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Focus: the recreational network

According to a study carried out by Brussels Environment, the Brussels Region had around 299 playgrounds in 2011, as well as 142 multi-sport grounds or skateboarding park facilities. These recreational areas are unevenly spread throughout the urban fabric and are very diverse, particularly in terms of size, quality and the intended age ranges. By building on the situational analysis - both in terms of quantity and quality - of recreational and sports areas, as well as on prospective data, a "Recreational network" was recently developed by Brussels Environment. It aims to offer all Brussels inhabitants recreational spaces in sufficient quantities, which are spread throughout the territory and are of high quality. The strategy was explained and distributed in two publications intended to be used as a reference tool for the development of recreational areas and spaces dedicated to "urban skating" in the Brussels Region. Since 2009, a dozen recreational areas have been renovated or created by Brussels Environment, inspired by the principles and recommendations driving this strategy. Projects designed to develop alternative recreational facilities in densely-populated neighbourhoods have also been realised.

The recreational stakes in the city

The availability of high quality recreational spaces and green spaces constitutes an essential ingredient for the quality of life in cities. Recreational spaces in particular aid the psychomotor, physical and social development of children and adolescents, and even adults.

In recent decades, numerous areas of wasteland and abandoned land - which provided informal terrain for adventure and recreation - were progressively built over, under pressure from urbanisation (around 20 to 25% of wasteland was built over between 1998 and 2008). Besides, strong demand for housing linked to the growing population and the reduction in the size of households resulted in a substantial increase in the number of "apartment block" type buildings (+55% between 1992 and 2012) and in the division of numerous single-family houses, thus reducing the proportion of the population with access to a private garden.  In the general context of demographic growth (along with the rejuvenation of the population) and the densification of the urban fabric, ensuring adequate recreational facilities within public spaces, both in terms of quality and quantity, has therefore become an essential issue in terms of urban planning and development.

However, Brussels Environment manages numerous recreational and sports areas integrated within its green spaces, including some which, now amortised, are in need of renovation. It is in this context that a more comprehensive reflection was initiated to come up with the recreational and sporting areas of tomorrow.

Supply and demand for recreational and sporting areas

In 2009, when numerous playgrounds were practically amortised, Brussels Environment organised an initial assessment of the recreational and sports areas in the Brussels Region. An inventory of the formal recreational and sports areas (including those managed by municipalities) was carried out on the basis of a survey into the locations of these areas and the available equipment.

The information was encoded in a geo-referenced database which made it possible to analyse the spatial distribution of recreational areas within the urban fabric, but also to cross-reference them, at the neighbourhood level, with demographic and socio-economic variables (size and density of the population, distribution by age, incomes, average surface area of houses per inhabitants, etc.).

This study made it possible to survey 321 recreational and sports areas (including 21 petanque grounds and table tennis tables), of which 41 were managed by Brussels Environment. These recreational areas are nonetheless extremely diverse, in terms of size, quality and the intended age ranges, which made additional qualitative analysis essential. The areas are also unevenly distributed within the urban fabric, with strong local concentrations in both the centre and the periphery or, on the contrary, areas with no equipment at all. Overall, the recreational areas in the outer suburbs provide facilities which are intended for children in particular, whereas in the more central parts of the city,  the areas are more oriented towards a child/adolescent public, offering both games and sport at the same site.

Various other observations were highlighted, including in particular the inadequate inclusion of certain publics (pre-adolescents and adolescents including in particular young girls, children with a motor disability, families with children in different age brackets, very young children), the possibilities for using the games which are often too obvious, and the lack of inventiveness in the design of the areas, the importance of informal recreational areas, the lack of maintenance, surveillance and auxiliary facilities (WC, drinking water, picnic tables, etc.). More generally, the study revealed that a genuine regional policy for developing recreational and sports areas was non-existent.

With a view to developing a recreational network strategy and identifying priority intervention areas, this situational analysis was supplemented with a detailed qualitative approach which was realised in 2011-2012. The qualitative approach was based on a visit to all of the recreational and sports areas which were listed during the initial phase, and their assessment, based on an evaluation grid which considered 6 aspects: general aspect (theoretical range of the area, opening times, proximity to schools and museums, etc.), accessibility, available games and sporting activities, insight and attractiveness, the comfort of accompanying people, cleanliness, maintenance and safety). Based on the various quality criteria, an overall score was calculated for each area studied.  The quality of the playgrounds was considered to be good, average or poor depending on whether its score was  > 7/10, between 5 and 7/10 or < 5/10.

This second phase of the study highlighted the following observations in particular:

  • The average score for the quality of all recreational-sports facilities combined at the regional level was 6.5/10 for recreational areas and 6/10 for sports grounds or skateboarding parks;
  • There are 299 playgrounds (which is an average of one playground for every 435 children of nursery and primary school age) and 142 multi-sport ground or skateboarding park facilities (which is an average of around one adolescent recreational area for every 528 youths of secondary school age);
  • 65% of the playgrounds have a local range (the street or neighbourhood), 33% have a municipal range, and less than 2% have a supra-municipal range.

Spatial distribution (2009) and quality (2011) of recreational areas
Source : Brussels Environment, BRAT and L’Escaut, 2015


Each playground is represented by a circle corresponding to a range of 300 metres from the centre of the area or the entrance to the park. This distance of 300 metres as the crow flies equates to around 10 minutes of walking with children, in other words to a theoretical accessibility zone. These zones are truncated when they cut across impenetrable urban boundaries (motorways, canals, water bodies, impenetrable areas, overground metro lines and railways). In case a crossing point may make it possible to get past the obstacle, a zone beyond this point has been recalculated so as to achieve the 300 metre distance as the crow flies. In the case of a recreational area situated in a park of between 1.5 and 4 hectares, the accessibility zone was calculated from the boundaries of the park.

