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Reclaim the city - Own the City

By Jelger Ruikes, Lara Kumm, Steph Holm & Yann Wunsch.

With the start of the autumn semester in September 2020, our teachers gave us a tricky task: Find a group and decide on a topic for our Value Creator Journey. Why was it a tricky task you may wonder now? Well, we started in the middle of a pandemic and were already performing 80-100% of schoolwork online. So, the challenge of the first week was to find like-minded people with the same vision - in an online setting. During many various meetings and what seemed like endless team calls, Jelger, Lara, Steph, and Yann eventually decided to start this journey together. And this is how the team “Reclaim the city- Own the City” came to be.

But first things first: In our first chapter, we were deciding on a common objective/ goal, and came up with many – yet diverse and broad – topics. To name a few: sustainable urbanization, population growth, resource management, water management, inclusion in cities/ integration, ‘ghost houses’ - using the full capacity of the city and resources, circular housing/ modular building, placemaking, sustainable urban planning.

We had our first physical team bonding activity, ‘playing’ the 4E-Model game at Jelger’s apartment. That was our first step towards – what we thought - a more defined and clear vision, since after that we were able to narrow down our topic to “Rapid urbanization - Citizens reclaiming their city”. But even after all our effort and delivering our first E-model report, our Coach María was not completely happy with our delivery. Quote: “Yet my biggest worry at the moment is the lack of focus on what exactly would you try to address. It is still big and vague…let’s discuss in our next meeting.” María guided us throughout this journey, and at this point, we want to thank her for all the Friday afternoon meetings and let her know how much we appreciate her input, support and engagement over the course of this semester.

In our next attempt to move forward, we knew that we were passionate about this topic and could reflect on our interest, but we needed to involve more stakeholders and contact more networks. Only then we could create real value. We got involved with various stakeholders, including policymakers, public officials, private organizations and urban consultants, but also civic stakeholders e.g. influential individuals such as Gooitske Zijlstra, Lieke Helmes, and Ferenc van Damme. While also getting in touch with big networks such as EUROCITIES, UN-Habitat, and TrUST.

Back then we were already confronted with the question: How to further investigate cities that already have high participation such as citizen-centric cities? During our many interviews, conversations, and email exchanges, we tried to understand the underlying complex issue and connect them in a way that can be addressed within our influence and timeframe. Many stakeholders gave insightful feedback and confirmed the topic as relevant. Others were harder to reach or busy with other projects and naturally prioritized that.

After going through Phase 1: Explore and Phase 2: Engage, we made our biggest jump going through Phase 3: Elaborate, where we finally had our “breakthrough”. We were able to narrow our project down from a national to a local level, the city of Zwolle. From previous projects and desk research, it was clear that Zwolle is working on keeping human capital in the region, especially students and young professionals. From there on, we narrowed our project to ‘students co-create their city’ directing to create an active communication and co-creation platform/hub between students and authorities and/or other citizens.

What we learned from this journey is that students or temporary citizens of Zwolle are lacking ownership of the place. Student participation in the urban design is low, partly due to a lack of effective communication between authorities and students and pro-active (validated) engagement. Moreover, students are frustrated with the municipal involvement and outreach, since little is achieved from the municipality to actively include youth/students. Hence, students' input and projects are mostly used to showcase participation and as a low eye-to-eye level collaboration. Next to this, the input is not being recognized or acknowledged which also leads to low transparency about where and to whom the input goes to and what happens with it. Lastly however, citizens are very pro-active and are sincerely looking for input from younger citizens.

Our current goal for this project is to engage and connect students with city management to co-create an inclusive, adaptive, and future- proof city environment. Therefore, our Final Value Product is the development of a prototype of an interactive online map. This map has unique features that allow inclusivity for all, which differentiates itself from other online tools. These features include a kick-start platform (online and offline), focused on bringing students together, sticky note option which users can share experiences and emotions to certain places and most importantly the map encourages participatory urban design based on the placemaking approach, but virtually. This way, individuals are more likely to think for the common good and not in individualistic terms. With this project and the prototype, we are confident that it plays a role in spreading awareness of the original issue and trying to promote placemaking. We believe that turning data into a map/visualization that is interactive and allows collaborations is the best approach for students and will help them thrive within the city of Zwolle.

Link to our Prototype can be found here

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