Sacks of hope: Sack Gardening in Kibera slum (Kenya) as sustainable place-shaping

Sack_gardeningBy Merel Scheltema – Msc. Urban Environmental Management, specialisation in Spatial planning, WUR.

I propose that an investment in quality public space, through urban agriculture and multi-functional land use, can improve the access of people to basic needs. According to the UN habitat executive Director of Joan Clos i Matheu public spaces are therefore a vital asset. The quality of public spaces affects the quality of private spaces and the city as a whole. A ‘good’ public space is part of the solution to create ‘healthy’ cities, by revitalizing the environment, economic development and fostering social capital. The concept of ‘sustainable place-shaping’, answers this call for healthy public spaces. It is a holistic approach to strengthen collective agency, participation and leadership of people who engage in places.

In my essay for the RSO course ‘A global sense of Place’, I applied the SUSPLACE framework, developed by the Rural Sociology Group to investigate: how urban agriculture as an investment in public space contributes positively to sustainable place-shaping. I studied this by examining urban sack farming in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, the largest Slum in Africa.  I reason that  urban gardening offers basic needs as well as improves social capital, environmental quality and economic opportunities. Continue reading

Urban Agriculture in Romania

11879645_1022934331074106_583476184_o-2This MSc thesis by Anamaria Alupoaie (MSc Organic Agriculture) investigated the reasons for failure of urban gardens, and the impacts of gardens on resident’s ‘sense of place’, in Dorohoi city in Romania.

Urban Agriculture plays a different role in the food system then agriculture in rural areas. In some cases, it represents a source of income or builds  sociological relations between citizens, through participation in the garden. In other cases, urban agriculture may originate from rural agricultural habits and traditions. With these inherited habits, urban farmers improve the existing environment through their practices, and with these practices they inspire others to take action in maintaining their own ‘green corners’ in the public space.

11882459_1022933601074179_396130938_oThe study was undertaken in Dorohoi region, a city situated on the north side of Romania, a small city with  31,093 inhabitants. In the last 20 years, the city experienced a period of decline due to the closure of big factories that offered jobs for more than half of the inhabitants. Since then the unemployment rate grew, and reached 80-85 %, in 2009. And it is estimated that now over 50% of the population lives below the country’s poverty line, as a result of the loss of the big industry. The availability of resources and income has triggered city dwellers to rely to a greater extent on local food production. Among the existing gardens, new ones started to flourish around the apartment buildings, in urban public spaces, and residents grew their edible greens. As such, in the area proposed for investigation, Dorohoi, urban agriculture continued through the communities of rural people that had moved into the urban center. They developed gardens in the green spaces of the city as a traditional habit inherited from their rural life. But this period of prosperity didn’t last, and about a decade ago, the city gardens were destroyed, with no significant grounds left. Continue reading

Request for a MSc student on leadership of place

Picture leadershipThe Rural Sociology Group is looking for a MSc student who is willing to do his/her master thesis research on leadership in 2 Dutch regions in the context of an international comparative research in the spring of 2016.
The central question is how leadership plays a role in rural and metropolitan regional development. Continue reading

Course Global sense of place in period 2

Volcano-crater-observation-deck-by-Javier-Mera-Jorge-Andrade-and-Daniel-Moreno_dezeen_784_3The course RSO-55306 A Global Sense of Place starts soon, so please register if you are interested to follow this. It  is an optional interdisciplinary course on sustainable place-based development for students from various master programmes (e.g. MDR, MES, MID, MLP, MUE, MOA, MFN). The course builds on the BSc course RSO-56806 Sociology and Anthropology of Place-shaping providing an introduction to place-based approaches in development. Knowledge of this introductory course is an advantage, but is not assumed. The course aims to make students acquainted with an interdisciplinary and place-based approach to development.

A relational place-based approach is seen as key to the understanding of interrelated rural and urban transformation processes and ergo sustainable development. In a relational approach places are considered as contingent but in time and space differentiated outcomes of three interrelated interdependent and unbounded transformative processes: political-economic, ecological and social-cultural. Places are time and space specific constructs, like their boundaries and connections.

