Science - June 19, 2008

Lounge workshop on landscape and urbanisation

Sitting comfortably in armchairs and on sofas with a beer, international participants at the conference ‘A wider view’ in Kootwijk discussed issues on landscape and urbanisation in Europe in a lounge workshop on Monday 16 June. The conference was part of the International Triennial on culture, gardens and landscapes, a three-month event in and around Apeldoorn that continues throughout the summer.

Workshop participants discuss problems of landscape and urbanisation in the 'European living room'.
The ‘European living room’ where the workshop takes place is divided into a Polish, English, Dutch and French corner, one for each of the countries participating in PLUREL, an EU research project on land-use relations around large urban areas. In addition to the official project, many smaller projects have arisen. Students from VHL for example have been examining people’s experience of green in Haaglanden, the area around The Hague. The Landscape and Urbanisation workshop was organised by Ad Koolen a lecturer on Garden and Landscape Architecture and Wim Timmermans, lector (associate professor) in the Green urban living environment, both from Van Hall Larenstein. That morning they had had a truckload of used furniture delivered from a second-hand shop to give the workshop a homely atmosphere.

In the Polish corner, Paulina Jurgiel and Agnieszka Sulenta, both studying spatial management at the University of Warsaw, explain their plan to conserve a green area with forests just outside the capital. ‘Buildings, housing, roads and traffic are all encroaching on this area.’ The first step is to educate the inhabitants, the Polish students explain.

The workshop participants try to establish exactly what the problems are in the Warsaw case. The different municipalities involved have no common strategy and almost no limits are placed on investors. A participant from Bulgaria recognises the problems: ‘In Sofia there are plans, but they are not implemented.’ Some of the Dutch participants explain how things work in the Netherlands, referring to the well established regulations that exist. The Polish students are especially interested in all the bicycles they’ve seen in Holland as a means of transport.

The lounge guests rotate regularly, so that everyone has a chance to hear and discuss all the projects. In the English corner, Joe Ravetz, co-director of the Centre for Urban Ecology at the University of Manchester, is a bit cynical about developments on the peri-urban fringe of many UK cities. Rich people are moving to the countryside close to the city and this is driving away the poorer inhabitants. Furthermore, these poor inhabitants have no lines of communication with the decision makers. The French landscape designer Jennifer Buyck describes a prize-winning project in Montpellier, where spatial planning guidelines have been laid down for the agglomeration around the city. The area spans the mountains and villages nearby, the city itself and the seaside. ‘The municipalities don’t always respect the agglomeration, which is a relatively new administrative level in France. There is no jurisdiction, so it is difficult to enforce the guidelines,’ Buyck explains. Two Turkish planners recognise the problems associated with a lack of legislation.

In Montpellier the planners are trying to work together with the people who live and work in the area. ‘Much discussion ends up being at the individual level: residents are unhappy with something being placed in front of their house or garden. It’s difficult to discuss the project as a whole,’ says Buyck. Because there are large areas of nature in southern France, people don’t value green in the urban setting, although Buyck says that this attitude is starting to change.

At the end of the workshop, the guests come up with recommendations for the projects. Not surprisingly, the common factor turns out to be communication with the inhabitants and getting them involved. The organisers are satisfied with the way the lounge debates have gone. ‘It’s not so much the outcome that matters, but the exchange and communication that has taken place,’ says Timmermans.

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