How do local politics and nightlife get along in Brussels?

Pictures by Annika Wallis

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A couple of weeks ago, some much-needed good news for Belgians nightlife culture arrived. In sharp contrast with last year’s situation, Kompass Klub and Ghent’s city council emphasized their constructive cooperation by announcing the club will stay on its current location for years to come. In Brussels too, relations between local politics and nightlife seem to be moving in a positive direction. This week, it has been announced that Brussels will soon receive a Nightlife Council on the regional level. Earlier, the first Brussels Nightlife Charter has already been introduced in the centrally-located St Jacques neighbourhood. This Charter defines a collaborative and topical framework for nightlife in the area, adapted to the needs and peculiarities of the neighbourhood. A similar Charter for the Saint-Géry district is in the pipeline. We sat down with the driving force behind that Charter, Maude Glorieux, to talk about the current status of the dialogue between nightlife and local politics – and where it's heading in the future.

Does Brussels have a specific nightlife policy, and how does it fit in the city's general policy?

"The City of Brussels perceives its nightlife as a financial asset, a draw for tourists, and as an opportunity to develop the city's cultural life. It’s a way to improve its image. The development of our nightlife is a priority. With more than 1800 restaurants, bars and clubs, our capital requires a dedicated policy. That said, we also need to protect our inhabitants and reach a balance between very different interests within a neighbourhood. The aim is to have a city in which night owls can party in safety, but where residents who need to get up early for work can also sleep peacefully".

How do you attain this? Is there are a continuous dialogue with the main nightlife actors?

"Established dialogues are already ongoing with several of the neighbourhoods that attract nocturnal visitors, such as Saint-Géry and Saint-Jacques. Such discussions enable us to keep track of what's going on in these places. Dialogues are also carried out on an individual level when it's requested, as are constructive dialogues following an official complaint".

The City of Brussels perceives its nightlife as a financial asset, a draw for tourists, and as an opportunity to develop the city's cultural life.

In May 2018, the first Nightlife Charter was introduced in the St Jacques neighbourhood. What does this charter involve exactly?

"This Charter was agreed upon by the city, the region, the authorities, as well as several venues and nightlife actors. In short, it offers an appropriate framework to balance the nocturnal activities and the residential function of the neighbourhood. It's a first step towards a fully integrated nightlife policy".

"The first Committee meetings have been held already, forming a channel through which venues can address the problems they encounter. During these meetings, we discuss all sorts of subjects, and we work together to make the plans work. For example, we have created a training course about drug abuse and the appropriate reactions for a venue manager. Discrimination and security are hot topics during these meetings as well. Besides that, we are developing an action plan on discourtesy issues (disrespect, profanity, stuff like that, ed.). Soon, a new Charter for the Saint-Géry neighbourhood will be formed. Just this week, the formation of the Nightlife Council on the regional level has been announced. This is where topics like mobility and long term strategy come in.”

The 24h Brussels platform aims for a better nightlife environment. By creating a meeting point for the nightlife sector and pleading for more research, 24h Brussels is fully committed to establishing a qualitative nightlife scene. Does the city work together with that platform?

"It does, on several projects – like the Nightlife Charter for example – both on the local and regional level. Together they also organise the 'Open Club Day' (a daytime open house for nightclubs on Saturday February 1) and 'Mind the Night' (an open conversation about nightlife between venues and other interested parties like promoters, managers, residents, local authorities, etc.)".

So what does the city expect from a club promoter?

"They have to be willing to establish a joint dialogue and a working relationship if necessary. We also expect them to adjust and implement new measures and offer a diverse range of events. In return, we offer a constant dialogue. We can also help them reduce possible tension with residents and assist with administrative processes".

Club promoters have to be willing to establish a joint dialogue and a working relationship if necessary.

A recurring complaint of promoters is the lack of available venues in Brussels. What's your take on this?

"As in any city, some locations and parks are particularly favoured by event organisers. But the city must take care not to overuse its popular locations, such as La Bourse, for example. A policy to decentralise events is in place to relieve the city centre. The larger Brussels area is huge, and the development of nightlife in other suitable areas is under consideration. We've also been discussing event rotation with promoters to avoid that a single event is held in the same place every year. An interesting option is expanding the temporary licences for using empty buildings before they are redeveloped, such as Actiris, Magasin 4, Barlok, Foundation Kanal etc. That said, we are aware there is no endless supply of locations. Other cities in the region should also demonstrate greater willingness to host events on their public spaces”.

Can a club, in your own opinion, be held responsible for the substance abuse of its visitors?

"Legally, any establishment is responsible for the consumption or dealing of drugs on its premises. However, the city does not aim to blindly sanction a club, except in cases of extreme urgency or danger. Instead, the aim is to work together to curb the phenomenon. Our door is always open for discussion, and venues contact us when they encounter problems. We favour training courses for venue managers, helping them to react correctly when they’re faced with the issue, from first aid to dealing with the implications afterwards".