Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Initial Impressions

When first stepping out of the airport into a misty, overcast (and in my opinion) frigid climate, my first thoughts were, that no two places could be so dissimilar as Belgium and Florida.
In climate/ecological terms, this is very true. However, one factor does tie them together; something very familiar to me, due to my home town and neighboring cities. Antwerp is quite a large metropolis with tall buildings, lots of cars, lots of bicycles rather, and lots of people.

One of the most pleasant surprises has been the complete lack of SUV, full size/luxury cars, oversized trucks and obnoxious semis (though there is an occasional one from time to time.) All the cars are cute and quaint, typically ranging from Smart Car size to a Mini Cooper. All the vehicles run on petrol. But like most European towns, the streets are rather narrow and small, so, in truth, there can only be so many cars. In the evenings, the streets pile up with cars on both sides of an American-sized one-way road, wrapping completely around the corners. Its rather dangerous and foolish to have a vehicle.

Hence the enormous amounts of pedestrians and bicyclists throughout all of Antwerp, (and, on upon further traveling, most European towns). At first, this seems like a nigh ideal situation (in terms of ecological/human compromise), however an enormous amount of walking and riding people, there turns out to be huge amounts of trash and litter. There aren't many public trash receptacles throughout the small and winding streets. Mainly in the heavily populated, and designated walking and biking areas, such as De Mier, there will be garbage cans every few meters, but through the other bustling streets, litter accumulates along building walls down the basement window grates. There are street sweepers and cleaners that run, from what I can tell once every two weeks-month, which sweeps up the streets. There are also street sweepers on foot to collect and discard all of the cigarette butts, tram cards, and brickabrack that develops during the week.

As far as household garbage is concerned, there is weekly pick up at every residence. 2 types of bags are available (and I think required) for every household, a translucent blue bag for all recyclables, and a white bag blazen with "Rest", for all other garbage. Automatically, this makes for a much better system for the environment. Everyone seems to be a bit more conscientious. There are also large recycling domes for glass. green and clear, every few blocks. Walking past them regularly, you will find that there is usually someone bringing their used glass and plastics to dispose of them properly.

Everything is incredibly Old and Beautiful here; with buildings dating back the 15th century. Of course, no such structures would be found in a country thats a meager 230 years old, like America, so it is really like being in a whole other world. Since of the age, beauty, and limited space, most buildings and structures are constantly being renovated, as time passes, new tenants or owners cycle through, and businesses open and close. This is a truly positive movement for the environment. Apparently in the 1960's (this is a word of mouth stories from local Antwerpens) the city was truly considering demolishing the city and rebuilding with newer, more modern and up-to-date construction. However the citizens voraciously fought against this, to preserve the beauty and integrity that lie here. There were large parts of the city that were rebuilt, and their awkward modernist approach to "style" or lack thereof, is an eyesore on the streets historic streets.

These are just a few initial impressions that have settled with me, since my arrival some weeks ago. Pictures to come, and more in-depth research on the specifics of Antwerp's Ecology to come soon!