian origin tend to be less green and are characterized by closed construction, smaller homes and rental and multi-family housing. The population in more diverse neighbourhoods is also noticeably younger.

More than one in three underage Flemings has a migration background. Moreover, the group of Flemish people with a migration background is increasingly diverse in terms of age, socioeconomic position, length of residence and living patterns.

Challenges for local authorities

Nevertheless, this uneven distribution creates challenges for municipalities. "New residents have new spatial and social needs, from play, sports and meeting spaces to new types of stores, extra capacity for schools or places of worship. Affordable housing is also crucial," Geldof said. Municipalities need to consider these new population dynamics and spatial needs.

The Atlas Superdiversity Flanders is the result of a collaboration between the urban planning agency Atelier Romain, the Knowledge Center for Family Sciences of the Odisee University College and the research group P.PUL of the Faculty of Architecture of the KULeuven and was commissioned by the Government of Flanders' Environment Department.



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