This map highlights the parts of the territory situated in a given playground's theoretical accessibility zone, and as such makes it possible, on initial examination, to identify areas where children have insufficient access to a nearby playground.  It also provides information on the quality of playgrounds as well as on the density levels of children per neighbourhood (BISA).

Spatial distribution (2009) and quality (2011) of multi-sport grounds or skate parks

Source : Brussels Environment, BRAT and L’Escaut, 2015


A similar approach was taken for the facilities intended for adolescents, by considering a theoretical accessibility zone of 500 metres as the crow flies.

Towards a recreational network in Brussels

In the wake of these studies and reflections, a strategy for implementing a genuine "recreational network" was drawn up by Brussels Environment.  This strategy, as well as its practical modalities for implementation, was the subject of two publications: "Le jeu dans la ville - pour un maillage jeux à Bruxelles" (Recreation in the city - towards a recreational network in Brussels) and "SK8BXL – Le skate dans la ville" (SK8BXL - Skateboarding in the city). The latter was specifically focused on the development of dedicated sites for skateboarding and other urban skating disciplines. These publications are intended to serve as a reference tool for contractors, designers, administrations and any other actors involved in the development of the public space.

The recreational network is defined in these publications as "a strategy designed to provide open high quality recreational spaces in sufficient quantities, spread throughout the territory for all inhabitants of the Region".  This strategy has resulted in quantitative and qualitative objectives to be achieved by 2020, namely:

  • ensure, within all Brussels neighbourhoods, that there is one playground for every 500 children, and appropriate adolescent facilities for every 500 adolescents;
  • ensure that there is one playground and one recreational-sports area for adolescents at least 300 metres and 500 metres respectively from inhabited areas, as the crow flies;
  • achieve an average score of 8/10 with regards to the quality of all the recreational-sporting facilities in the Brussels-Capital Region.

Beyond these objectives, the strategy is based on a series of main principles and guidelines, including for example:

  • give priority to areas with a shortage of recreational facilities (by taking into account the qualitative and quantitative aspect of the facilities, demographic forecasts per neighbourhood, the presence of infrastructure such as schools, libraries and games libraries and museums, etc.);
  • Build the recreational network around 4 levels of outreach (street, neighbourhood, municipality and region) by developing the necessary collaborations and synergies with the various actors (Brussels Environment, municipalities, neighbourhoods contracts, community institutions, etc.);
  • create recreational hubs on a regional scale (planned in the draft regional development plan or PRDD);
  • diversify the supply and types of recreational areas (taking into account the needs of the different categories of users for whom the supply is poor) and increase their inventiveness and originality;
  • stimulate the creation of informal recreational spaces and integrate a recreational dimension in the design of public spaces;
  • encourage the participation of children and future users during the development of recreational areas, and public spaces more generally;
  • integrate the objectives of the recreation network within new housing projects.

The draft PRDD identifies sports and recreational facilities among the priority needs in terms of services and facilities, for which it is advisable to improve the supply. The recreational network is actually mentioned and presented in the plan, along with the socio-recreational, blue and ecological networks, as one of the strategic networks of the green network (see focus on the subject).

Various specific measures have already been taken to apply the development policy of the recreational network. Since 2009, many recreational areas have been renovated or created by Brussels Environment, having taken on board the recommendations resulting from the reflection on the recreation network. They are situated at the following sites:  Georges-Henri park, Bonnevie park, Porte de Hal, King Baudouin park (phases 1, 2 and 3), Rouge-Cloître (the Red Cloister), the Chinese pavilion, the railway promenade (station and Willame), Wilder woods (health trail), Seny park, ligne 28-Dubrucq, Scheutbos (lower part). New projects are also in progress or planned.

In 2015, Brussels Environment managed 38 recreational areas, 14 sports areas, 3 skateboard parks and 7 fitness zones.

Projects designed to develop alternative recreational facilities - in particular within densely populated neighbourhoods - have also been undertaken and resulted in the creation of a mobile structure to fire the imagination (the Yeti's grotto) and luge boards on rollers for street or park activities (the infernal Wall).

Date de mise à jour: 18/12/2017
Documents: 

Land use in the Brussels Region (edition 2011-2014)

Focus : The green network (edition 2011-2014)

Focus : Recherche et synthèse de connaissances : perception du cadre de vie (edition 2007-2010, in French and Dutch only)

Green spaces : public accessibility (edition 2007-2008) (.pdf)

Other publications from Brussels Environment

BRUXELLES ENVIRONNEMENT, BRAT et L’ESCAUT 2015. « Le jeu dans la ville – Pour un maillage jeux à Bruxelles », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 122 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)

BRUXELLES ENVIRONNEMENT, BRAT et BRUSK 2015. « SK8BXL – Le skate dans la ville », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 63 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)

Study(ies) and report(s)

BRAT 2009. « Inventaire des espaces verts et espaces récréatifs accessibles au public en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 40 pp. + appendices (.pdf, in French only)

BRAT et RUIMTECEL 2009. « Etude pour un redéploiement des aires ludiques et sportives en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 49 pp. (.pdf, in French only)

VAN DE VOORDE T., CANTERS F. ET CHEUNG-WAI CHAN J. 2010. « Mapping update and analysis of the evolution of non-built (green) spaces in the Brussels Capital Region – Part I & II», cartography and GIS Research Group - department of geography (VUB), study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 35 pp. (.pdf) 

Plan(s) and programme(s)

Projet de plan régional de développement durable, 2013 (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)