The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Cani Nas

Cani Nas

Coordinator of the Buddy system at vzw De Lage Drempel (1973)

Can you describe what you do?

I work at NPO De Lage Drempel (translates as ‘The Low Treshold’), specifically on a project that provides help to socially vulnerable families. We have started up a buddy system where every registered family gets assigned a volunteer. Besides that, we try to support the families by offering group activities, as well as organising family-friendly events that can bring parents and children closer together. I coordinate all of these initiatives.

Although I work in Mechelen, I actually live in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. My daily life (both private and at work) is centred around people who are suffering in our complex society. Together with a number of crucial organisations and a team of volunteers, I try to help them find solutions for the daily problems they encounter.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

Mechelen is a city that provides many possibilities to help a lot of less fortunate people out with their situation. The city has started a lot of initiatives, ranging from reduced tariffs for the less fortunate to attend cultural events to the distribution of food-parcels. The city is also very attractive for children: there are a number of parks like Tivoli and Planckendael, there are great sporting and recreation facilities like De Nekker. Then there’s ambitious projects like the renovation of the train station – I still think it’s amazing that a small town like Mechelen can undertake such a big endeavour (although of course I don’t know the exact logistics of that particular project). Many steps are also being taken to improve education and this positive change needs to continue. Every day, I encounter children who don’t get the equal opportunities at school, which gives them a big disadvantage in society.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

I think Mechelen is so unique because it has so many different things to offer: it has not one, but two railway stations, a vast array of commerce and social services, it kickstarts many initiatives which help the less fortunate, there is the presence of many companies and projects like the hospital near the R6. The city is in a very central location which certainly adds to its attractiveness.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

The city has given me the opportunity to work on a project that seems tailor-made for me. I am someone who likes to help other people, and every day I get to do this for a living. This makes me a happy and keeps me busy all at once!

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Mechelen has a lot of initiatives for children (they don’t call it ‘the children’s city’ for nothing!), but for kids who have now grown up to become teenagers, there’s a lot less to do. I’m also not a big fan of the parking system, which actually makes the city centre very inaccessible for people who don’t live there and has a detrimental effect on local business.

As far as education is concerned, Mechelen has to become a pioneer in the support of immigrant children. I feel the level of education for this social group is becoming worrisome. There is so much diversity in this city, but there are much fewer chances for immigrants to get a good job.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

I can recommend the Martin’s Patershof hotel for anyone who wants to spend a weekend in Mechelen. As far as sightseeing goes, the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is the pre-eminent symbol of the city – which is why the official mascot is called ‘Rommy’. Aside from that, there are numerous other beautiful churches that contribute to making the city what it is today.