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UT students design climate-adaptive environmental vision for Zwolle inner-city areas

This winter’s high water levels, still fresh in everyone’s mind, are the latest reminder of the climate adaptation challenges we face. The Municipality of Zwolle invites second-year civil engineering students from the University of Twente to contribute their ideas on creating future-proof urban areas.

As part of their area development module, the students spend ten weeks working on an environmental vision for three locations that Zwolle has earmarked for development in the coming years. Commissioning party Andreas van Rooijen, Spatial Adaptation Advisor at the Municipality of Zwolle, explains the set-up: ‘Zwolle’s inner-city area is unique in terms of its water management and provides challenging issues for the students to tackle. By getting them involved, we aim to spark their enthusiasm, both for the profession and for the region.’ 

Ideas from outside the region 

The Municipality of Zwolle was keen to get university students involved in its local urban planning issues. At the University of Twente, they were looking for urban areas that are uniquely diverse in water and climate. These two aims came together several years ago in the area development module of the university’s civil engineering programme. Andreas van Rooijen and his colleague Henk Snel, urban planner at the Municipality of Zwolle, were there at the start of this long-running collaboration – five years and counting! As Andreas explains, it has given rise to exciting new ideas. 

‘The students create a concise strategic environmental vision, map out an area and write a policy advice. During this component, a director or management consultant from the municipality helps them on their way. Previously, they would complete a project in Twente, but now we set them an assignment on climate, housing or mobility in Zwolle on an annual basis.’ A fresh perspective from another region provided by students who come not only from Twente but also from around the world: it offers Andreas and his colleagues a rich source of inspiration. ‘To give you one example: the students take a very different view of high-rise buildings. That helps us think beyond the limitations we sometimes place on ourselves. At the same time, we hope to spark enough enthusiasm that one or more students may consider working with us here in the Zwolle region later in their career.’  

Focal areas: IJsselallee, Noorderkwartier and Oosterenk 

On Thursday, 8 February, the group of 70 students came to Zwolle for a field trip. Andreas and his colleagues Henk and Marjon kicked off the experience by taking them through the history and current state of play in Zwolle’s inner-city area. This was followed by a visit to the three locations on which the students will focus. Henk sums up their approach: ‘We braved the rain to take a look at the scale model of the Spoorzone and go on location in the Noorderkwartier district. The third location is Oosterenk. Zwolle has high ambitions for all three areas and the students will have every opportunity to contribute their ideas.’ 

For instance, what happens if you remove the IJsselallee road from the on-site equation? How can you make Windesheim University of Applied Sciences an integral part of the Spoorzone? And what vision of the future best suits the Noorderkwartier, with the city’s canal running through it like an artery? Henk continues, ‘We challenge students to think outside the box. And in doing so, to think deeply about reusing buildings and materials, about the carbon footprint and climate-proof development. The challenges posed by water form a common thread in all inner-city area development in Zwolle.’  

Symposium presentation 

Supercharged with information, the students will roll up their sleeves and get to work in the coming weeks. During the project, several urban and hydraulic specialists from the Municipality of Zwolle have been brought in to provide the students with all the specialist knowledge they need. The project will conclude on 25 April with a symposium at the University of Twente, which will also be attended by a delegation from Zwolle. The symposium will focus on the topic of climate-proof urban development: a key theme for the Municipality of Zwolle, the wider region and the University of Twente. This shared interest is also reflected in the Zwolle Region Deal recently awarded. The region deal provides a wealth of opportunities to take further steps and submit projects that can reinforce the cooperation between the University of Twente in and with the Zwolle Region.

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