Update #28: Molenbeek-Brussels2030 and Wetopia launch “This is Us. This is Brussels.”: a “human archive” of Brussels to uncover and build a greater sense of Brussels “us”

“This is Us. This is Brussels.” is an artistic and social design project that seeks to build a “human archive” by 2030. We do so by drawing on the stories of 1,000 people who live in Brussels nowadays and laying bare the city that is Brussels and its residents in the 2020s: a super-diverse, young, multi-layered and complex city at the heart of Europe. We then set about using these stories to create more and new “us”.

Joke Quintens (Wetopia): ”With the aid of a growing group of story collectors – whom we refer to as “heritage brokers” – we set out to find the past as well as the futures of Brussels and its residents: we delve into rituals, places and memories in Brussels and into people’s hopes and sometimes fears for the future. We record and exhibit their stories, hopes and expectations in a kind of time capsule of the 2020s in Brussels. The idea is to set up new alliances and, in the process, create more “us”.

“This is Us. This is Brussels” was developed by Wetopia for and in association with Molenbeek-Brussels2030 as part of Brussels’ bid to serve as Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2030, with the support of urban.brussels. The archives are to be housed at and made available to be consulted via the Sonotheque run by BNA BBOT.

Human Archive

“This is Us. This is Brussels.” is keen to serve as fuel for Molenbeek-Brussels2030. The project seeks to discover cultural heritage and make history. It also seeks to paint a picture of Brussels as a force. It aims to develop new skills in the city and build new alliances between people who are not likely to run into one another and in doing so create more “us” and build a Brussels community.

Jan Goossens (B2030): “We view this project as a supplementary stock room with content that is open to everybody to be used in the run-up to 2030 to roll out artistic activities, thereby helping to make sure that Brussels takes “us” as its prime focus for the development of our city and region.”

If Brussels were 1,000 people

The first thing “This is Us. This is Brussels.” did was to raise the question: what if Brussels were 1,000 people? Who would these people be? Where do they live? Where are they from? How old are they? Are they healthy? Thriving? Or anything but healthy or thriving? Which languages do they speak? How do they move to, inside and away from Brussels?

Joke Quintens: “We paint a picture of these 1,000 Brussels residents from the 2020s that is as accurate as can be, based on publicly available figures and demographic data, with the assistance of statisticians and demographers. We then set out to find real people behind these profiles. This is the only way to truly lay bare the rich and diverse community that is Brussels. Brussels is a vibrant, breathing city that is constantly changing and moving. Today’s Brussels is a very different city than it was 40 or even 20 years ago.”

What if Brussels were 1,000 people. They would be largely young. 400 Brussels residents are under the age of 30. 190 – nearly 1 in 5 – are even under the age of 15.

If Brussels were 1,000 people,151 of them would be living in 1000 Brussels. 80 in Molenbeek. 18 in Koekelberg. 438 Brussels residents would be living in the 4 largest municipalities: Brussels, Anderlecht, Schaarbeek and Molenbeek. 562 of them would be living in the 15 other municipalities.

If Brussels were 1,000 people, they would speak a wide range of different languages. 740 of them would speak more than one language. 370 of them would even speak at least 3 languages.

If Brussels were 1,000 people, they would hail from every corner of the globe. 640 of them would have Belgian nationality. But 600 Brussels residents would be born with a nationality other than Belgian. No fewer than 743 Brussels residents would have a migration background – either because they migrated themselves or their parents did.

If Brussels were 1,000 people, 349 of them would be poor or be at considerable risk of social exclusion. 270 of them would not consider themselves to be healthy.

Heritage Brokers

With the aid of some 15 highly diverse “heritage brokers” and a number of partners such as JEEP, Patrimoine à Roulettes and BNA BBOT, we set out to find each and every one of these profiles to conduct interviews with these people. To date, we have conducted over 100 interviews, 60 of which are entirely available to be consulted at BNA BBOT’s Sonotheque, as well as through our website www.thisisus.brussels

Project staff member Astrid Begenyeza (B2030): “We are training a new and diverse community of story collectors or “heritage brokers” to engage in dialogue with other Brussels residents. In doing so, they are also seen to create new alliances and build connections. After all, a genuine interest in fellow city dwellers you have not met yet, asking them to have a conversation with you and listening to their stories are a key step to build more “we”.”

These interviews feature a lot of places and quarters in Brussels, but equally explore customs and rituals in many different areas, communities and activities. They look at appreciations and vexations and speak about today’s Brussels, the way people experience yesterday and their hopes and wishes for tomorrow.

Creating “us”

Joke Quintens: “But the main work starts now: finding the “us” in all of these stories and bringing people together based on these stories, engaging in dialogue, inviting artists to seize on this “us” in as a huge silent forces in Brussels at a time of polarisation, gentrification and segregation. For one thing, we are already seeing an “us” between people who previously chose to leave Brussels after having lived here for a while, and then ended up returning, regardless of circumstances. This is testimony to great love for the city. I am thinking of Olga, Esperanza and Peter, Maïté and Isabel who were very happy to come back from Costa Rica, Lebanon and Moscow. There is also a lot of “us” around football or living between different cultures, but equally around certain vexations such as cleanliness or traffic and mobility.”

Edouard Valette (artist): “The people behind the project asked me to capture how Brussels residents view their city in images. We handed out analogue cameras to 50 of them, which they used to record their everyday lives in stills. Using these images and statements in the interviews of “This is Us. This is Brussels.” we made a film to show this Brussels as seen through the eyes of the Brussels residents themselves.”

Joining forces

Ans Persoons (Brussels Secretary of State for City Planning and Heritage): “Brussels is a hyper-diverse city. But in the public debate on the city’s future, the same voices always seem to come up. For me, this is where the great added value of the story library of “This is us, This is Brussels” lies: we give other voices a stage, so that they gain importance and more people hear them.”

Pascal Smet (Brussels MEP and former Secretary of State for City Planning and Heritage): “Brussels is a collection of people, many of whom have different origins. People often focus on the differences, but many people’s stories often have more in common than we think. Moreover, we don’t always know each other very well. Therefore, through the stories of “This is us, This is Brussels”, I wanted to share who we are, and what we have in common and get to know each other better. The title comes from the NBC series; about a family across generations. The city is our family with many generations. This is Us is also a story of pride and pride in being a Brusseler. More than ever.”

Jan Goossens and Fatima Zibouh: “We only just got started and we already have over 200 Brussels residents working to lend shape to “This is Us. This is Brussels.”. Molenbeek-Brussels2030 is eager to involve lots more Brussels residents as part of the project in the years ahead: to help find profiles, conduct interviews, to be interviewed, to work with the content of the interviews to create more and new “us”. Anyone who is happy to do their bit to help build this growing “human archive” is more than welcome.”

Website: www.thisisus.brussels
Instagram: @thisisusbrussels

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