Cleaning Brussels by Engaging Citizens

It all started with a message to the citizens living in Etterbeek to attend a public meeting to be informed about the “Plan Propreté”, the project of the municipal authorities to keep the streets of their “Commune” clean. This was in 2015.
The message in our letterbox was signed by the Bourgmestre Vincent De Wolf and the Echevine pour la Propreté Publique Marie-Rose Geuten.
Then another invitation arrived last April, sent to all citizens in the municipality, inviting them to a “hands-on” meeting to help clean the streets of Etterbeek.
It was for the Sunday 23rd of April at 2 pm. “Children welcomed” it said. And indeed they came!
This kind of personal involvement was something I have always liked: you have the right to criticize but also have to try to contribute  to the smooth running of your neighbourhood as much as possible. Maybe also avoiding to litter the streets!

Magnifique pub et hommage aux héros de #bruxellesproprete et à #banksy. Mais qui prendra le temps de l'admirer?

A post shared by Julien Brasseur (@brasjul) on

The sight of young families with small (but very active children)  was quite impressive. We were given special yellow jackets and brooms and shovels and of course special gloves. An army of communal cleaning employees were supporting the effort of citizens with big plastic bags of different colours to drop the objects found in the streets. And a brass band was walking ahead of us creating with their music a festive atmosphere which did not deter the small children in our group from uncovering hidden discarded cans or packages under bushes and shrubs.

The most difficult thing appeared to be trying to remove cigarette-buts from the spaces between the “pavés”. Many were stuck there forever! “Maman, why people smoke?” was the question of a 5 year old little girl to her mother fighting nearby with a broken glass bottle with special protective gloves. And, she added, “why do people throw away cigarette packets?”. Yes, indeed, why??? Couldn’t they throw into one of the many paper bins all along the roads?
Among the citizens helping to “keep Brussels clean” two Etterbeek authorities: the “bourgmestre” Vincent De Wolf and the “echevine” Marie-Rose Geuten who were recognised and greeted by the people meeting this “strange” group  of all ages (many pensioners were involved, not only young families). Passers-by who encountered this strange  group, preceded by a colourful brass band,  were asking questions and were full of admiration when they saw the dedication of little children in keeping their city tidy.

At the end of the “parcours” the mountain of litter collected by our group was discharged into a special van together with the bags collected by the other groups who had been cleaning another area of the municipality.  The final meeting was in the park where drinks and cakes had been prepared for all and presents were handed to the kids who had helped. For them it had been a game, for the people around them it was a very good example of how personal engagement can change the life of a whole community.

A good lesson and a good message to all!

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