Green Islands to upgrade the canal landscape
The canal in Brussels centre is all stone, grey and sterile. It suffers from a severe lack of nature. There is no habitat for fish, birds find little food and space to rest and breed, as is the case for butterflies, bees and other insects. Even for the people who enjoy a view on the water, the canal doesn’t rhyme with a sense of proximity to nature. If you add bad water quality to the mix, the canal is not such an attractive place for people and animals.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay that way. We propose the installation of floating islands with aquatic plants whose roots grow in the water. This way, we would create a green oasis and give nature its place back in the city centre. The islands would be attached to the canal walls in such a manner that they would not be damaged by changing water levels and would not disrupt boat traffic.
We worked together with Biomatrix Water for a first project: the installation of islands on the whole length of the Beco zone on both sides of the canal. You can admire above the illustration of the project by Luc Schuiten. This section of the canal is wide enough to allow the installation of islands on both sides, while leaving a 110m long strip on each side for at least four boats to moor. It is also a zone where many projects will see the light in the near future: the Kanal Centre Pompidou museum, the Beco park, the Suzan Daniel Bridge, the Sainctelette Place-Pont and the expansion of the Kaaitheater. All the plans for these projects stop at the water’s edge. By adding those islands, we want to go further and bring, in a way, a bit of the Beco Park nature onto the water.
The aquatic plants take their nutrients directly from the water via their roots. They are a first step towards a better water quality. So, what are the advantages of these plants?
- The plants have a purifying effect on the water and could help reduce the annual bloom of blue algae.
- Fish find food, protection and a place to lay their eggs among the roots.
- Birds find a habitat on the islands.
- The plants attract all sorts of insects.
- And if the surface is big enough, the plants could help reduce the heat island effect.
The islands would help bring the canal back to life by creating habitat and increasing biodiversity in and on the water. Moreover they would contribute to an upgrade of the canal landscape, giving nature its place back in the city.
The possibilities with these islands are infinite: we can integrate a walking path or a terrace, they can be used to exhibit works of art from the museum Kanal Centre Pompidou, the plants can be chosen in order to attract a specific type of butterfly, cages can be fixed underwater to offer protection for the smaller fish, solar panels can be added to power up an irrigation system for creepers.
Nowadays the canal walls are 3 to 4 m high in most parts, with almost no access to the water. Where there is an access and in the places where a lowering of the walls is foreseen in the future, the islands could be fitted out with a walking path or terrace. This would enhance the sense of proximity with water and nature, that everyone craves.