Last month we took our ‘Follow the Money’ students to the Rotterdamse rekenkamer for a lesson on finical issues related to municipal land development and the consequences of the current economic crisis on municipal policies. Researcher Evelien van Rij and director Paul Hofstra received us at their office for an introductory lecture about their work, followed by a hands-on workshop with the students.
The Rekenkamer (court of audit) is an independent institution, which conducts research into the efficiency, effectiveness, legality and transparency of policies issued by the municipal administration. Their scope is not limited only to the effects of direct municipal policies, but also to indirect policy by for example investigating joint arrangements in which the municipality participates and private companies of which the municipality owns more than 50% of the shares. Based on their research, they consequently make recommendations for improvement to the municipal council.
Each municipality in the Netherlands is obliged to have such an institution in order to protect dualism in the municipal system. This is based on the concept that the Mayor and Aldermen govern the municipality, while the council controls and sets the boundaries. The rekenkamer plays herein a crucial role by providing objective information to the controlling party. They hereby not merely focus on the question whether the aldermen do what they have promised, but also whether the made decisions lead to the intended products and effects. This position gives them a good and objective insight in the economic policy of governments. While politicians sometimes sell their dreams to the public using pretty words and beautiful images, the rekenkamer presents the facts.
During the introductory lecture by Evelien van Rij and Paul Hofstra about their work at the Rotterdamse Rekenkamer, they talked about the complex relation between various stakeholders involved with urban- and real estate development using the example of the Laurenskwartier, which also functioned as the workshop case study. For the workshop, the students were divided into three groups, each with a specific location within the Laurenskwartier, on which a planned project has been put on hold or cancelled. The students were asked to make a visual analysis of the involved stakeholders; who were the investors? which parties would have benefit from the projects? and what type of interests are their for the current users of the area?
Following this analysis the students had to come up with a strategy and a spatial intervention to get this project on the road again. This could be a temporary development, waiting for the real project to happen, but also a radical change in the initial plans. At the end of the day, the students presented their work to members of the Rekenkamer, and the project leader urban development Laurenskwartier from the Rotterdam municipality.