By means of this course students will achieve profound understanding in key-concepts and methods on place-based sustainable development. Work from key thinkers in sustainable place-making will be critically discussed and examined on the basis of various cases. Guest speakers are invited to reflect on place-based approaches to sustainable development and illustrate these through case studies. Ultimately students will acquire a place-based perspective on development.

Main themes of the course

Central to a place-based approach is the conceptions of place as: 1) Arenas for negotiation, conflicting interests and power struggles; 2) Endowed with meaning and the constitution of identities, subjectivities and difference.

Different interdisciplinary themes will be addressed such as:

  • a relational approach of place and space;
  • key thinkers on place and space;
  • politics of place;
  • community development;
  • cultural approaches of place-based development
  • ‘the human dimension’, encompassing collaboration and leadership
  • ‘defence’ of places and conflicts

For more information, you can contact

Interreg project Rural Alliances: final report

ra_eu_logo_stackedThe Interreg project Rural Alliances brought together 12 partners from North West Europe to tackle the challenges of demographic change in rural areas. These challenges included: young people leaving rural towns and villages; the elderly becoming increasingly isolated & in need of social and medical care; shops, post offices, pubs, public toilets and telephone boxes closing; and increasingly difficult environments for setting up and running sustainable businesses.

The project tackled these challenges by actively bringing rural communities and businesses together, capitalising on their two distinct attributes: rural businesses with their “make it happen” attitudes, with the values of rural communities of loyalty, pride and self-esteem to create over 76 Rural Alliances. Together they have reshaped their areas to make them friendly, buzzing and vibrant, creating a more stable future for all their residents.

Ina Horlings from the Rural Sociology Group was a member of the Policy and Advisory Panel of Rural Alliances. The project developed handbooks on rural governance and financial engineering, inspiring videos, a skils plotting exercise, and various fact sheets and policy papers, all available on the website. For communities who want to know how vibrant their community is, a new tool was developed to measure rural vibrancy.The final report can be downloaded here.

New book on the role of culture in regional development

book launch 2This book, edited by Joost Dessein, Elena Battaglini and Lummina Horlings, launches the concept of ‘territorialisation’ and explores how the natural environment and culture are constitutive of each other. The concept of territorialisation allows us to study the characterisation of the natural assets of a place; the means by which the natural environment and culture interact; and how communities assign meaning to local assets, add functions and ascribe rules of how to use space.

The book contributes to our understanding of sustainable regional development by highlighting the time-space dimension of development and the varied ways in which people use resources.

The cases represent different scales, a variety of locations and several continents (Europe, North and South America, Africa, Australasia). The authors analyse these cases as the outcome of interaction between human intentionality, place-based characteristics and cultural history. The book provides empirical and theoretical insights into how these cultural expressions can contribute to sustainable regional development.
The book is published by Routledge in the new Series Routledge studies in culture and development.

SUSPLACE Programme vacancies: 15 Early Stage Research positions at six universities

marie curie actionsSUSPLACE is a Marie Curie Actions Initial Training Network funded by the European Commission that will kick-off October 1, 2015. SUSPLACE aims to train 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESR) in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices. These 15 ESR positions at six universities are now open for application till midnight October 7, 2015 (opening has been extended). See the list of the 15 individual research projects and host universities below.

The SUSPLACE approach will provide insight into how to utilize the full potential of places and communities for development and help to build capacities of people to engage in place-shaping processes and thus strengthen connectivity between policy-makers, academics, businesses and civil society.

Continue reading

Marie Curie programme SUSPLACE will kick-off October 1 2015

marie curieOur Marie Curie Action Initial Training Network Programme SUSPLACE (Sustainable place-shaping) will be funded by the EU-commission and kick-off October 1, 2015. SUSPLACE has a budget of €3,8 million and offers a three year position for 15 Early Stage Researchers. Ina Horlings and Dirk Roep will coordinate SUSPLACE.

