Case Study: Abattoir 2020 (Brussels, Belgium)

2018-07-10 00:00:00

By LUO Jianyun / Guangzhou Urban Renewal Planning Institute

Brussels-Capital Region was shortlisted for the 3rd Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation in 2016. This study tour took place during June 1st and 2nd, 2017.


Brussels-Capital Region enjoys a history of one thousand years, covering an area of 161.4 square kilometers with 1.16 million permanent residents. Brussels is the 3rd richest region in Europe and is hailed as the capital of Europe: it is home to several major administrative institutions of the European Union, such as European Council, European Commission, and EC Council. 

As Europe’s economy lapsed into stagnation, Brussels, after a period of rapid development, was confronted with the challenge of reinvigoration. One of the efforts is the regeneration of the de-industrialized Brussels Canal Area. Brussels initiated the “Canal Plan” in 2008 to boost the sustainability of this area and to make it a central development axis. The purpose is to spur the economic growth of the Canal Area, improve the surrounding environment, and raise the stature, thus enhancing the attractiveness of the Canal Area. Abattoir 2020 plays an important role in the sustainable regeneration of the Canal Area and serves as an exemplary program.


Abattoir 2020 is implemented in the Brussels Canal Area and covers an area of 10.5 acres (about 4.2 hectares), where the ground buildings covers an area of about 47,000 square meters. The slaughterhouse was built in 1890 and is still running. 

In 2007, owners of the abattoir realized that the regeneration of the Canal Area would bring about opportunities for the transformation of the abattoir. Renewal was made to the abattoir against the backdrop that this area is inhabited by many immigrant ethnic groups, usually with low income. On the one hand, coordinated development is promoted of the slaughterhouse, meat processing factories, and the market. On the other hand, the site is redesigned, with introduction of new buildings, into a farmer’s market and small commodity market. This turns the original abattoir into an everyday infrastructure closely connected with the residents. In addition, urban agriculture is encouraged, such as rooftop gardening and greenhouse mushroom growing, whose produces like vegetables and fruits can be sold in the market directly.


Abattoir 2020 not only satisfies the needs of the communities, but also attracts a large number of stores, which provides plenty of jobs for the immigrants and revitalize the economy of this region. This program thus becomes an inspiration in the Canal Area and gained financial support of the European Union.


Implementation of the Canal Plan will run into 2030. The budget for the plan is 17.74 million euros, of which 7.48 million euros is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It is expected, after completion, that the total floor area will reach 130,000 square meters.


The innovation of the Abattoir 2020 program lies in adopting a practical strategy of gradual transformation. Its development and transformation are mainly based on three aspects:

1. The existing production activities (slaughtering and meat processing) gets preserved and improved, thus retaining the original jobs and keeping the dynamics of the industrial chain.

2. An industrial cluster is formed through renewal, bringing together all kinds of urban activities and economic activities as well as residents of all ethnic groups. By doing so, the local environment and the city’s image and even the popularity of this region are highly improved.

3. The introduction of large numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises creates many jobs for the region. In this way, development of this program gets connected with the local residents and professionals and becomes intertwined with the development of the Canal Area. The program also fosters the multi-culturalist social structure.

When the program started, owners of the abattoir did not abandon the original operation to seek for high-tech development. They, instead, made a thorough analysis of the characteristics and demands before adopting practical gradual development strategy.

1. Invite professional planning teams and research institutes to make the overall development plan;

2. Discuss the plan with the community, administrative departments at all levels in Brussels, and relevant departments of the European Union for policy and financial support;

3. Discuss the plan with businesses, community residents, and investment firms in the area and make corresponding improvements;

4. Cooperate with civil societies and organize various activities, including forums, to promote the plan.

Lessons learned

The whole program adopts various methods to realize sustainable development, such as preservation and promotion, renewal and transformation, and active introduction. The program is characterized with practical and gradual development, enabling the Brussels Canal Area to achieve sustainable development while retaining the vitality of the whole region.

The key to development of big cities lies in renewal, upgrade, and transformation of the built area rather than expansion. Many cities are now faced with these questions: how to achieve sustainability, how to improve the living conditions in old factories, villages, and neighborhoods, how to upgrade the industry, and how to maximize the value of resources. Brussels’ Abattoir 2020 offers a couple of lessons in transformation.

1. Goals of urban renewal

Transformation is necessary of the comprehensive development of a city. It is a rediscovery of the resources needed for development, such as new space, new types of economy, and new functions. The competitiveness of a city relies on its sustainability elements, including talents, employment climate, and social governance. This requires wise utilization of the resources and active supplies. The success of Abattoir suggests that there should be equal focus on high-tech, high added-value, and high-return industries and the industries closely connected with people’s daily life as well as micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises. Moreover, the performance of regional regeneration cannot simply be evaluated by the success of a single program or economic statistics of the region. The performance indicators should also include rapport between all classes and ethnic groups, public infrastructure and services, and stability of the social structure.

2. Strategy of urban renewal

In light of the regeneration strategy reflected in Abattoir 2020, there is the need to promote co-governance and respond to citizens’ needs through public participation. for the public to promote social transformation towards a common governance. Only through this will different stakeholders be actively engaged: the grassroots, businesses, and residents will pay attention to the development strategy, think of the strategies and means of implementation, identify the demands of production, social governance, and daily living. It is also necessary to combine the top-down and bottom-up approach while integrating regional development strategies with renewal of neighborhoods and demands of residents. If this is achieved, then there will be a real renewal roadmap that is effective and clear in objectives, planning, and tactics.