Urban Cleansing

Matongue storefront. Ixelles, March 2014.

‘Gentrification’ is a relatively new word to the left. Increasingly invoked to describe the transformation of inner city neighborhoods in Europe and the United States by wealth, the term has become especially pejorative of late, given the persistence of the economic crisis. How could cities, once abandoned by the affluent for the suburbs, all of the sudden be booming again?

The answer is that they’re not. The so-called privileged are simply moving their money around, lured by the promise of cheap real estate investments, and the glamor of urban renewal, of taking over old buildings and apartments with far more historic and cultural significance than the soulless, frequently prefabricated sprawl surrounding cities like Madrid, Berlin and San Francisco.

Immigrants and artists, for whom the suburbs have always been out of reach, are often priced out of their homes and neighborhoods, as property speculation drives up the values of local real estate, and landlords raise the rent, or sell. Evictions become ever more common, and so does homelessness. Alternatives for relocation are slim, and oftentimes equally unaffordable.

The following flyer translations are attempts to communicate the ideological meaning of this crisis,  and the responsibility to rebel. The language and ideas are typically anti-capitalist, and Situationist-influenced. Photographed in a poor area of Brussels largely home to North Africans and southern Europeans,  it is an especially appropriate neighborhood to push such politics.


Anti-gentrification. Brussels, April 2014.
Anti-gentrification. Brussels, April 2014.



The city is changing. The daily lives of neighbourhoods are the image of the life and survival of its inhabitants. There are no relations in the city of Brussels that escape the dominant logic of money and power. But here and there, in the cracks, through boredom and disappointment, unexpected encounters exist without being dictated by profit and payback.

Authority is trying to prevent them, and strives to reconquer the streets. The government and all its institutions have made extensive efforts to remodel and restructure the city: sustainable neighbourhood contracts, reconstruction of squares and streets, opening of job centres, renovation of some facades, promotion of the property ideology, multiplication of uniforms (from mauve to red to grey to blue),  an increase in the amount of cameras to spy on us, developing social housing accessible only to a working-middle class, etc. The guardians of power speak of “social mixture” and “revaluation”, which means attracting new inhabitants who emit a citizen morality (submission to institutions and ethics of work) and give a “better” image to neighbourhoods, leaving behind everything that does not fit in boxes. This is the same argument that we have been listening to for the past 150 years, which has been used to subdue working class local revolts against the rich and powerful.

It is not a coincidence that in parallel to these efforts, property investors are transforming empty sites, workshops and depots into luxury studios and apartments to maximise profits. Cureghem is coveted for its proximity to the city centre, la Gare du Midi and its “views of the canal”. Wealthy tenants push up rents and the rest are forced into crowded conditions or to move to remote and distant places (Alost, Renaix, Charleroi…). This trend has already happened in many neighbourhoods, like Rue Dansaert, the canal area in Molenbeek and lower Saint-Gilles.

Authority and those who march behind it can make calculations and draw up plans, but their totalitarian ambitions will not become reality. All that is created on their drawing tables can be sabotaged on the field.

Authority is trying to increase its grip on the streets



Urban guerrillas. Saint Gilles, April 2014.
Urban guerrillas. Saint Gilles, April 2014.




Against luxury apartments

Against studios

Construction sites are increasing in number. Disinfected buildings and entire zones are being transformed into accommodation for the rich. The arrival of these new inhabitants increases prices in the whole neighbourhood, pushing other inhabitants to leave or make it more difficult for them to reach the end of the month.

Against increased surveillance

To attract the rich stratums of society, they must feel in security: more police patrols, more CCTV, more police stations, more social control (increasing the number of uniforms: Red, green, grey, mauve…). It is in the interest of the rich to collaborate with the repression by demanding ever more control. More and more covered by a system of surveillance, the city is becoming a roofless prison.

Against refurbishing projects

Sustainable neighbourhood contracts, revaluation projects… buildings, streets and squares have been cleaned and made slick for the wealthy. The authority flaunts the restoration of parks, playgrounds, kindergartens, community centres and artistic projects, all aimed to help us swallow our medicine. It also wants to contaminate us with their property ideology and citizenship in order to integrate us into their world.




Translated from the French by Kit Rickard. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.

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