The Brussels Bike Hundred

100 portraits, stories and bicycles

We’re teaming up with Bike for Brussels to put together a 100-strong selection of local heroes shaping the city each in their own way. From designers and DJs to performers and publishers, these are the creatives riding Brussels forward.

Séverine Janssen

Séverine Janssen, 1974

Philosopher

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I was born in the Liège iron and steel basin where I saw the most beautiful cityscapes, industrial furnaces and the Cockerill-Ougrée factory, where my father worked. At 18, I decided to study philosophy. I completed a master’s degree at the University of Liège. I was particularly invested in the philosophy of history, through the works of Hegel, Marx, W. Benjamin and J. Rancière. My passion for the way in which history is conceived, written, commented and transmitted, as well as my interest in memory as a political and aesthetic subject led me to take on coordination for Bruxelles Nous Appartient-Brussel Behoort Ons Toe (BNA-BBOT), a Brussels-based organisation dedicated to the past, present and future sound memory of Brussels. Since 2000, BNA-BBOT generates a history and memory of the city through the stories and memories of its inhabitants. We’ve compiled closed to 2,000 items of sound data – witness accounts, snippets of conversations, monologues, songs, soundscapes and raw sounds – that form the history of the city. A kind of documentative experience over a very long course, which is not only intended to capture the voices and sounds that pass, but to also create multiple forms that can be heard and returned to the city. All this, in order to have the city actively rework its living memory, and the memory – both present and future – constantly reworked by the city.

List three things you like the most about Brussels, bike-related or not.

  • I like the anonymousness that can be found in Brussels. You can sit on a square and not meet anyone you know. The average number of people you know in Brussels is proportionately lower than that in any other Belgian city – which also means that you meet many more new people! To me, Brussels is a city where you can die and reinvent yourself.
  • It’s often said and is pretty cliché, but the cosmopolitanism of Brussels is truly fascinating. I’ve met people from all over here and hear five or six different languages a day. I developed my Dutch and English here and also learned different cultural paradigms – it’s really stimulating, both intellectually and relationally. Brussels is a constant city in the making!
  • Finally, I like the fact that Brussels is the capital of Belgium as well as Europe. Many demonstrations and claims are made here; there’s a great citizen-based and creative energy. I see people mobilising everywhere, it’s a city where political ploy and decision-making are much more tangible than in the provinces. Urgent social issues, such as asylum seekers or land use and housing acts are omnipresent in the streets. I like to feel the city in struggle, which I often feel here.

How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?

I arrived aged 29 in Brussels from Liège, a small town full of water and stairs. Something I miss in Brussels, though I can say that Brussels has made me more mobile. It’s here that I started to ride my bike, and it was by bike that I discovered many neighbourhoods I would probably never have visited if I went by public transport, because no landscape nor visual route would have led me there. Brussels has enlarged my interior landscape by offering me different cultural, linguistic and urban nuances.
I’ve also had the possibility of working in a bilingual organisation with transversal issues, between sound art and heritage; local socio-artistic projects and international exchanges. I’ve also met many artists and activists who have changed my trajectory, made it more concrete and somehow closer to me.

cycling is the only sport I do. It’s free, gives me freedom of movement and a precise and global view of the cityscape.

List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.

  • The ease of bicycle use in Brussels. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of improvements to be made regarding cyclist safety – the lack of secure bike paths is striking and dramatic – but Brussels is not a hilly town and offers alternative routes to major road axes. Also, the surface of the city is on a human scale – you can join Uccle from Laeken in one hour, which is quite reasonable.
  • Cycling is the only sport I do. It’s free, gives me freedom of movement and a precise and global view of the cityscape. We control our own velocity and pierce through traffic jams, all while sitting on a saddle.
  • Public transport: their non-free and limited night-time hours are very restrictive. I contribute to the financing of road infrastructures via regional taxes, I reduce my ecological footprint by using them, I support their malfunctions and their overload during rush hour, and I have to pay – way too much if you ask me – for using them. If you have a car and give it up, you get an unlimited subscription to public transport – but if you’re committed to ecological and collective means of transport from the outset, then you’re still expected to pay, and even twice as much because you’re covering those that don’t. It’s cynical and illogical. Moreover, Brussels’ network of trams and subways as a whole is not logical – it lacks straight lines.

List three favourite bike routes in Brussels.

  • In southern Brussels, I like to go from my home located at the top of Forest / Vorst to the ponds of Boitsfort / Bosvoorde. The trajectory is very simple: I cross Bois de La Cambre / Ter Kamerenbos and take Avenue Rooseveltlaan, which looks like a wild and mobile The trajectory is safe with suitable bike paths; there’s no risk of jamming your bike wheel in tram tracks or getting a car door in your face. The path is green with many perspectives and much light. There’s a beautiful little orchard by the ponds too.
  • Northwest of the city, I like to go along the canal. With a hue that’s quite coppery, it’s both beautiful and ugly – shabby yet charming – at the same time. You can feel the industrial history that nestles all along. Enjoy a quiet ride heading westwards towards Halle, where you can see the Black Madonna, gifted by Saint Elizabeth of Hungary to the Basilica of Saint Martin in the 13th century, I believe.
  • Then there’s an itinerary that isn’t my favourite but is part of my daily routine: from Altitude 100 / Hoogte 100 in Forest / Vorst, where I live, to the streets of Laeken where I work. To reach the office, I go downwards, crossing Saint-Gilles and the centre, where I see the evolution of pedestrianisation… Returning home is all uphill, but at least this effort allows me to partially rid myself of work
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