MIXITY Walk: Jette

Jette deserves its place amongst Brussels’ little secrets. The municipality attracts a young and diverse population looking for a good quality of life in the city. They want a pleasant setting, schools and jobs nearby, and a bit of greenery.
 

IN THE VALLEY OF THE MOLENBEEK

Jette is the biggest municipality in the north-western part of the Brussels-Capital Region and has existed in its present form since 1844, when it separated from Ganshoren. Today, Jette has 51,000 inhabitants and covers 504 hectares. The municipality is fully built-up, with the exception of King Baudouin Park which runs through the Molenbeek valley. The Molenbeek stream strongly determines the contours and development of Jette. It courses through King Baudouin Park and parc de la Jeunesse/Jeugdpark – the municipality’s green lungs – like a main artery. Near rue Neybergstraat, the stream departs from Jette to discharge itself into the Senne river via the royal estate of La(e)ken. Agricultural land, stone quarries and, later on, commercial forestry determined the landscape of the area to the north of the stream longer than to the south. Many aristocratic families had sumptuous country estates here.

STONE QUARRY AND MAIN ROAD

Pre-19th century Jette was not much of a village. The young municipality had a small parish church with a graveyard (where the railway station square is today) and a direct road – currently rue de l’église Saint-Pierre/Sint-Pieterskerkstraat – to Ter Rivieren castle in Ganshoren, a long-time ducal residence. Age-old roads such as rue Théophile De Baisieuxstraat, rue Léopold I/Leopold I-straat or chaussée de Dieleghemse steenweg connected Jette to the neighbouring hamlets of Heysel/Heizel, La(e)ken and Wemmel. Dieleghem Abbey once stood at the Barrière on chaussée de Dieleghem, where toll had to be paid for use of the road. The abbey played an important religious as well as economic role for many centuries: it operated several stone quarries, in such places as what is now Dieleghem forest. Before the railway era, inhabitants of Jette travelling to Brussels used the main road, which changed its name after passing through each village: Dieleghem-Wemmel-Jette. It was a long journey, requiring them to rise early.

GROWTH SPURT

It should come as no surprise that the railways chose the valley of the Molenbeek to build a track to Alost/Aalst (1851) and later to Termonde/Dendermonde (1892). The railway infrastructure split the municipality in two, in which the section located to the north remained a predominantly rural area for quite some time. It was in this period that the first railway station was opened, facing what is currently the station square. Initially, the station lay concealed behind several older buildings, but with the demographic growth spurt at the end of the 19th century, the time was ripe for a genuine square. It was then that St. Peter’s church was built to replace the old parish church that once stood in the middle of this square. At the same time, the old graveyard was moved several hundred metres to the east, and in 1899 the town hall replaced the old presbytery. Jette became a suburb with a real square (now place Cardinal Mercier) and a new railway station.

LE MIROIR/DE SPIEGEL

A second centre soon emerged to accommodate the expanding urbanization, on the Miroir. Formerly a principal junction with a pub, the site became even more attractive when the tram, which made its first appearance here in the 19th century, made its terminal stop here. Despite a great deal of protest, the new tram line running through rue Léon Théodorstraat was extended to the station, causing the area between the two centres to become fully built-up. Additionally, two entire residential streets were torn down at the Miroir, allowing the area to grow into a town centre around a large square. In the first half of the 20th century, Jette grew into one of Brussels’ most important municipalities in the second ring. Numerous small businesses set up shop here, often tucked away in residential building blocks.

RESISTANCE

The section of Jette to the north of the railway tracks remained a rural area until after World War II, when large-scale urbanization set in. To accommodate the 1958 World’s Fair a motorway was built to the city centre: avenue de l’Exposition Universelle / Wereldtentoonstellingslaan. This was followed by the Jette University Hospital (1970) and the emergence of several new neighbourhoods. However, when plans were announced for a motorway connecting the Ring to boulevard de Smet de Naeyerlaan this was met with a general resistance. Not everyone was pleased to see the rural atmosphere completely disappear. The oil crisis put a halt to the plan of building a motorway here, and led to the creation of what is now King Baudouin Park: an extremely diverse green lung with three small woods on the sites of former stone quarries, English and French landscaped parks, and an unequivocal decision to preserve the rural landscape particularly in the area surrounding the stream.

A YOUNG MUNICIPALITY

In the past decade, Jette has once again changed drastically. The municipality attracts a young and diverse public in search of highquality urban life: pleasant residential conditions near schools, employment and green surroundings, and with ample facilities and amenities. Reconstruction of its big squares with a focus on meeting places, tram line 9 to the University Hospital, investments in schools, culture, sports, youth and green areas give the municipality a highly dynamic appeal.

STARTING POINT: TRAIN STATION JETTE