Team Purple’s time in Utrecht was straight out of a magical realist setting, as we were at what is known as the ‘hipster’ neighborhood of the city. The walls were covered by graffiti, colors popped out from random spots, and things sprung out from the ceiling that we think might belong more on the ground. Amidst all this, we were happy to be in the Netherlands- it is a stop which was one of the most aware of the environmental problems.
The Country of Bikes
Netherlands is a thickly populated country, with relatively less land for its population of 17 million people, yet none of its cities are even a million people strong. The country is highly urbanized, and cities small enough to bike all over, yet mostly big enough to provide most facilities. Utrecht is one such city, with a primarily student population- the bike lanes all over the city are very well planned and maintained and even a person like me could bike without fear! While the unpredictable Dutch weather hit us often as well, we kept at it, and did classic Dutch things (always sandwiches for meals, Hagelslag on bread, tulips always in sight etc.)
Activities in Utrecht
Perhaps the most interesting fact of being in Utrecht was that we met members of several political parties in Utrecht, and to whom we presented Europe on Track and its purpose. We presented a pledge to them, and after reading it carefully, they all agreed to sign on it, and make a commitment along with Europe on Track to make Utrecht, and the environment in general, more sustainable. It was especially interesting for us when we got to talk with Yanaka, a city council member for the GroenLinks, the Dutch Greens. “My party thinks sustainable development is very important, so we fight against as well as for an equal society. So not only the green aspects but also the social aspects are pretty important for us. We fight for equal rights across stratas, and for us, sustainability is not only about the green aspect but also social aspects, and equality for all the people in Utrecht and outside.”
We also had the chance to visit De Moestuin, a social enterprise that provides social activation and reintegration through learning-work paths for people from psychiatry and addiction care in the urban garden and vegetable market. Disabled people work in the gardens and are given training, giving the chances of integration in the society which are not so common. Seasonal vegetables and fruits are grown in the gardens, and additionally, there are also beehives, chicken coops, and some rearing of sheep. They also have compost bins which provides their soil with organic fertilisers.
In Utrecht, we had the pleasure to give workshops to two classes of high schools and it is always fascinating to see the impact and involvement of young minds in such an important topic. Perhaps the high school students are the biggest stakeholders from among all the people we have met- it is correct age to make an impact and get them interested in an issue that will affect them the most in the future. We also had another workshop about economic sustainability at the University of Utrecht.
Before Utrecht, we were at Brussels, the headquarters of AEGEE-Brussels- find out what we did here!