Student - March 29, 2018

Urban planners of the future

Tessa Louwerens

Turning motorways into parks for strolls or using the remains of a demolished prison to build an environmentally friendly neighbourhood. Students taking the brand-new ‘urban MSc’ in Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering (MADE) have loads of ideas about the city of the future.

photo's Maartje Meesterberends and Nina Bohm

A photo shows a group of students looking down on Sydney Harbour from Observatory Hill. It is dry and sunny, but that is not always the case, explains student Carola Raaijmakers. ‘Sydney has a lot of problems with water. Sometimes it’s too dry but when it rains, you get a deluge in a short period, which leads to flooding.’

Raaijmakers was in Sydney last February for a course on smart water management and mobility. This is part of the new two-year Master's degree in Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering. As of last September, this Master’s is being offered by Wageningen University & Research and Delft University of Technology through the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. The degree focuses on urban issues. That is because an estimated 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities in 30 years’ time, right now it is about half of it. That raises questions such as how to make sure all those people have enough food, stay healthy, and live in pleasant and safe conditions in an environmentally friendly manner.

The first cohort of 18 students is a mixed group with different backgrounds, ranging from Architecture to Nutrition and Health. Programme director Erik Heijmans sees this as a strength of the degree. ‘Students work together and combine the knowledge each has in their own expertise.’

70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities in 30 years’ time

Turning motorway into park
In Australia the Dutch students were visiting the campus of the University of Technology Sydney. They were there to brainstorm about the future of the city. Carola Raaijmakers: ‘Each little group was working on a different district, thinking about what it should look like in three months, three years and 30 years. But of course that little bit of the city isn’t self-contained, so we had to coordinate things properly with the other groups. A lot of high-rise flats are being built in our district. We had to think about how you can make sure people can access the area properly. At the moment there are a lot of cars in the city but we think there should be more trams and metro systems in the future. We also had the idea of turning the elevated motorway that crosses Sydney into a High Line park for cyclists and walkers. Like the one in New York.’

The city as a mine
Most of the projects the MADE students work on are closer to home, namely in Amsterdam. ‘That’s a well-organized city that is still growing. So that produces new challenges,’ says programme director Heijmans. ‘The city is a living lab where students can test their ideas directly in practice.’

In their introduction week, the students explored the city and produced a video clip. ‘We looked for areas for improvement,’ explains student Toni Kuhlmann. ‘For example, you see electric vehicles that are clogging up the crowded cycle paths even more. And on Wednesday mornings the streets along the canals are full of bin bags because they don’t have separate wheelie bins. That’s why it is difficult to separate out waste.’

In their introduction week, the students explored Amsterdam.
In their introduction week, the students explored Amsterdam.

As Amsterdam grows, new buildings are constantly being erected, says Kuhlmann. ‘I find it interesting to see how you can use a circular-economy approach in construction, for example with urban mining where you reuse as much of the material as possible when you demolish a building.’ An environmentally friendly neighbourhood is currently being built on the site of the former Bijlmer prison, whereby materials from the old prison are given a new purpose. ‘If you take out the windows carefully, you can reuse the glass,’ explains Kuhlmann. Copper from the old gas and water pipes can be reused in electronic goods.

The topics the Master’s students work on are very diverse. That will give them lots of options after they graduate, reckons Heijmans. They could for example end up in the private sector, working for the government, or in research. Students are also given the freedom to fill in the programme as they wish. Heijmans: ‘We set the bar high and require our students to show a lot of flexibility and creativity. It’s not just about the theory; how you apply that knowledge in practice is particularly important.’

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‘The diversity appeals to me’

Carola Raaijmakers decided to follow up her Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture in Wageningen with the new MADE Master’s. ‘I wanted to be working on practical applications rather than just design. The diversity and small scale appeal to me. There’s just 18 of us students now, so we soon became a close group. It is nice that everyone has a different background because that teaches you to look at things differently. As a landscape architect, I mainly look at the connections between a system and the landscape. If it rains, I want to know where the water goes and how it’s discharged. Whereas an industrial designer, for example, will know far more about the functionality of the materials used to make the discharge system.’


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‘I thought it would be more technical’

Toni Kuhlmann started MADE after completing a Bachelor’s in Future Planet Studies at the University of Amsterdam. ‘I’m interested in sustainability in cities. Only I expected the degree would be more technical. The emphasis is basically on the social sciences, which means a lot of repetition for me. But I think I’m one of the few who see this as an issue; most of the students have a technical background. The information provision is still rather chaotic sometimes. For example, it was only confirmed two weeks before the start that the Master’s was going to go ahead. But that is not so surprising given that it’s the first year and different universities are collaborating on this Master’s. I am enjoying it and anyway, I’ll get to fill in my own programme much more in the second year.’