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Interview Marianne van den Anker, former councillor of Rotterdam city

"People with little income or no future perspectives flow to areas where the cheapest homes can be found. These areas become havens for criminals, degradation and sometimes even turn into no-go areas". Marianne van den Anker is former councillor of Rotterdam city. "This city has 7 major problem areas. Unfortunately Rotterdam is the city with the most problem areas of all Dutch municipalities. Therefore the city has been working  on a solution for the problems within these areas for a long time."

Van den Anker worked for Nicis Institute where sharing knowledge is central. Through her work she noticed that there is a need for knowledge on how to tackle problem areas in a practical way, as well as the need for a combination between research and practice in community development. This was the basis for the idea of the Neighbourhood guide (in Dutch: Wijkengids) which was launched nationwide in the Netherlands on the 4th of April 2012.

What is the Neighbourhood guide?

In this guide information can be found about the knowledge, experiences and insights gained in 40 Dutch problem districts. The Dutch government deployed a massive, long-term approach around 40 slumped areas with an accumulation of problems like high crime rates, poverty, people who actually cannot care for themselves and unemployment. Based on what was learned within these 40 problem areas, work was done to improve living conditions. The district approach is a combination of physical ans social aspects:

  • What does the neighbourhood look like?
  • What kind of houses are to be found?
  • How is the environment in the neighbourhood?
  • What people live in these cities/areas?


Van den Anker: “This combination is the power of community development. All experiences gained herein are described in the guide. In addition, people will be able to share knowledge with each other on the field approach during the workshops. The guide was created based on co-creation. All lessons and experiences that are listed are from administrators, people working for Dutch municipalities, the government or within the neighbourhood watch. Yet we strive greatly to add European experiences to the guide. I think we have a lot to learn from each other."

 

Sharing and transferring knowledge on neighbourhood approach and community development

Van den Anker is the founder, or spiritual mother as she calls it, of the Neighbourhood guide. The concept of this guide consists of the accessibility of knowledge and transfer of knowledge about community development. Problematic areas or neighbourhoods and specifically the approach to improve living conditions, is not only relevant in the Netherlands but across the whole of Europe. More and more people live in cities and this offers opportunities, possibilities, but it also brings along problems. The Neighbourhood guide is made for all partners involved in the process of improving neighbourhoods (for example the municipalities, housing corporations, health - and welfare institutions). For them the guide is a practical tool to help them  developing better and safer neighbourhoods.

 

The guide consists of 3 components:

  • Neighbourhood fan-booklet: quickly and easily shows practical tips and tricks on the neighbourhood approach, like the ‘12 laws of the community development’
  • District directory website (in Dutch Wijkipedia) as the Dutch Ministry for Interior called during the launching event
  • Neighbourhood workshops: to stimulate the knowledge sharing between directors and urban professionals

 

What could be the added value of the neighbourhood guide for European cities?

“Because the neighbourhood guide brings science and practice together. These are worlds that are often still very closed. We are in times of crisis, prospects for many are getting worse and everyone knows that people without jobs often flow to the areas where the cheapest homes can be found. Every city has those places. These areas become havens for people without income. This will lead to places with pollution, degradation, security risks and sometimes they can even turn into no-go areas. Together, we can detect on time whether an area is heading towards that direction and if so, what can be done in order to turn the situation around. In addition there are also points on how to continue the approach, which to me seems very useful for the whole of Europe.”

What should be taken into account when developing a European Neighbourhood guide?

Van den Anker explains 2 measures which should be taken into account for a European version:
 

  1. European cities must ensure that they share experience like in the current Neighbourhood guide
     
  2. The basis in experience and insight for the Neighbourhood guide has been scientifically substantiated. This must be translated into English (and possibly other European languages). “From here forth the same process can be followed, namely the process of co-creation. Therefore it is advisable to set up a committee to monitor the information and decide what information is useful to share. Many times there are too many (similar) projects run side by side which are completely ineffective. A monitoring committee can see to it that ineffective projects are stopped, so that what remains is effective and not a waste of money.”


The Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has funded this project. It is therefore important for a European version funding is also available. “Sharing knowledge succeeds better when you work together and that requires time, knowledge and money. The internet is very convenient, but it helps much more when people who have real experience (scientists, administrators, police officers, neighbourhood wardens) get together and bundle their expertise into one tool. For European cities people could visit each other’s countries and share knowledge during workshops: what is effective and what not? That experience and knowledge makes cities richer and more effective in the field approach.”


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