ULI Report: Brussels’ and Antwerp’s Strong Constituents Must Improve Governance Structures, Accessibility and Sustainable Urban Development to Remain Competitive

BRUSSELS (10 May 2016) — A new ULI report argues that in order to remain competitive, the cities of Brussels and Antwerp must improve their governance structures, accessibility, and sustainable urban development. Brussels and Antwerp: Pathways to a Competitive Future assesses the current competitiveness of these cities—the largest and most globally connected in Belgium—and offers recommendations for how they can become even more competitive on an international scale.

“In Belgium, the issue of competitiveness is framed by distinct pressures and challenges posed by the country’s history and strategic role in Europe,” said Marnix Galle, CEO of Allfin and ULI Belgium Chairman.  “In order to position themselves to thrive in this context, Belgian cities need to address a variety of factors ranging from governance frameworks and regulatory issues to softer issues, such as liveability and social integration.”

“Investors are almost exclusively focusing on cities when investing in real estate and infrastructure,” said ULI Europe CEO Lisette van Doorn. “They are especially interested in cities that are able to attract and retain an increasingly mobile workforce through a strong combination of liveability and focus on innovation.  In this context, it is important for cities to find ways to develop and maintain a competitive edge. This report offers concrete recommendations to enhance the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp.”

The report is informed by research carried out by ULI in early 2016 that included two workshops in Brussels and Antwerp with ULI members and other public and private sector leaders, interviews with Belgian urban specialists, and a review of the two cities against recognised measures of international performance. Included in the report are two detailed case studies on competitiveness in each city.

The report evaluates the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp based on four main elements: governance framework, competitive climate, agglomeration, and attractiveness to talent.  Under the “competitive climate” category, this framework includes the issue of geopolitical risks, a factor that existing models of city competitiveness do not take into account.

According to the report, both Brussels and Antwerp already have many significant competitive advantages.  Among Brussels’ strengths are its diverse economy, its young and growing labour force, its outstanding pan-European transport connections, and its efforts to move toward a more polycentric character.

Antwerp has many competitive advantages over other current and historic European port cities, including successful industry clusters, a ready pool of skilled workers, an improved cost and incentives climate to build the innovation economy, and strong leadership.

The report notes, however, that in order to remain competitive, Brussels and Antwerp must implement several changes.  Below is a summary of the report’s key recommendations:


  • Governance framework: Brussels should implement governance reforms, lobby for revenue sharing to capture more of the revenue generated by commercial and political activities, create stronger mechanisms to deliver long-term projects across municipal boundaries, and promote public transit and polycentric growth.
  • Competitive climate: To enhance its competitive climate, Brussels should match job creation to the population and creating jobs in more lower- and middle-skill professions, and build its reputation domestically by communicating the city’s value to the rest of Belgium.
  • Attractiveness to talent: To improve the city’s attractiveness to talent, Brussels should work to enhance its brand and international positioning. In addition, the city should work to enhance quality of life in order to attract and retain a diverse, international mix of future residents.


  • Governance framework: Antwerp should focus on increasing metropolitan coordination, implementing a clear metropolitan growth strategy, and investing in transport infrastructure.
  • Competitive climate: To enhance its competitive climate, Antwerp should work to promote social cohesion and city living by engaging younger citizens through new infrastructure.
  • Agglomeration: Antwerp can build on its agglomeration benefits by supporting sectors of the economy to develop their profiles and autonomy.
  • Attractiveness to talent: Antwerp can improve its attractiveness to talent by enhancing its brand and improving the city’s international profile in business, tourism, and innovation.

To download the report, please visit http://europe.uli.org/report/brussels-antwerp/.

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has more than 38,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines. For more information, please visit europe.uli.org, follow us on Twitter, or join our LinkedIn group.