Meet Swing in the Cracks.  They are a Brussels based collective of architects and designers that I encountered at an “apero and book crossing event” in Porte de Namur last Sunday, and their mission is to up-cycle waste (scrap wood, discarded domestic furniture, …) into parasite interventions that aim to vitalize public spaces.

Why? Well, despite the fact that Brussels has a large number of public spaces, people do not use them enough. It is a common phenomenon to walk past a plaza or a green space and see a large void space, with perhaps a few users sprinkled around the edges at best. The people pass by, but they do not stay. Swing in the Cracks sees this as a problem, and they think it is important to act on because public spaces are a key aspect of the quality of life in cities. Public spaces must be used and taken care of, and it is the responsibility of all of us to improve and protect what is common.  Also, if we do not take care of them, there is a danger that public spaces might become privatized or sold by state authorities to big corporations or banks with “street containers” or ads.

The truth is that there are many people in Brussels who don’t see the public spaces as somewhere you can live, grow, garden, relax, hang out in, meet people,  and learn from others. Why? It is true that it is rainy and cold here ( it has been pouring rain like crazy this week), stress is always on the rise, and that there are many different ethnic communities that don’t often mingle with each other. But still, the city offers amazing squares, streets and gardens that have the potential to thrive and become remedies to some of these same ailments.

So, if we want our spaces to be more vibrant without privatization, and local government is slow-moving in designing interventions, then  local citizens must take initiative.  Fortunately, the police can be very permissive with this at times.  Take for example the June 2012 project from Kit Kat, in which, with the help of an electric generator and a recycled TV, thousands of people ate food, drank beer and watched the Euro Cup football matches in different city parks and public spaces.

For their part in this mission, Swing in the Cracks opts for an “urban hacking” strategy. A hacker is someone who creates something smart, altering the normal functioning of a system in order to creatively raise attention about an issue. These hackers are building urban furniture and organizing events and gatherings in public spaces in Brussels. At Porte de Namur, they installed a rotatory bench, as well as a shelf where people can leave books so that others can read them for free or take them home. It took a week of work at Atelier365 in order to complete the pieces, and after they finished building them, they installed them in different parts of the city. You can check all of the amazing creations on their Facebook page.

So, what are the consequences of all this? Some people may think that what they build is ugly or useless. Other might argue that they do not have the authority to do all of this. But what would happen if everybody suddenly started to do similar things? Would this convert the whole city into a huge garbage can, or a more fun and active place to be? Who decides what is clever and not so clever to do to “improve the city”?

My personal opinion: I love this initiative. It brings life into some forgotten spots, draws attention to public spaces, sparks people’s imaginations, and sends a powerful message to everyone, promoting the protection and revitalization of what is public. In the best case scenarios, initiatives like these can even inspire local governments to get involved, pushing them to incorporate light, quick, and cheap interventions as temporary strategies to revitalize spaces while long-term, capital intensive one take shape.

Leave us your thoughts !

Text: cocreated by Chris Barker and Manuel Pueyo

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