To the start of the academic year 2020-21 in Groningen, I was asked to deliver a short pitch (‘Pint of Science’) on the future of the Netherlands in 2050. In my function as a a coordinator of the Master Society, Sustainability and Planning (SSP), I looked at the programme and developed my own view that I will hereby share in a few words. I have deliberately chosen a positive story here that aims to motivate, given the amount of environmental and social problems visible to us.
If I look at the changes only in the past six months, it is hard to look into the distant future and the impacts that we will all have on it. So, let’s give it a try and start exploring what might be… My starting point is an aerial photo of the Netherlands in 2050. Actually, this is a rather recent image that shows our unique landscape that we need to preserve. This is my positive message: we will still be living here. We will have a nice environment. The real answer to how the Netherlands will look like in 2050 depends on all of us.
So, how will we live in this place in 30 years? To illustrate this point, you see a photo of a Leefstraat (Living Street) in Gent. It is also the cover photo of our Master Programme in Society, Sustainability and Planning (SSP). It is about us and the value of all human (but also non-human) beings and ways to envision new uses of existing spaces.
I would like to stress four elements that make a difference. The Netherlands 2050 will be a society that is collective, critical, caring and circular. What does this mean?
- First, collective perspectives and communities are crucial. We cannot define ourselves without the society and our role in it. I am optimistic that we find better ways to strengthen local communities, but also as part of a large European community. Remember the aerial photo – there are no natural borders to our neighbours.
- To the second point. The last six months have emphasised how important caring for each other is. Technology can help, but is basically human actions that make us survive deep crises.
- Third, we have to remain a critical society. Critical towards unsustainable actions, critical towards inequalities, and definitely against hidden and open racism. We learn and keep on moving through our communities with open eyes for tensions and problems arising, and take collective actions.
- Last, the Netherlands 2050 will be circular. We will be a dynamic place that has implemented ways to make all of us thrive personally, without overstressing environmental resources.
What causes my optimism in times when we see hate, fake news and catastrophic scenarios on the rise in many places? Most of what I have said is already taking off! Much is on the way and can easily be taken up and accelerated by all of us! As an example, the Dutch government developed a timeline towards a circular economy in 2050 and the Dutch degrowth movement is growing. This spring, 174 scholars have signed a manifesto with proposals for planning in post-corona times, calling for a more sustainable and equal world. They ask to move away from pure GDP focus, to work on redistribution, regenerative agriculture, thoughtful consumption and travel and our global responsibility. No rocket scientist necessary to see that at least some of this engagement is inevitable.
Personally, I have been engaged in the debate on post-growth and planning since 2016 and see so much inspiration in these discussions. Finally, last weekend, I visited the Marker Wadden in the Markermeer. I see new places where natural protection and human recreation merge.
It is not an impossible way up, but moving along a ladder that lies ahead of us. We know the first steps already, but need to move further along. We need to be aware of institutional power and agency on the one side and individual psychological and mental constraints within us on the other side. We need to develop and enact roles in the ongoing transformation.
My call for you is for “Conscious climbing instead of greedy growing!”. Take the four C’s – collective, caring, critical, circular – serious and 2050 is not too distant. If we all start, we will have much lifetime left to enjoy ourselves, not to say about future generations.
Recording of the event
The event has been recorded by the student association Ibn Mattuta and the Master Network of the Faculty of Spatial Science. The recording includes my presentation (start at 28 min 30 sec) and others. A second part is also available on their channel.