BRUSSELS -- Even now, Luckas Vander Taelen still gets the occasional screed, ripping into him for an article published in the Belgian news media -- first in Dutch and then in French -- more than three years ago.
"I get two or three e-mails a week, with people asking, 'Is that really you?"' he said recently over lunch at a favorite restaurant under the glass-covered Galerie de la Reine. "Before, when you wrote an article, it would disappear after a time. Now it never stops."
The article, published in De Standaard on Sept. 30, 2009, and a week later in Le Soir, was about Mr. Vander Taelen's experience living next to a mostly North African neighborhood that, he wrote, "even with the most multicultural bias, you can't describe as anything but a ghetto."
Mr. Vander Taelen went on to tell of the insults and abuse both he and his daughter faced as they passed through an area in Forest, from Rue de Mérode to the Gare du Midi. Once, on his daily bicycle commute, a young driver spat in his face; his daughter, then a teenager, stopped venturing into the neighborhood after she was called "many bad things."
His account of the low-decibel tension of life with North African immigrants in the heart of the Belgian capital was hardly news. And yet the article went off "like a bomb," not because what was said, but because of who said it.
Mr. Vander Taelen is a familiar figure on the Brussels landscape, where he moves comfortably between the French-speaking and the Dutch-speaking communities. He's a historian, an actor, a playwright, a former television producer. He was also at one time a funk-rock musician.
But what has made his 2009 article so noteworthy is that he is a politician from the Green party, a former deputy in the European Parliament and now an elected representative of Brussels's Dutch-speaking population to the Flemish Parliament, which governs Flanders, in northern Belgium. By criticizing the behavior of young immigrant youths, he found himself cast out from the unspoken confines of Belgium's politically correct -- or "bien pensant" -- circles.
"I got furious e-mails from orthodox leftists, who wanted to denounce me to the commission on racism," he said. "I didn't respond. Everyone who knows me knows I am not a racist."
But there were other reactions. "I got enormous support, with thousands of e-mails. Even now, people say 'thank you' on the street, on TV and radio," he said. "Obviously, I touched a chord."
What tripped the wire for Mr. Vander Taelen was a series of threats and acts of violence against a Brussels art gallery that had displayed a work by a French-Algerian artist, featuring a pair of red high-heeled shoes, strategically placed on a prayer rug.
Then and now, an unapologetic Mr. Vander Taelen makes a larger point that goes beyond bad behavior to values -- and the need to impress upon Brussels's immigrants, many of them Muslims, respect for concepts like the separation of church and state, women's equality and freedom of speech.
"It is fine to accept different influences, but it is not fine to give up what you believe in," he said. "I don't want to live in a city where it is hard for young girls to walk down certain streets."
Mr. Vander Taelen's biggest concern is the future of Brussels itself, which has seen dramatic changes over the past 15 years. From a sleepy city with a population that was both aging and shrinking, it has evolved into something else -- at once the capital of the European Union, with its resident army of multilingual bureaucrats, and a young, fast-growing city, where the boutiques of Belgium's hip designers can be found blocks away from stores that advertise exotic African food and sidewalk racks packed with full-length Muslim garments.
Brussels, according to Mr. Vander Taelen, could be a vibrant, modern cosmopolitan city, if it weren't held back by an arcane structure of 19 quasi-autonomous municipalities, each with their own regulations, each held hostage to local concerns.
This system was devised to allow the city's French- and Dutch-speaking populations to keep the peace and share power. It does not provide, in his view, for the strong central authority needed to solve problems like transportation, housing, and cultural integration.
"Brussels is facing a demographic explosion, and we are not ready for it," he said.
A 2009 paper written for Brussels Studies, an online journal for academic research, bears out his view. In 1991, Brussels was demographically the oldest region in Belgium; today it is the youngest. By the mid-1990s, its population reached its lowest level since World War II, or 948,122; by 2005, it passed the 1 million mark, and it is projected to increase by 300,000, or 30 percent, by midcentury, the study said.
Brussels's working-class population has historically lived in neighborhoods along the canal that was once the city's industrial waterway. Today, those center-city areas are mostly populated by immigrants -- in contrast with Paris, for instance, where new arrivals have largely settled in the suburbs, allowing Parisians to ignore the social ills that lie beyond their view.
These problems are hard to avoid in Brussels. According to Brussels Studies, 46 percent of the city's population is not of Belgian origin. If children of immigrants are included, the proportion rises to more than 50 percent.
Meanwhile, young Belgians have also been moving into the capital, as the older middle class drifts to leafy suburbs. The result, according to the Brussels Studies, is "an overrepresentation of young adults in Brussels, compared to the rest of the country."
This juxtaposition -- of yuppies and immigrants -- is precisely where Mr. Vander Taelen sees Brussels's potential to "become one of the most interesting cities in Europe." But for that to happen, the city, and its inhabitants, have to learn to adapt.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.