The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Dominique Smets

Dominique Smets

Community worker (1954)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m currently a volunteer for different organisations and projects throughout Leuven, one of them being the Buurtmoestuin de Braem community garden in the Sint-Maartensdal neighbourhood. It all started about three years ago, when I relocated to the city centre post-retirement. I feel a certain affinity to dynamic individuals who make an effort to make the city even more lively, green, enjoyable, and so on. I try to contribute to such a movement through my volunteer work, and engage myself in as many constructive measures as possible.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is an inviting, congenial town with a lovely vibe and pulse for culture, with many pleasant activities going on. Growing up, I lived in the countryside for several years; and over the years the city became a viable place to call home, and where I saw myself living my older years. Leuven has a certain dynamism that I highly appreciate: the numerous cultural, historical, ecological and social initiatives being initiated by its inhabitants and in co-operation with the City, all helping to improve the city’s image. The vibrant community life here is easily one of the things that attracted me the most. It makes the city rich and viable, strengthening intra-neighbourhood networks to the point where every inhabitant can benefit from it. Furthermore, the City is doing their very best to enhance the city’s living and working atmosphere – it’s climate neutral project Leuven Klimaatneutraal is definitely worth a mention.

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

Leuven, through its scale, vibe and demography, offered me the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of volunteering activities. As a result, the city offered me the chance to meet an eclectic mix of people and organisations, allowing me to become a real Leuvenaar. Embodying the city as my own! Just like I imagined would happen, moving to Leuven after my retirement. Additionally, the City Council is investing a huge amount of effort in upgrading “forgotten” neighbourhoods, and making the city a whole. Projects like Sint-Maartensdal, the Vaartkom, Sluisstraat, and last but certainly not least HAL 5 are all examples of such neighbourhoods.

Ensuring and investing in the city’s affordability as well as its socio-cultural mix should be the main focus for the upcoming years.

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

I think the city’s main point of concern should be ensuring a good mix of inhabitants. It’s imperative to prevent the city from becoming more and more elitist, precisely as a result of its great appeal. Ensuring and investing in the city’s affordability as well as its socio-cultural mix should be the main focus for the upcoming years.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

A trip around the city’s historical centre is non-debatable: it’s not only iconic, but very agreeable as well! Besides that, the city’s cultural opportunities make for an ideal night out too, with the renewed Cinema ZED a firm personal favourite. The city’s natural, relaxing spots are abundant as well. I’m impatiently waiting for the renovation of Park Abbey, as it’ll provide Leuven with yet another piece of the urban puzzle; turning it into a “complete”, multi-faceted city with something for every taste.

Some of the city’s tourist guides have been making a stop at our de Braem community garden and more generally the Sint-Maartensdal neighbourhood for a year now. Overall, the City’s ever-growing and successful multi-annual projects regarding its “forgotten” neighbourhoods are a pure delight for both its inhabitants and local volunteers.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Back in my student days, the urban myths of the Kotmadam and the Fiere Margriet were iconic and symbolic of the way I perceived Leuven as a university town. The tale of Fiere Margriet also represents to me the unmistakable link between the city and its river Dyle, as the City works hard to re-open the Dyle within the city centre. Furthermore, the historic and solid link between the city and its ever-evolving University is a force to reckon with – especially when it comes to creating the city’s spirit.