The Reef Community | Belgium is “a country where it’s too much in the DNA to own your own house”

@manuelpueyo and I have known each other for a couple of years, but never had a chance to see each other beyond our professional selves. As we sat down yesterday, I discovered a fellow people pleaser who makes food for their neighbors and coworkers and leaves it on their door (!)
An edited version of our chat below. His words in Italic.

My name is Manuel, I’m a content marketer and strategist. I help my clients define what they are going to say online and how to organise information on their websites. I also run courses on writing for the web I lived in Spain, in Santiago de Compostela where I studied; in Strasbourg (as an Erasmus student); in Warsaw, and for 15 years in Brussels, where I call home.

Tell me about your experience of living with others. How it happened, where, how old were you, how long it lasted.

The first time was at university, at 17 years old. I experienced student flats, the first time I left my parents. I lived in different modalities, the first one was a service that made everything ready for us. I think my parents were afraid I wasn’t able to live in an autonomous way, so they decided to put me here where everything was done for me haha. We even had someone who cooked breakfast for us. It was a luxury student apartment. The second year with a group of friends we moved to another apartment where we had more autonomy. Later in a shared flat, then in a campus with a lot of students in Warsaw.

What would you say was the primary motivation to live with others, at the time?

I think shared costs and sharing life stories. It was about living with friends, living with people we got along well. We shared a lot of conversations in the evenings, we partied together. Life-sharing with friends. It was quite temporary. Each academic year we would think about where we would go next year.

What has been your experience of sharing things with others (space, objects, food, means of transport…)?

It depends a lot on the situation and the type of people you live with. The thing that first comes to mind when we talk about sharing is food in the house. Some people prefer to buy their own food, so everyone was buying their own independently. I liked to share food, and cook for others. It’s difficult to find an equilibrium. The timing is different, the type of food they eat is different. I never managed to find a household in which we have this time to have dinner together regularly. I ended up having dinner alone, a lot. In the working spaces it’s changing a lot. [nowadays] I go to co-working spaces in which we have meals together.

And presently, are you still in shared housing?

I rent a flat, I share it with my girlfriend. I shared it previously with someone else, and at a certain point I invited my girlfriend to come. I think we are good for now, but maybe in the future I’d like to change again. We are open to discuss other possible scenarios.

Is it possible that you, like me, are predisposed to being and sharing with others more, because of our professions?

For my personality, I gain energy from sharing with people, so I need that. I don’t know if it should be at home or in the work environment, but I need my quota of sharing in my day.

What do you think is your personal limit for sharing?

Definitely you need space when you breathe, when you are alone, and I have that. And i am aware this is a luxury. In terms of boundary, nothing comes to mind. Maybe it’s because I take more than I give. First, the idea of abundance. There is a lot in the city, I like to find a lot of abandoned goods that I bring to share. There are different ways of sharing, not only economic. Some people have more ease with that, but others share recipes, time with cooking, cleaning, and this is all good. The important thing is that you actually think of the everyday / every week: what am I going to share in this space? Sometimes it doesn’t involve buying anything. [with food] I just go to the market and I do “recup”, getting food for free. It’s not only about going to the supermarket and spending 50eur for groceries.

Thinking about your current living situation, are there things you want to do around the house, but you cannot now?

Some gardening. I would like to set up a potagier (gardening on the small terrace). We want to do it next season, and take advantage of rainwater. The plan is to create a tailored wooden structure to occupy half of this space. Another thing that’s always there on my todo list is to open a space for conversation with the neighbors - some kind of a saturday cafe, or an open day when you animate a small community. I’ve tried, but it’s difficult to keep up because of my job. I was opening too many projects, it wasn’t sustainable.

We share the same house with another household, and every week I leave a tupperware of food for them, if I cook too much. I like this food sharing thing. They don’t come over, I just leave the tupperware in the door. I tried to find some other ways - like sharing tools (water filter, 3D printer) but it did not work with my neighbour… But we share the Internet.

What do you think about this: Edgeryders are looking to set up a new space in Brussels, The Reef: a residential building where 20 people can live together, share some working space, and live as ecologically as possible.

I think Brussels needs it. We need more open spaces where people are welcomed and they can meet their neighbors. We need to make better use of the spaces that we have - it’s too much closeness and compartmentalization in this country. This is a country where it’s too much in the DNA to own your own house. I think the city would benefit a lot of this kind of alternative narrative so that we challenge this kind of hard core established narrative. It’s similar in Spain, but in Belgium even more - it’s hardwired. You have to own your house, otherwise you are not really Belgian.

How many of your friends in Brussels are owning their place or planning to? What do you notice about people’s future living plans, where are they headed?

I would say 70%. It makes sense from the economic point of view. But aren’t we all trapped in this rapacious race to make as much money as we can?

People’s living plans are very different. I have some friends who want to leave the city for the countryside. Some they buy great houses in bobo areas. Some squat. I have very different profiles of friends haha

Do you see yourself in a place like The Reef?

About shared living: I don’t really know what is possible legally, and socially if it would fit me. I would need to know more. Definitely having access to more space, even if it doesn’t belong to me, makes sense. But someone from the project needs to dedicate some time to do the hosting and ensuring that everything is flowing in this kind of shared use of the space. You need governance, and a host, to ensure that the equilibrium is sustainable.

Should it be someone from the group or from the outside?

Maybe it can be a task that someone from the group takes on, any month. I would not leave it in the air.

Who do you think this new kind of space would be good for?

I think for people who feel a bit isolated, they need to connect a bit with the city, with more people… who have a need to socialize. I think that different types of profiles would complement each other. For example, an older person a little bit alone could perfectly match with a family with kids who don’t have enough time to spend with the kids. As diverse as possible.

If you are interested in this topic, join us on October 24th in Brussels for the workshop:

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Thanks for sharing your visions on The Reef @manuelpueyo :slight_smile:
100% agree with you on the critical need for human NRJ that ensures fluidity in a such a space…
Those deeper reflections regarding “how could shared property be possible and suitable” will definitely nourrish discussions next Thursday evening @LAMAB. See u there !

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Thanks! See you there

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