The audience in the Erasmus Pavilion on Thursday afternoon is a mix of all sorts of different Rotterdammers: local officials, employees of Rotterdam-based organisations, students and interested residents. They have come to see and hear the results of the research project ‘My Rotterdam’. Project coordinator Petra de Jong is presenting the findings in collaboration with Rotterdam-based artists. Her presentation includes a film, illustrations and a spoken word performance. The film is based on the research results and evokes responses from the Rotterdam viewers like ‘homecoming’ and ‘diversity’, but also ‘unease’ and ‘concern’.
Connection, equal opportunities and concerns about the city
“The first thing I noticed in the research results was that every Rotterdammer has a unique view of the city, but there are still some recurring patterns”, De Jong says. The most important recurring elements were then translated into three themes: the way in which people feel connected to the city, the opportunities they see for themselves and others to develop in the city, and the concerns people have about the city.
“Some residents feel a connection to the neighbourhood where they live, while others feel connected to the city as a whole”, De Jong explains. “With regard to equal opportunities in the city, we received a variety of answers. People thought they had good opportunities themselves and that everyone can build a life in Rotterdam, but there were also people who thought that not everyone has equal opportunities and that certain groups of Rotterdammers have a harder time finding their place in the city, such as young people and people with different backgrounds.”
“The concerns that people have in the city are quite varied. The concern about the housing shortage is something that was mentioned a lot, along with concerns about people’s own position and personal safety. Another group focuses more on the political decisions and has certain questions about that.”
These much-discussed themes are highlighted in a film by Neele Schlette. In the film, we see locations in Rotterdam with a voiceover of Rotterdammers sharing their opinions about their city. The audience sees an ever-evolving Rotterdam and high-rise apartment buildings to depict concerns about the housing shortage. Afterwards, attendees share how they feel about the film in one word. They use words like ‘homecoming’, ‘diversity’ and ‘familiarity’, but also ‘unease’ and ‘concern’.
“The most interesting thing in the study is that while people have a critical view of Rotterdam, they still feel a true connection to the city. They really feel part of the city or neighbourhood where they live. It’s a bit like looking at your own family: you’re critical of them and you don’t always agree with them, but you still feel that family bond”, De Jong says.
The researcher thinks this is a hopeful sign for a city like Rotterdam. “In a city as diverse as Rotterdam, that connection means we already have everything we need to effectively prepare the city for all the challenges that might come our way.”
During the programme, the Rotterdammers discuss each other’s different perspectives in small sub-groups. These different perspectives are addressed during the panel discussion with guests including Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord and municipal secretary Vincent Roozen. On the large screen are messages showing how the Rotterdam residents in attendance at the event view the city. One person wrote ‘a city of contradictions’, while another said ‘a harbour where people from different backgrounds can moor their ships.’
During the panel discussion, Rotterdammers in the audience have the chance to share more of their perspectives and ask the panel questions. Rotterdam resident Varsha Doelam is critical of the municipality’s policy decisions. She illustrates the concerns people have about the city, as De Jong previously mentioned as one of the three main themes in the study. “Rotterdam is an amazing city, but there is tremendous inequality of opportunity and a lot of poverty. Our city has the most child poverty and the least socio-economic security. I think it’s unacceptable that millions of euros will be spent on King’s Day this year, when that money could make a huge difference in addressing poverty”, Doelam says.