At the beginning of this year, Mohamed Ridouani succeeded Louis Tobback as mayor of Leuven. The new mayor is determined to prepare his city for the future. What's more, one of his goals is to make Leuven completely climate-neutral. With Leuven 2030, he succeeded in rallying many parties behind that goal, including ION. "We like to be active in this future-oriented city and will soon start the ambitious Burenberg project here," says CEO Kristof Vanfleteren.
How did Leuven 2030 come about?
Ridouani: "When I was Alderman for the Environment years ago, I noticed that as a city council, we cannot reduce CO₂ emissions on our own. It is impossible to tackle such a challenge without joining forces with other parties. That is why I took the lead in establishing Leuven 2030, an organisation that counts the city as one of its members, alongside knowledge institutions, entrepreneurs, semi-public institutions, associations and residents. Our baseline measurement showed that the two main points that need to be tackled are mobility (25% of emissions) and buildings (60%). Meanwhile, thanks to the circulation plan, there are 30% more cyclists in the city centre. We are also working on the renovation of old buildings and new, green projects".
Vanfleteren: "When we started the Burenberg project here, a two-hectare site, we were asked to become a partner of Leuven 2030. As a CO₂-neutral developer, we find it important to put our promises into practice. We do this on the one hand because we feel it is our social responsibility, and on the other hand because we also believe this is becoming an important topic for society. People themselves are asking for sustainable products."
"The architecture must fit in, but the environment is equally important" - Mohamed Ridouani
One of the city's ambitions is to keep housing affordable for everyone. How do you aim to achieve that?
Vanfleteren: "Leuven is one of the most expensive cities in Flanders. Land is scarce and the demand is high, so we have to think about new forms of housing. Burenberg will be a large project, but also a very diverse one. It will comprise 300 houses for different target groups such as seniors, disabled persons and students. There will be social housing as well as classic and luxurious apartments".
Ridouani: "We too are experimenting with new ways of living. We want to build smart in order to make optimal use of the space in our growing city."
"As a city council, we cannot reduce CO₂ emissions on our own" - Mohamed Ridouani
Are the people of Leuven open to such new forms of housing?
Ridouani: "We have a highly educated population that is critical, but also reasonable. I have witnessed how people are prepared to live differently, provided that all other things in the city are in order: sufficient greenery, leisure, sports, culture... That is why we now want to raise the bar even further. It goes without saying that the architecture of a building also has to fit in. We may put a lot of time and creativity into it, but the environment is equally important. A well-designed square brings people together and makes them feel safe."
Vanfleteren: "Absolutely. We also see that every project needs support from the neighbourhood. We recently organised a neighbourhood meeting about Burenberg here in Leuven. To be honest, I was a bit surprised by the concerns of the attendees: they absolutely wanted trees in order to be able to reduce the local CO₂ emissions. So we agreed to go to a tree nursery together and choose trees for the project."
"Land is scarce, so we have to think about new forms of living" - Kristof Vanfleteren
So, as a project developer, you're not just responsible for the project itself?
Vanfleteren: "Of course not. In order to realise something, we need a building and an environmental permit. On the Burenberg site, for example, strict rules apply for green spaces. In terms of mobility, we're seeing a turnaround: in the past, parking spaces were a must for every home. Now we sometimes don't even manage to sell them. People have adapted by using shared cars, but especially by cycling more."
Ridouani: "We are indeed adjusting our behaviour. At the beginning people tend to be a bit reluctant. We also experienced that when we proposed the new mobility plan. But once people start changing their behaviour, most of them see the benefits for themselves. Leuven is now safer and more pleasant for cyclists and pedestrians alike."
"We want to put our promises into practice." - Kristof Vanfleteren