Kick-off Horizon 2020 project ROBUST

Recently a Horizon 2020 grant of € 6 million was awarded for a project entitled ‘Rural-Urban Outlooks: Unlocking Synergies’ (ROBUST). ROBUST has started on the 1st of June 2017 and is coordinated by Han Wiskerke of the Rural Sociology Group.

The overall goal of ROBUST is to a) advance our understanding of the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas, and b) identify and promote policies, governance models and practices that foster mutually beneficial relations.

The project focusses on five domains of urban-rural relations & interdependencies: 1) New businesses and labour markets; 2) Public infrastructures and social services; 3) Sustainable food systems, 4) Cultural connections, and 5) Ecosystem services. These domains will be studied in 11 place-based living labs: Ede (Netherlands), Tukums (Latvia), Helsinki (Finland), Mid-Wales (UK), Gloucestershire (UK), Frankfurt-Rhein-Main metropole (Germany), Ljubljana Urban Region (Slovenia), Styria (Austria), Valencia (Spain), Province of Lucca (Italy) and Lisbon and Tagus Valley Region (Portugal). Each Living Labs will focus on three domains of urban-rural relations. Domain-specific lessons and experiences will be shared across Living Labs in thematic Communities of Practice (five in total, each covering one of the aforementioned domains of urban-rural relations).

In each Living Lab a research organisation (university, research institute or consultancy firm) will collaborate with a local or regional authority. For the Dutch case the Rural Sociology Group will collaborate with Ede Municipality. In total the ROBUST consortium consists of 24 partners: 11 research organisations, 11 local or regional authorities and two umbrella organisations: the Peri-Urban Regions Platform Europe (PURPLE) and the European Secretariat of the International Network of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI Europe).

The kick-off meeting will take place on 7, 8 and 9 June in the Akoesticum in Ede. The website of the project is expected to be ready by September 2017. For more information about ROBUST, please contact one of the members of the RSO ROBUST team: Han Wiskerke, Henk Oostindie, Rudolf van Broekhuizen, Jessica Duncan and Bettina Bock.

Urban Greens Rural Blues – the future city

Urban Greens Rural BluesUrban Green Rural Blues is the 2014 theme of Stichting RUW. The opening event will be January 21 with lectures and a debate  on how the future city will look like. From 19.00-21.00 in the Public Library (BBLTHK), Stationsstraat 2, Wageningen. Free entrance and free drinks afterwards.

Since 2008 more people live in cities than in rural areas. The world population is growing and urbanisation is expected to continue. As a result, pressure on urban areas is increasing with growing issues and challenges; concerning the urban environment, waste management, traffic, housing and food supply. At the same time, cities are vibrant hubs of creativity where inspirational and successful ideas for a green, clean and healthy living environment emerge.

How can we envision the future of the city? And that of the countryside? How are urban-rural landscapes, communities and relations changing? Join us at our opening activity on the 21st of January to find out!

Rutger de Graaf (TUDelft, DeltaSync, Blue Revolution) will explain why we need to start building on water and Jan-Willem van der Schans (WUR, LEI) will discuss the role of urban food strategies in building a sustainable city. Elma Schoenmaker (BelW climate-green design) will show us several eco-smart, climate-adaptive and bio-mimicry designs.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/events/698683773497788/

Is facilitating citizen initiatives a food strategy?

One can be quite busy at the moment just going to interesting food strategy events. After all, it is harvesting time. Hence, we have the Week of Taste with activities all over the country and the Capital of Taste which is Groningen this year and the Food4You festival in Wageningen and.. probably many more events that I am not aware of. The Capital of Taste activities are situated inside the City of Groningen but in the meanwhile the city is also involved in the making of a Regional Food Strategy. Not so easy (see also Foodlog blog). What is the region? The province with its capital city? Or the administrative region Groningen-Assen which cuts across two provinces? (and who has money? Labeled for what?)

Moreover, what is the problem? Again, difficult. Maybe broadly covered under the heading of ‘urban-rural relationships’ but in fact more narrowly focused on how to get the urban citizen to buy regional products (with no specific focus on sustainable agriculture). Is this a problem? Not really, it is a chance it was agreed in the meeting. A chance which could be facilitated by the government without standing in the way. So there you have your strategy and it resonates with Hinrichs (2000) defensive localism.

