Wetenschap - 14 september 1995

New MSc course in Urban Environmental Management

New MSc course in Urban Environmental Management

On September 4th, just before the official opening of the academic year 1995 - 1996, the newest MSc programme Urban Environmental Management (UEM) was launched. The programme is a joint effort of Wageningen Agricultural University (WAU) and the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) in Rotterdam. United in the Centre for the Urban Environment (CUE), both institutions seek to accommodate joint activities; the MSc programme, international research programmes and advisory services on urban environmental issues.


At first glance this new MSc programme may seem to be the odd man out among the range of study programmes Wageningen has to offer. An urban management course at an agricultural university seems like a fairly unlikely combination. This mixture of brown and green environments, as Dr David Edelman, IHS programme coordinator, refers to the urban and rural focuses, is not so strange: IHS offers an MSc course on urban management jointly with the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Over the past few decades it has become increasingly apparent that the world's cities are expanding rapidly." In the developing world, population growth rates in urban areas are enormous, due to a combination of high birth rates, decreasing death rates and migration of the disadvantaged from rural areas.

In Eastern Europe cities face high pollution levels because for years no attention was paid to the environmental consequences of the industrialisation policies of the former regimes. The world's urbanised areas are increasingly difficult to manage, and face a wide range of serious environmental problems. These include the absence of or inadequate infrastructure: water supply, sewerage, solid waste collection, and environmental ills including polluted soil, air and water, traffic congestion and high noise levels.

Edelman continues: At IHS we felt the need to establish a course addressing these urban environmental issues. We looked around at what Dutch universities had to offer in the field of environmental sciences. WAU proved to be the best institution." Environmental sciences practised at WAU have never were been restricted to agriculture, but include industrial production and household consumption. Furthermore, research at WAU is increasingly being directed towards the restoration and maintenance of both brown and green environments.

At WAU the Wageningen Centre for Environment and Climate Studies (WIMEK) coordinates the environmental education and research programmes. Programme coordinator Dr Hans van der Lee shares: The environmental part of the new UEM programme is largely based on the Environmental Science MSc programme and, where possible, courses will be jointly given."

Jacks-of-all-trades

Students enrolled in the programme are urban professionals: architects, urban planners, civil engineers and local authority officials. They are increasingly confronted with environmental problems mentioned in the information brochure: multi sectoral (manufacturing, services, household), multi system (water supply, sanitation, transport), multi level (central, regional, local and community) and multi actor (government, NGO's, community based organisations (CBO) and private).

In the course one would expect space for several different possible specialisations or that there would be a substantial amount of free choice in subjects, since it would be impossible to educate experts who would be capable of tackling all these aspects. Edelman explains: On the contrary, the study programme is not aimed at educating specialists in a certain environmental field but more general urban managers with a knowledge of the complexity of environmental issues." Van der Lee continues: The programme's main objective is to teach the urban professional a set of basic technical environmental skills which will enable him or her to communicate with specialists from different disciplines."

Prof Jenno Witsen, chairman of the board of the Centre for the Urban Environment, explains CUE's strong emphasis on poverty alleviation in addressing urban problems: We should bear in mind that urban environmental problems are not just technical problems but result from human behaviour, primarily investment, production and consumption patterns." The MSc programme's focus on environmental aspects, however, seems to be principally aimed at the treatment of the symptoms and not the real causes of specific human behaviour. Van der Lee counters this suggestion: The MSc programme is set up to educate urban managers who will be able to analyze, assess and counter the negative effects of this human behaviour. They will eventually create conditions to change behaviour."

Comparative analysis

CUE stresses learning through the comparative analysis of international experience. CUE is now compiling a data base of good practice in urban environmental management. Case studies from around the world strengthen the theoretical and professional training core of the course. Edelman smiles: We actually learn a lot from bad practice as well as from good examples. But it is important to note that everything we do is very much case oriented and we make use of the data base in the study programme."

Edelman adds: That is also why we introduced a working visit in this year's programme, providing professional assistance to several municipalities near Krakow in Poland. The assignments are thoroughly prepared in the Netherlands and carried out in Poland. Back in the Netherlands the results will be presented in a one day seminar to the executive officers from the towns. In that way it is a good learning experience for students and the cities benefit from the expertise of the students."

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