How do different groups within Wageningen see their city and what are the main issues and challenges for the future? Second-year Bachelor’s students doing Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning were tasked with finding out. ‘We need to prevent the campus from becoming a competing town.’
Student Ilse Westveer, who was involved in the study, produced these impressions of the current situation — ‘WURgeningen’ (a pun as wurg means ‘choke’) — and the ideal situation — ‘WIJgeningen’ (wij means ‘we’). Bewoners = residents and Gemeente = municipality.
text Luuk Zegers
On Wednesday 23 January, the groups of students presented their findings in the town hall to representatives of the university and the municipality. The good news is that the people of Wageningen are generally happy with WUR and its students and they feel the city and university need one another, say the students. But the common theme running through their presentations was the problems associated with the expansion of WUR and the city. For example, seniors in Wageningen feel as if they are competing with the university and its students for the municipality’s attention, and several groups are concerned about housing shortages.
A recurring issue identified by the students is the widening gap between the university, the municipality and residents. Shopkeepers and municipal officials fear that the growing campus will get more and more amenities and become a ‘competing town’, with students eventually never needing to go into the town centre. Some groups of residents feel that the physical distance created by building the campus has also become a distance in communication.
The students’ research was part of the Landscape Economics and Politics module. ‘This way, students learn by doing instead of getting a lecture every day for a week on what political landscapes are,’ explains lecturer Arjaan Pellis of the Cultural Geography chair group. ‘They had one preparatory lecture and then they were sent into the field to find out what the issues are in Wageningen.’ To do this, the students spoke to nine different groups in Wageningen, such as service providers, shop owners, university staff, students, senior citizens and municipal staff.
The students also presented ideas for tackling the challenges. One group, for example, suggested abandoning the campus and having the university spread throughout the town again. Another idea was to have mixed housing for seniors and young people as a way of dealing with both housing shortages for students and loneliness among the elderly. Other ideas were a student desk in the town centre where residents can go with questions and for odd jobs, and a joint strategic plan drawn up by the municipality and university for dealing with the growing pains together.
Having to present your findings in the town hall definitely added something, says student Mina Alsady (20), who calls this way of learning ‘incredibly educational’. ‘Experiences like this make you realize what you will be facing when you start real work later on.’
University spokesperson Simon Vink was in the audience for the presentations. ‘I heard a nuanced account. The students and lecturer deserve a compliment for what they found out in only one week.’ He does want to put the findings into perspective. ‘The municipal administration and the university talk to one another more than the participants in the study realize. They are in contact and consult one another about all major decisions. There is also a lot of contact between WUR staff and the municipality.’ Vink says the fear of a ‘competing town’ is unfounded. ‘Students really don’t hang around campus in the evening if they can go to their societies in town or visit a cafe.’
According to Vink, the university and municipality are already looking to link up more. ‘In February, WUR Executive Board member Rens Buchwaldt and the mayor Geert van Rumund signed an agreement to get the municipality more involved in research activities. That will raise WUR’s profile in the town and lead to more collaboration with the municipality.’