A shabby, chaotic, ugly mess that’s full of "sewers for cars" – French daily Libération certainly didn’t pull its punches when roasting the city of Brussels recently. According to correspondent Jean Quatremer, the Belgian capital resembles Athens, with "the same urban chaos, the same scars left by delirious real estate speculation, the same uneven sidewalks, the same dirt…the same car madness." Before fans of Greece’s largest city bridle, Libération actually thinks crisis-hit Athens beats Brussels on some counts. It noted that "the Greek capital has managed to avoid the highways that rip through Brussels, as if it had the size of New York or Los Angeles when it barely has a million inhabitants."
As you might expect, the Belgian media resents the suggestion that the capital of the EU is really just Europe’s capital of ugly. Belgian French language daily La Dernière Heure hit back with an editorial with the simple headline, "Get lost, you little bastard." Elsewhere (and in rather calmer terms), journalists for the paper have pointed out that if you choose to focus on the negative, any city can be portrayed as a dump – even Paris. According to La Dernière Heure, France’s capital can come across as the "poubelle ville du monde", or the world’s trashcan city. It too has fender-to-fender traffic, cars climbing sidewalks (which are narrower still than in Brussels) and ubiquitous litter. Entries to the city center like Porte de la Chapelle are a multi-lane mess, while even posher areas can be chaotic. Fashion hub Faubourg St Honoré is cramped and blocked by construction sites, and elegant Place Vendôme (where yet more construction is also underway) aspires to chic but only manages bling.