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A Macroeconomic Investigation

Demographic effects

Wallonia was also the birthplace of a strong Socialist party and strong trade-unions in a particular sociological landscape. At the left, the Sillon industriel, which runs from Mons in the west, to Verviers in the east (except part of North Flanders, in another period of the industrial revolution, after 1920). Even if Belgium is the second industrial country after Britain, the effect of the industrial revolution there was very different. In ‘Breaking stereotypes’, Muriel Neven and Isabelle Devious say:

The industrial revolution changed a mainly rural society into an urban one, but with a strong contrast between northern and southern Belgium. During the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, Flanders was characterised by the presence of large urban centres […] at the beginning of the nineteenth century this region (Flanders), with an urbanisation degree of more than 30 per cent, remained one of the most urbanised in the world. By comparison, this proportion reached only 17 per cent in Wallonia, barely 10 per cent in most West European countries, 16 per cent in France and 25 per cent in Britain. Nineteenth century industrialisation did not affect the traditional urban infrastructure, except in Ghent […] Also, in Wallonia the traditional urban network was largely unaffected by the industrialisation process, even though the proportion of city-dwellers rose from 17 to 45 per cent between 1831 and 1910. Especially in the HaineSambre and Meuse valleys, between the Borinage and Liège, where there was a huge industrial development based on coal-mining and iron-making, urbanisation was fast. During these eighty years the number of municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants increased from only 21 to more than one hundred, concentrating nearly half of the Walloon population in this region. Nevertheless, industrialisation remained quite traditional in the sense that it did not lead to the growth of modern and large urban centres, but to a conurbation of industrial villages and towns developed around a coal-mine or a factory. Communication routes between these small centres only became populated later and created a much less dense urban morphology than, for instance, the area around Liège where the old town was there to direct migratory flows.[156]