The overall aim of the SUSPLACE programme is to train 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESR) in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices. Vacancies for these 15 ESR positions will be published midst of August at this blog and the respective websites of the host universities.

The SUSPLACE approach will provide insight into how to utilize the full potential of places and communities for development and help to build capacities of people to engage in place-shaping processes and thus strengthen connectivity between policy-makers, academics, businesses and civil society. Sustainable place-shaping is seen as a way to strengthen the participation, collaboration, collective agency, self-efficacy and leadership of people, engaging in places. Continue reading

Learning in Local Collaboration, Groningen – MSc thesis Iris Bekius


By: Iris Bekius, MSc Leisure, Tourism and Environment.

Below a summary of my MSc thesis: Learning in Local Collaboration; A reflexive case study in Groningen, Northern Netherlands.

At the moment, the Dutch government is in a process of deregulation, commonly referred to as participation society. Throughout the country municipalities translate policies in line with this political goal, among which my hometown Groningen. For the municipality of Groningen deregulation includes calling on citizens to come up with ideas for neighbourhood initiatives, which will then be evaluated by civil servants on their potential to succeed.

One initiative that is supported by the municipality is Pad2Wijken (Path2Neighborhoods), initiated by a committee in the neighbourhood Helpman to secure a green zone: a 10 kilometre long ecological edible green walking path through the neighbourhoods Helpman and De Wijert. Since the opening of the path in May 2014 groups of residents, schools and organisations in the neighbourhoods can adopt green plots along the path. On their plot they can create a flower meadow, orchard, vegetable garden, insect hotel, or anything else green and sustainable. Continue reading

Culture in, for and as sustainability

picture culture blog

Is culture truly a ‘fourth’ pillar of sustainability alongside ecology, society and economy? Or is it more  central, more fundamental, more essential? How does culture act as a catalyst for ecological  sustainability, human well-being and economic viability? What would our futures look like if  sustainability was embedded within culture in all of its multiple dimensions, including different  worldviews and values, ways of life, and other forms of cultural expression? A cultural transition that embeds sustainability in the cultural understandings and daily practices of society has the power to shift humanity’s currently unsustainable trajectory.

Culture plays many roles in (un)sustainability, but the scientific, policy-making and societal spheres  have lacked understanding of the essence of culture in sustainability. During a four-year period  (2011-2015) European research network Investigating Cultural Sustainability  ( has sought out state of the art and radical research across Europe and beyond. The network has highlighted this research in order to provide researchers and policymakers with instruments for integrating culture as a key element of sustainable development.
The main results of the work are:
• A final report: “Culture in, for and as Sustainable Development” summarizing the conclusions of the work and introducing three roles of culture in sustainable development:
• a new book series, Routledge Studies in Culture and Sustainability and its first three volumes draw directly from the Action’s work, focusing on culture and sustainability in European cities, heritage and regional development:
• an international transdisciplinary conference Culture(s) in Sustainable Futures: theories, policies, practices in Helsinki 6-8 May, 2015 at which the results of the Action were discussed by almost 300 scholars and practitioners. On the website you can find an overview of the sessions and streamed registrations of the plenary sessions, student’ reflections, the list of abstracts and the list of participants:  Lummina Horlings of the RSO group organised a session on Values in Place and gave a presentation during the plenary session on Culture in Sustainable Futures (starting at minute 36):

Altogether 100 researchers from 25 countries within the EU with additional participants from  Israel, Albania, New Zealand, and Australia contributed to the work in different ways. The network  incorporated a wide variety of disciplines and fields of research, ranging from cultural, humanistic  and social sciences, through political and natural sciences, to planning. The profiles and research interests of the members are introduced in the publication,  Investigating Cultural Sustainability: Experts and Multidisciplinary Approaches:  The work was co-ordinated by the University of Jyväskylä and supported by the European COST Association (Cooperation in Science and Technology), which is funded within the European Commission’s research programme Horizon 2020.