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New BA Urban Studies: How to keep cities liveable

By 2050, 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. This has major consequences for the lives of city-dwellers and for the environment. Uncontrolled urbanisation calls for an interdisciplinary approach. On 4 September, the first group of students started the new English-language Bachelor's in Urban Studies in The Hague.

How will we be able to get around quickly as cities become more congested? What does that enormous mass of traffic mean for the sustainability of our cities and our health? Vice-Rector Hester Bijl outlined the major challenges facing our modern and increasingly multicultural cities. If we are to meet these challenges, we need a range of different disciplines all working together: from historians and linguists to criminologists, environmental specialists and security experts. With this in mind, five different faculties are collaborating in the new Bachelor's in Urban Studies: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Governance and Global Affairs, Science and Law. 

Vice-Rector Hester Bijl welcomed all the new students.

From Thailand to Germany

Bijl welcomed the first 35 students of Urban Studies, a third of whom are from such diverse countries as Thailand, Russia, Germany and the United States. This international class composition is one of the strengths of the programme because the students each bring examples from their own countries and cities. 'You are a brand new group and, with all your different cultures, you have the opportunity to learn from one another,' Bijl told them.   

Stephen Heritage-Young

First-year Stephen Heritage-Young from Brazil

‘I'm from the metropolis of São Paulo where the traffic is enormously dense and the air is highly polluted. But there are all kinds of social and cultural issues that play a role. One current issue in my home city is that our mayor wants to remove all graffiti from the city, even though it can sometimes be an art form. I chose this study programme because of its interdisciplinary approach. It's  exciting to be among the first group, but that's also a big advantage: it makes the programme innovative because there are no died-in-the-wool traditions. As a student I want to give my input on how the programme should be shaped.' 

André Gerrrits stressed the importance of a good international debate.

International debate

This interdisciplinary programme is long overdue, according to the second speaker André Gerrits,  chair of the Urban Studies programme. ‘To date, cities have only been dealt with at Dutch universities from the viewpoint of urban planning.' Gerrits, professor of International Studies and Global Politics, gave his audience a crash course in how to study. He invited the new students to be critical and stressed the importance of a good international debate in an open atmosphere. He also asked these new students for their advice: 'Your feedback can make it a better programme.' The other lecturers and staff were introduced to the students, who then went off into The Hague to get to know the city and one another. Gerrits had already given them some practice with standard Dutch expressions such as: ‘Fiets je mee’ and ‘Scheveningen’.

Lotte Wenneker

First-year student Lotte Wenneker (18) from the Netherlands

‘First I was going to study Economics, but when I visited the Urban Studies Open Day it really interested me because it is so diverse. Urban Studies is about making cities liveable and that's what I want to work on in the future. It's also different because it's a new programme; I'm just going to see how it goes. I particularly like that the student group is so international. I am nowlearning about all kinds of new cultures and I'm curious to hear all my fellow students' stories and experiences.’

Text: Linda van Putten
Images: Chris Gorzeman

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