I really hate wading into the quagmire that is American politics, but when someone, especially Trump, hands you a catalyst for an article, I guess you just take it.

If you’re already turned off by this article, just hold on, it’s not about him. It’s about us.

A couple weeks ago, Trump called Brussels a “hellhole” much to the ire of Brusselaars. In defense they responded en masse with onslaught of tweets highlighting it’s “hellholish” nature.

Stuff like this:

And this:

Panoramic Brussels. #brussels #bruxelles #Belgium #Belgian #europe #architecture #GrandPlace #travel #expat #europe

A photo posted by Liz Knight (@romeifyouwantto) on

My junior year of college I spent a semester in Brussels and I really loved it. I made good friends, drank really great beer and it gave me a totally new perspective on my built environment. I recently returned about two years ago with my wife and it was like seeing an old friend.
The funny thing is, Brussels, by a lot of European standards is their “trashy city.” In fact there’s a system of urban development called “Brusselization” where you tear down old building for roads and practice haphazard urban planning. CityLab said “No European capital has been quite so ruined by motor vehicles” to give you some context.

Sound familiar?

The chief complaint against Brussels is that it over invested in cars, ignored historical context and pedestrians and now is trying to make up from that. It’s the most congested city in Europe and to its credit, there have been a lot of plans to fix it.

But here’s the thing, by American standards. HOLY CRAP.

During my 4 months there I maybe spent five or six hours in a car. My day to day life was comprised of lots of walking and I never found myself unable to get anywhere even though I had no car.

But this isn’t just about walkability and public transportation, this is about national pride. A guy who is running for leader of the country just insulted a beautiful foreign city while this is what plagues our eyes on a day to day basis.

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

But we call this progress, we call this the American “dream.”

Even if he was referring to the fact that the some neighborhoods of Brussels (like Molenbeek) have seemed to leave a class of people neglected, we still have to make up for the fact that we tore down beautiful buildings for no reason, squandered wealth on low-returning development and systematically rammed dangerous, polluting highways through minority neighborhoods crippling their social advancement for generations.

We can’t ignore the fact that our development pattern creates actual hellholes. It makes people fat and politically disenfranchised, it stunts upward mobility among minorities, it kills people and kills civic pride.

If a foreign dignitary got on television and said “Mankato, Minnesota is a hellhole” what would I respond with? A picture of the few remaining blocks of urban fabric while simultaneously trying to justify why the majority of our public spending in recent years has gone to places like this?

Image of Mankato, MN from Google maps

Image of Mankato, MN from Google maps

Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m a utopianist, but I cannot get off the idea that it is imperative that attractiveness and charm are essential to rebuilding our cities. Or maybe I’m just exposed to a more brutal vision of “progress” than my east or west coast friends. James Howard Kunstler recently interviewed Chuck and in it he quipped: “I’m always amazed at the stupefying ugliness of midwestern towns.”

We as a country have to recognize this, we have to own up to the fact that our vision of progress has created actual hellholes, aesthetically, socially and functionally.

Until we recognize this, we won’t be able to “make America great again.”

(Top image from Wikimedia)