Leuven is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in Belgium and represents a city with a distinctly international character. The city is an agglomeration of five communities: Leuven, Heverlee, Kessel-Lo, Wilsele and Wijgmaal. Leuven has a population of over 100.000 inhabitants, not counting the foreign student population which exceeds 57.000.There are 157 nationalities working, studying and living in Leuven, which gives the city an unmistakably international flavour. Mayor Louis Tobback discusses Leuven’s main advantages and challenges.
European Times: As a university city, what are Leuven’s main advantages?
Louis Tobback: Situated in Belgium, in the heart of Western Europe, the University of Leuven has been a centre of learning for nearly six centuries. Founded in 1425, the University of Leuven is the largest university in the country and one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Europe. With the number of students constantly increasing, the university offers a wide variety of international master’s programmes, all supported by high-quality, innovative, interdisciplinary research.
Furthermore, the world-famous beer brand Stella Artois has its original brewery in Leuven, which is still one of the largest breweries in the world and one of the city’s main attractions.
Leuven is a city and a university! Its streets are full of life and the city hosts a great number of cultural events.
European Times: What is the role of Leuven MindGate?
Louis Tobback: Leuven MindGate has recently been established to promote the city as a premier region for Health, High-Tech and Creativity. Leuven MindGate has a unique ecosystem of companies cooperating with knowledge institutions and the government in order to foster innovation and growth.
European Times: With a large population living on a small territory, how is Leuven handling the issue of transportation?
Louis Tobback: Our major challenge is the fact that a significant number of inhabitants, as well as foreign students, live on a small territory. Most people use public transportation, since some streets are off-limits to vehicle traffic and there are strict maximum speed regulations of 30 km/h within the city centre. We also have the ambition to become the number one bicycle city of Belgium and, in order to lead by example, the city council and the University of Leuven have already purchased bicycles and e-bikes which can be used by their personnel.
European Times: What is your personal message?
Louis Tobback: As Leuven is probably the most densely inhabited area in Flanders per square meter, my personal message is that we have to learn to share the space and to live close to each other.