Re-mapping Rotterdam in class

Drawing and questioning boundaries of familiarity and belonging

IBCoM’s elective seminar “Communicating (in)equality in the city” wants to take class discussions to areas and communities in Rotterdam beyond the Woudestein campus. Thus, lecturers Zouhair Hammana and Isabel Awad asked students to prepare for a session on “Re-mapping Rotterdam,” by reflecting in groups about their experiences and views of the city and drawing maps of their own, ideally, in conversation with other Rotterdammers. The session itself took place in Het Gemaal op Zuid, in Rotterdam’s Afrikaanderwijk, and included a walking tour of the area. For most students, this was ‘unfamiliar’ territory: They had heard about Rotterdam South but had rarely explored it. Therefore, this session was an opportunity to practically connect with the lesser known parts of Rotterdam.

Students presented their maps to each other, to the course lecturers, and to special guests Jamea Kofi from Dona Daria Foundation, Tara van Roijen, an independent researcher working with Dona Daria Foundation, and Lis Camelia, from Learning for Equality in Rotterdam. Throughout these presentations, discussions arose about the wide range of factors influencing one’s connection with a (new) city. The search for certain fresh markets and food, public transport accessibility, housing prices, the location of friends’ and family houses can be important. But in a course about communication, much of the attention was put into the stories that circulate in official and unofficial maps and guides, as well as in the news and social media, policy and police reports. 

More than once, the discussion zoomed-in the portrayal (or lack thereof) of Rotterdam South on students’ maps. Other areas of the city received much more attention. One map, centered on the vicinity of Erasmus university and the city center of Rotterdam, labeled other areas as “too north,” “too West,” “too East,” and “too South.” Next to the “too South” area, a note said, “not so safe.” The authors explained that this was not their own experience of this area of the city, but what they kept hearing from other people. Stories about Rotterdam South being unsafe were familiar amongst others in the room. This led to an interesting discussion on the meaning of safety, belonging and familiarity.  

Something that became evident in these discussions was how the meaning of safety is relative to one's identity and sense of belonging. Whilst the police can be seen by some as an institutionalized form of safety, for others their presence inherently can make them feel unsafe. Thus, the heavy policing that is present Rotterdam South is perceived by some locals -particularly Black and Brown residents—as dangerous.  

Students, lecturers, and guests also questioned governmental measurements of urban safety, and specifically, the Dutch national index of neighbourhood liveability. This barometer uses various indicators to define and monitor liveability. One of the measures in this study of safety of a neighbourhood is how many people of Turkish and Surinamese descent live in it. Their presence in a neighbourhood directly that reduces the measured liveability of that neighbourhood. This example led to a reflection on systematic racism in the discussion of safety. It exemplified that the problems are not (just) personal ideas of safety, but how policies and other governmental actions, arguably intended to make neighbourhoods ‘safer’, affect our perceptions of safety.

This discussion was grounded on a critical reflection on the invisible boundaries marking what is familiar, what is safe and what is not, and who has the right to access different perceptions of safety. Questioning one’s own familiarity with Rotterdam South can be read as an invitation to develop new experiences and connections with the city. That day, the invitation took a very concrete form, as the group left Het Gemaal op Zuid to explore the neighborhood.  

Local walk and tips 

Researcher Tara van Roijen guided the students through (parts of) the Afrikaanderwijk and asked them to take pictures of things that called their attention. The first stop was the botanical garden kept by the neighbors at the South-East side of the Afrikanderplein. Later, they visited the local library. “If you want to know a neighborhood and its people, visit the library,” recommended Tara. After visiting the library, Tara led everyone to the monument for migrant workers. This monument celebrates the valuable contribution of labor migrants, who first arrived to the Netherlands and helped reconstruct the country in the postwar period.   

Tara chose these spaces because they are rarely pinpointed as remarkable identifiers of the city of Rotterdam. They are also commonly excluded from dominant stories that circulate about the Afrikaanderwijk, even though they are integral to the neighbourhood’s social ecosystem. The tour also highlighted the divide –for example between two sides of the Maashaven—between local efforts that emerge from the present community and the industrial skyscrapers that are reflecting a slowly but surely changing neighbourhood.  

At the end, Tara shared with students another of her favourite local tips: one of Afrikaanderwijk’s shops for a delicious Surinaamse broodje (Surinamese sandwich). The whole experience certainly contrasted with some of the stories we hear about the neighbourhood, offered at least some students new ways to speak about it, and thus to experience the city. Proof of this are the pictures they shared on the course’s padlet and with Tara. These pictures reflect a nuanced and more familiar perspective on the Africaanderwijk. They showcase the novelty of discovering unknown parts of Rotterdam, through a focus on elements of the neighbourhood that are often neglected. All in all, these pictures show a curiosity towards re-imagining a connection to Rotterdam that goes beyond the familiar.  

Photo Album

L4E Gemaal of Zuid

L4E Gemaal of Zuid


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Het Gemaal op Zuid  

Het Gemaal op Zuid is a space that is open for the community to organize activities to meet, connect and interact. Next to the Afrikaanderswijk market, this building is a lively space in Rotterdam South, aiming to provide space for quality events in the city. Het Gemaal of Zuid also strives to bring the surrounding community together in order to develop systems that will take care of the neighborhood. In-house chefs produce local, sustainable and delicious dishes for Het Gemaal’s guests.  

Communicating (in)equality in the city (CM2086)  

“Communicating (in)equality in the city” is an elective seminar for 2nd and 3rd year IBCoM students. The seminar focuses on the key role of communication in sustaining and challenging social inequalities in local contexts.  Particularly reflecting on how these inequalities create social decides within the city. This elective focusses on the key role of communication in creating and challenging these systems. Therefore, allowing for a critical analysis of how a sense of belonging is created and reproduced in the city.

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