Student - November 18, 2010

VHL students show what applied science means

Put a few landscape architecture students in a farmhouse for a few days and they will come up with some original ideas that are of use to scientists.

In a small room at the Hof van Wageningen Conference centre three posters of the water meadows near the Dutch town of Tiel are hanging on the wall. A group of students from Van Hall Larenstein are about to present them to scientists attending the conference on Scaling and Governance, which is about the problem that spatial problems have consequences at several different levels at once. How do you deal with this? According to VHL teacher Ad Koolen researchers have a lot of theoretical knowledge on this topic. 'But they would like to know how this knowledge can be applied in practice', he explains.
The VHL students tackled this mission, taking the Tiel water meadows project as a case study. They spoke to people from Tiel municipality, the national water authority and a building contractor. They then withdrew for two days to Hoekelum farmhouse in Bennekom to brainstorm and sketch out a plan. VHL student Ruud Verstegen explains the dilemmas they encountered. 'The municipal council wants to build houses in the water meadows. Actually, there is not enough space for that, but they have already made promises to a building contractor. At the national level, the water authority wants to use this as a flood catchment area, and the EU wants the Netherlands to upgrade nature along its rivers.'
'I don't know what they will get out of it'
In their presentation, the students show the solutions they have come up with. Their drawing shows apartments on a winter dyke, with a large area of riparian woodland in front of them. This woodland is crisscrossed by gullies so that the area helps provide protection against high water. There are bird-watching hides to add to the recreational value of the meadows, and the new apartments boast beautiful views over the river landscape.
Beforehand, Ruud was a bit daunted by the prospect of presenting these ideas to a group of scientists. 'They have far more knowledge on this subject than I do. To be honest, I don't know what a researcher can get out of our work.' But afterwards, Professor of Landscape Ecology Paul Opdam makes it clear that he sees that differently. 'It would be very interesting to see how creative processes like this could be integrated into your research. As researchers we all too readily say, 'Tiel is too small for these developments; they must happen somewhere else. These students have shown that this attitude is not on. Of course a town council is not going to build housing outside its own boundaries. For us it is interesting to research how you can play with these different scale levels in policymaking.'
Meanwhile, Ruud himself has been convinced of the added value of the VHL project. 'I now understand my role as an applied sciences student better; we actually test what the academic research can mean in the real world. Van Hall Larenstein calls itself a University of Applied Sciences. At last I get what they mean by that.'

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