Steven Beckers, architect and founder of BIGH, an urban farm project in Brussels, speaks to WoW! News.
When you were 10, were you already dreaming of finding solutions – like urban farming, for example?
When I was 10, I had a mentor – my grandfather, who was an extraordinary engineer. He built the Atomium here in Belgium. He was someone who always developed solutions that were totally ahead of their time.
My father was a landscape architect and so I always had a lot of contact with every to do with plant life.
My grandfather died when I was 14 and I already knew I would be an architect because it’s a field – building and being able to shape the world and change things – that’s always interested me.
I didn’t have the soul of an urban farmer because no one talked about that at the time. But what always interested me … is seeing solutions rather than seeing problems. I was always inventive, even as a kid. I always wanted to be like my grandfather.
You say that you see the city as a solution rather than a problem…
I’ve been fascinated for quite a few years in the idea of cradle-to-cradle or circular economy. The BIGH project comes out of urban planning and architecture and aims to prove that there are ways to make the city resilient and healthy and to be able to produce things in the city.
There’s no other way than creating cities if we want to absorb the growing world population.
When people tell me there are too many people on Earth and that it’s a problem, I say: “If you took everyone there might be living on Earth one day” – they talk about reaching 12 to 15 billion – “if you lay all those people down on beds, it would cover an area the size of Belgium”.
So it’s not about space, it’s about resources, it’s about solutions. And we just have to be smart, like the ants, as Nature is. It’s about not making waste and having a positive impact on our environment rather than always beating ourselves up by saying that we’re having a negative impact.
How do children respond to your ideas?
There’s a pretty quick reaction, offering solutions and presenting them in a very positive way compared to all that’s going on, like Al Gore and his ilk who say “we’re all bastards, we’ve broke everything, we’ve spoiled everything” and who often don’t really offer any solution.
I think we really have to start from the fact that we can act on our environment, in a positive way.
What set me off on all this was a few years ago I worked with Alain Hubert, an explorer who set up the Belgian base in Antarctica. He told me that they had been able to measure the effects in the ice six months after we stopped putting lead in gasoline. I said “that’s great”. It means that we have a way to measure our positive impact.
By always saying that we’re doing harm, we get the idea that there’s no point in doing better because either way we’re screwed. We need go give youngsters exactly the opposite message today. And children are very aware of that.
When you think that everything’s going badly, you don’t realise that we’re also made things better in many areas. It is positive.
There’s a lot that needs to be fixed and changed. But there’s a lot that we need to continue and encourage and stop saying everything’s bad.
We don’t need a revolution, we need an intelligent evolution of our society today and this corona virus crisis comes at a significant moment.
I’m not saying it’s a good thing but that we are realising that we are very dependent on globalisation and all those things. Without being overly pessimistic, it’s clear that everything around the circular economy, being able to start producing not only without waste but also locally and avoiding transport and so on, the idea of urban resilience, it’s also an idea of the resilience of Europe.
I’m afraid the corona crisis will take us in the opposite direction because there will be an economic panic where people will want to go back to how things were a few months ago. But in a way that’s impossible.
We can’t go on like this. I think young people realise that. We must in any case count on that energy to change things.