Mapping experiment

As part of my (Ben Hagenaars) research project  Cultivating Communities, I organised a workshop at the NME seminar (Natuur en Milieu educatie dag) in Brussels last week. 25 stakeholders within the field of environment and education participated in the workshop. The aim was to visualise a fictional map of a network between different schools. I used the MAP-it toolkit – developed by social spaces – which normally uses sticker icons to visualise a map. However, I made some alterations since I wanted to add some extra features like building blocks to make the map more tangible. This idea originates from a presentation I took part in during the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre last summer. For this presentation we didn’t want to use PowerPoint to visuals our concept – a food system for the city of Maastricht – but we built a miniature city out of materials we could scavenge in the surrounding area. This made it really easy to talk about the food systems with local famers, citizens and other stakeholders. It enabled us to work out a scenario of our concept, but more importantly it enabled other people to ad ideas of their own to the existing map. A fragment of the presentation can be found in this video by REcentre (starting from minute 7:41).

For last week’s workshop, I’ve tried to merge the MAP-it toolkit with some tangible elements. The participants where divided into three groups, each group was accompanied by a moderator who used scenario cards to guide the session. Structural elements like building blocks, link materials like ropes, and pens to add extra information could be used to build up the map.

The participants had to map a fictional network of school ‘laboratories’, which made the workshop a bit more challenging. The laboratories could be defined as spaces where school communities can experiment and come up with solutions to environmental issues. At the start of the workshop, ideas of networked school ‘laboratories’ emerged: schools that experiment with renewable energy, a network that uses bike messengers to transport materials, self-sufficient water laboratories, …

Halfway through the workshop, the groups switched to another map. After a short presentation of the map, the new group could ad remarks, brake down structures and build new structures. This generated interesting discussions about the importance of spaces where people could gather and share ideas. The spaces weren’t necessary physical structures as they could also be digital or even hybrid structures.


Sustainable Summer School

From 19 – 25 August 2011 I participated in the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre and the Institute without Boundaries. Below is the report I wrote about it.  There is also a video report available here.

The food group of the Sustainable Summer School was a composed mix of people from various
backgrounds ranging from design, to business and agriculture. We focused a week long on food
and the city of Maastricht. Our case started by meeting Stefan Muijtjens, an organic farmer and
his local farm De Tuin van Sint Pieter. For several years he was able to produce a variety of quality
crops. Due to distribution problems, Stefan had a hard time reaching out to the inhabitants of
Maastricht. Therefore he was forced to quit his farm.
When we talked to locals of Maastricht about his initiative, we discovered that most of them were
eager to buy locally grown crops. But availability, time and price were major obstacles for them.
People that were working during the daytime couldn’t access the local farm before its closing time.
Elderly people found it more convenient to buy their food in the supermarket. The experience of
the farm wasn’t compelling enough to persuade students to pay a bit extra for organic and local
produce. So the team had to find a way to bridge this gap between the farmer and the people by
overcoming these issues.
Looking at the historical context of the city we found that the river Meuse played a key role in the
development of this old Roman city. Architectural elements from the past like the bridge over the
river provide a cultural experience that attracts a large number of tourists every year. This is a huge
opportunity for local farmers, like Stefan Muijtjens, to promote and sell local food products.
Out of the observations and the context mapping we created a new brief for our food case:
create a sustainable, organic and locally sourced food system that is resilient and engages citizens
of Maastricht in rewarding experiences.
Through brainstorming, sketching and prototyping, we developed a conceptual food system based
on the idea of a floating farmers market. This would be located on the river Meuse and near the
old bridge, the cultural hub of the city. The system could develop in three different stages: short-,
medium- and long term. In the short term the floating market would start out as a Sunday event.
This could attract locals and tourists on their free time by providing them a cultural food experience.
In the medium term the event could become a Sunday ritual. Side projects like an educational boat
‘Noah’s ark’ and a medicinal boat ‘Farmacy’ could pop up. By connecting the farmers and the city
through the river, the food market could become part of the Maastricht identity. In the long term
the food system could expand from the bridge hub on the river to the local bus network. In this way
the distribution of the locally and organically grown products could become more convenient for the
farmers and for the people of Maastricht.
This food system has economic and sustainable potential. It could enable awareness about the
quality and environmental benefits of organic and local produce. It could reconnect farmers with the
city and it has the potential to attract locals and tourists by providing them a compelling riverside
food experience.