Community engagement: Linking students with local stakeholders in Lunetten

Students usually study in the library, in class rooms or at home. But why not broaden their horizon, take them out of their everyday study environment and encourage them to do participative research in a real-life, urban setting. With the use of a subsidy provided by the Utrecht Education Incentive Fund, our geographers Dr. Gery Nijenhuis, Dr. Irina van Aalst and Stef Dingemans set up a new BA course in which students closely work with local stakeholders. They selected Lunetten - a neighbourhood in the southern part of Utrecht - as the local base for their education and research. Unlike neighbourhoods such as Kanaleneiland or Overvecht, Lunetten has not yet been affected by swarms of researchers. However, it does provide many interesting socio-spatial questions. It is a green neighbourhood with a very diverse population, including families with children, elderly people, refugees and students.

The select number of students that participate in the course work on sustainable solutions for everyday spatial questions. How do elderly people perceive safety in the neighbourhood and how could this perception be improved? How do young teenagers experience the neighbourhood? What are the places they love, and which spots do they avoid? What does this teach us about how the neighbourhood could be improved for these young people?

Each course takes nine weeks, during which students have to spend two half-days in Lunetten every week. Often they go to the local community centre 'De Musketon' or to Social Coffee, a meeting spot for freelancers and locals alike. By working locally, students and teaching staff build up a close connection with the neighbourhood and its inhabitants. That way, students are able to do research in collaboration with local inhabitants or organisations, working both with and for the local community. Meanwhole, students are forced to get out of their comfort zone, meet and interact with new people and familiarise themselves with research methods such as focus groups, photovoicing, vlogging and citizen science

The course is highly appreciated by students. At the moment, the educational staff involved is also working on a NWO-funded research project focusing on the results of the Lunetten course.

For more infromation, please contact Dr. Gery Nijenhuis, Dr. Irina van Aalst or Stef Dingemans.


Links (in Dutch)

Geografie Magazine, 15 June 2020

Kwalon, 3 December 2019