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.

Dries Debie and Sara Vander Auwera

Dries Debie and Sara Vander Auwera

Co-owners, Content (1983 and 1981)

Can you describe what you do?

We’ve been running Content, a zero-waste co-op shop near the Tiensepoort gateway leading in to Leuven’s city centre since December 2014. We mainly sell food items in bulk or without any unnecessary packaging, and local produce from nearby farmers (some of them even deliver by bicycle). We also, on top of that, have a selection of ecological non-food items. We ask customers to bring their own containers, while also giving them total control of the amount they want to buy – thus also limiting food waste. Local help was crucial when setting up our shop – logistically, conceptually and financially – so we translated the cooperative nature of the shop into its administration as well, enabling customers, suppliers and workers to decide together the values to follow for the future.

Us locals are laid back, carefree people but also fiercely proud of our city.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven’s a small city – or a big town. Everybody knows and trusts each other, resulting in a large sharing economy: repair cafés, local pubs, neighbours sharing cars and equipment, co-housing projects. Us locals are laid back, carefree people but also fiercely proud of our city. We get an injection of young students every year, which spices things up. Everything is within walking distance, and a walk past the historical buildings offers a beautiful sight. Most of the city is car-free, promoting transportation by bike or bus. There is always some event happening somewhere, catering to the various people in Leuven, students and locals alike.

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

You can’t talk about Leuven without talking about its University and its beer. There’s a clear contrast between the summer season and the academic year, making for a very dynamic vibe where anything can happen. Also, Leuven hosts a peculiar combination between the historical and the modern, which can be seen throughout the city.

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

The scale of the city means we never felt the need for a car, and as a result don’t even have a driving license. Meanwhile, the abundance of green surrounding the city raised our ecological awareness from early on. Career-wise, if it weren’t for all the young, highly-educated and ideological people in Leuven, we would have never dreamed of opening a shop.

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

Improving the City’s cycling infrastructure, and promoting more up-and-coming local businesses. Also, more generally, less rules! Leuven is a lot stricter than other cities, making it more difficult to start innovative businesses here like, for instance, a shop which prepares home-cooked meals from the produce it offers.

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

There’s a little something for everyone: the classic favourites such as de Oude Markt for a nice cold beer, dinner around the cosy Muntstraat, a walk through the old beguinage, Park Abbey, Arenberg Castle or the newly renovated Keizersberg Abbey. If you’re looking for a more cultural approach, make a trip to M-Museum, enjoy a healthy meal at Noordoever, followed by a concert at Het Depot. For us, Leuven is not just one place, but rather a sum of all these things we couldn’t do without.