Organisation - November 4, 2009

Storm brewing over the arboretum

The ponds in the small arboretum in Wageningen should not be sacrificed to building plans. Local politicians and fifty Wageningen professors have made this clear to the university.

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The immediate cause of the commotion about De Dreijen is a large green fence that has gone up in the arboretum, separating the two ponds from the rest of the botanical gardens. This is the work of Het Depot art foundation, which is renting part of the arboretum to use as a sculpture garden. The fence is intended to keep trespassers out.
But in the light of the building plans for De Dreijen, there is more to it than that. The university is gradually pulling out of De Dreijen to concentrate on the new campus. It is working with the town council on a new use for the area it leaves behind. The initial sketches that have come out of this cooperation were presented early last month.
And they were quite a shock for fans of the arborteum. Against the express conditions laid down by the town council, there were plans to build houses where the ponds are now. The designers from town planning bureau Karres and Brands say there is no alternative: that space is needed in order to fit in the required number of houses. The bureau also argues that the ponds are not of enough value to justify preserving them. Wageningen UR agrees on this point. 
The sketches were the first evidence that the university is not so very concerned about the preservation of the arboretum. The recent erection of the fence would appear to confirm that impression, and suggests that the future building plans are inevitable. In this it is also symbolic of the way the university treats its cultural-historical heritage.
And it is not just those involved in Wageningen politics who find this hard to take. In an open letter to the executive board, fifty professors have appealed against the plans to build in the arboretum (see also page 22). This is a pretty unusual initiative. And it's a sign that there is little public support for current policy on this point.
Board spokesman Simon Vink played the innocent party at the town council meeting last week. He couldn't understand where all that negativity was coming from. As far as he could see, Wageningen UR has the best of intentions for the arboretum. But the ponds are not part of it, he says. Anyway, they are only 25 years old and were not part of the original, century-old gardens. He's right about that. But he's missing the point of the protest: the council's demand that the whole arborteum should stay in one piece.
The town council is sure to stick to its guns. The fact that De Dreienborch has just been flattened will no doubt play a role. That demolition kicked up a lot of dust, but couldn't be prevented. So to go ahead with the latest plans may mean being set on a collision course. 

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