VONK

 

In a neighbourhood in the east of the Netherlands residents are generating a revolutionary energy transition. The aim is to move the entire community from natural gas to a collective heating grid that provides more sustainable energy. The transition in the Benedenbuurt is unique as it is entirely community-driven, with the initiative coming from the residents themselves and authorities supporting the process by acknowledging the necessity and providing funding. The project is seen as exemplary for energy transitions that will have to take place across the entire country. The residents have united in the Cooperative Warmtenet Oost Wageningen (WOW) so that their interests can be effectively represented and solutions are designed that suit the neighbourhood. The project is a pilot and emergent, with the design process being invented as it happens and the coop learning how to proceed whilst moving forward.

A growing group of local residents invests time, knowledge and experience to make this initiative a success. In November 2017 and June 2018, general meetings were organized to which all residents were invited. Since November 2017, door-to-door and email newsletters have been distributed to keep interested parties informed. In June 2018 no less 44% of residents signed a support statement, indicating that the initiative is widely supported in the neighbourhood. There are various working groups active in specific subjects and a weekly consultation with a core group of residents. Last December the Dutch King turned up unexpectedly to hear about the project and talk to residents.

The cooperative recognised that apart from the formal meetings in which they discuss practical matters, there is a need for a space that addresses the more emotive aspects of the proposed transition. Despite the support, there is also a sense of confusion, uncertainty and vulnerability amongst residents about what the transition entails exactly on a personal level. The transition will generate a certain degree of disruption in terms of how people live, i.e. they will have to change routines around cooking and heating their homes. People are worried that they will be worse off after the transition. And they potentially feel vulnerable as the transition is involves disruptive measures to their homes. The process itself is fraught with potential for conflict, miscommunication, confusion and burn-out as increasing demands are made on people who are giving their –often precious- free time voluntarily.

Between the cooperative, the Imaginative Disruptions research team and the local theatre collective ‘De Waterlanders’, we have designed an Art Intervention called VONK (Spark in Dutch). The Art is proposed as an essential part of the community-led process. It is explicitly not a cooperative-driven event that serves as a PR instrument for the transition, nor is it just a ‘fun’ way to engage the community. Instead, it is designed to generate a non-directed space for encounter and conversation between residents. Away from the formal meetings and processes, De Waterlanders will create a set of curated performative experiences that connect people in a collective exploration of the emotions attached to the Transition. They will make palpable some of the doubts and question that people might have, create space for people to express what they think, and exchange experiences and knowledge.

Like the first residency in the UK (Deep Water) this event has a strong intergenerational aspect. The neighbourhood is inhabited by families so children will be actively involved though the performative means. But, where the Deep Water was more reactive and this project is more proactive in addressing climate change, both revolve around people expressing their vulnerabilities (“what am I afraid to lose?”) and possibly finding inner and outer resources that allow them to overcome their (experienced) fragility.

The residency took place in April 2019.

IMAGINATIVE DISRUPTIONS

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