It also resonates in another way with Proeftuin Amsterdam, where also the key focus was to facilitate initiatives already there. The task; bringing together, connecting, inspiring, communicating across the energy which crystallizes in a particular topic, food is the hottest at the moment. “We should ask ourselves, where is the energy is flowing towards” I heard in the meeting. Hence, the most important driving force of Proeftuin was according to a presentation, the attention for citizen initiatives. A conclusion too in the Schuttelaar debate in Wageningen, same day. Research done by students of Wageningen university confirms the trend; municipalities busy with food policy/strategy/projects were those activated by their own active citizens. 

After this, the next question often asked, becomes a bit weird. How to anchor the food strategy for the long-term? There is nothing to anchor where the ‘policy’ is to facilitate citizen initiatives, this goes as long as citizens are active. Proeftuin Amsterdam does not exist anymore. Amongst others because there was no political problem (“er lag geen bestuurlijke vraag”). Food security, policies for social exclusion and poverty and access to good food, problems the Food Banks now address, were deliberately not part of the Proeftuin focus.

So what’s wrong with stimulating enthusiastic citizens busy with creating sustainable food systems in various ways? Nothing of course. However, if that’s all, it seems that despite the many ‘nice’ activities, food keeps being seen as a private responsibility. There is a serious problem in the articulation of public interest addressing structural problems in our food system and in fact, no attention at all for social justice. Do-it-yourself for those who can.

Inclusion and exclusion of the rural… – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 4

As I wrote before, there are many relations between the urban and the rural. I just mentioned some of them: the markets, the food,  the regional identity, the life histories of families and …. biking trails… Although many people (in Rennes) don’t recognize this aspect, they do agree when I explain it to them. Maybe it’s too familiar to them –it might be in their backbone. But maybe also, because many Rennes’ peoples are getting very global: they just travel by car, TGV, Thalys or plane. Not any more by bike. Anyway, every day –after work- I’ll take my Batavus, and start roaming around. But when sunsets starts, I go to the écluse de St Martin’ (“shiplock”),  just nearby the Agrocampus. It is exactly on the edge of the city and the countryside. I go there, just to experience a beautiful phenomenon. I am not the only one that goes to that place. When it’s getting dawn, I see ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousands, maybe even millions of birds (starlings) coming back from the countryside. I don’t know where they have been all day, but every night the gather together on the electricity pylons and its wires; they come from everywhere, with thousands and thousands. Like me, but I’m there just to watch them. It almost takes an hour when they’re “all there”..(although I do not count them).  And then, suddenly (who said to leave; which bird took the initiative; and why?) they disappear, and they all go into the city. I’ve been told that they always go to the same places, and that hundreds of  trees are fully loaded with birds, really: fully loaded, and you can listen all night to their talks and stories…you can’t even sleep. But the next morning: they all have left. Where have they gone? Fascinating. But even more astonishing is the fact that this daily rural-urban migration became part of an urban ‘exclusion’ policy. The birds are not welcome anymore in the city, at least: not everywhere. For example, in the luxurious  Avenue de Jean Janvier (just opposite the central railway station)all trees are covered with nets(see picture), so the birds can’t have their sleep there anymore. I noticed these nets one morning on my daily trip to the station to buy my “de Volkskrant”. Rennes is changing … Anyway; the peoples who I asked about these nets, they just shook their head; they didn’t understand it either. Why exclude the birds…?

Some years ago, Rudolf van Broekhuizen and I did some research on “breeding and culture” as part of the EU funded project called “Sustainable Farm Animal Breeding and Reproduction” (SEFABAR). We studied the cultural context of breeding (for four species: poultry, pigs, ruminants and aquaculture)in 6 different countries.  France was one of them, together with the USA, Thailand, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands (by the way: why do I have to say in French that ‘je suis Hollandais, je parle Neerlandais, et je habit a Pays Bas’? Three words for one nationality; rather complicated!). Anyway, breeding can be embedded in or intertwined with culture in many ways and with different meanings. Although we noticed –especially in breeding – an ongoing process of globalization, we also noticed processes of (re-)localization. Our main conclusion was: culture and context still do matter! In Italy for example, breeding is strongly related to food, and in France breeding still is deeply rooted in the region: ‘origine’, ‘identity’ and ‘terroir’ are the keywords  to understand the cultural context of French breeding.

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