Wandering the Wadden region: Groningen has it all

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In this edition of ”Alumni at work”: Martinus Spoelstra at Kadaster!

By Martinus Spoelstra

Before I explain to you how I ended up where I am now, I’d like to thank the editorial team for asking me to write this article. As a former Girugten-editor it’s an honour to contribute to this first-year edition.

My years of trying to finish my bachelor in “Technische Planologie” (now Spatial Planning and Design) and my master in Environmental and Infrastructure Planning lasted a bit longer than planned. Therefore I had some time to spend on some wonderful side-activities: events and trips with Faculty Association Ibn Battuta, publishing the Almanak 2008-2009 “Grensverleggend” and writing articles for Girugten. Top of the bill was the experience I gained with the European Geography Association (EGEA). EGEA is a real must for geography and urban planning students who like to push their boundaries to the international level. For new students I highly recommend joining the EGEA-Groningen entity.

Editorial note: European Geography Association (EGEA) is the association for geography students all over Europe. As a member of Ibn Battuta, you are automatically a member of EGEA as well. Therefore, you can sign up for activities such as congresses, exchanges, group travels and all sorts of activities organized by the entities of each city that is involved. The EGEA Groningen entity organizes activities such as the yearly barbeque with exchange students and other Ibn’ers in September, and the occasional exchange where they host and visit students from another city. Within Ibn Battuta, the EGEA entity is treated as a committee instead of a board like in other cities. 

It was in the autumn of 2012 when I left the Faculty of Spatial Sciences successfully and satisfied. I’d just completed my Master’s Thesis about coastal zone management and started to apply for a job. Not long after that I began an internship at Procap. Together with my fellow fresh FRW-alumnus Jeroen Bakker we looked into how the Dutch Wadden Islands could achieve their ambitious aims to be self-sufficient on sustainable energy in the near future. Partly, this topic got my interest because I grew up on the island of Ameland, where most of my relatives still live. The 3.500 inhabitants of this 59 km² sandbank are generally quite proud of their island identity and every now and then try to distance themselves from mainland influences. Despite the fact that I left the island more than ten years ago, I still feel very much like an “Amelander”.

The internship was a good career start-up, but not a long-term option. So, in the meantime I was applying for jobs in the northwest of Germany. Unlike the North of the Netherlands, Germany had more job offers in urban planning at the time. Besides this, it was my girlfriend’s place of origin, which made the decision for this region a bit easier as well. I got appointed as an urban planner for the engineering firm Dr. Born – Dr. Ermel GmbH in the small town of Aurich, region Ostfriesland (‘Eastern Friesland’). Yes, in Germany there are areas called Friesland as well as it all once belonged to the ancient Frisian Kingdom. The people in Ostfriesland, however, nowadays speak a different language than the Dutch Frisians. The Easternfrisian dialect, Ostfriesisches Platt, sounds like a mix of Dutch, German, Groninger dialect and even a touch of Amelander dialect I’ve noticed. In hearing the Ostfriesisches Platt, it’s funny to find out how many similarities the Wadden region dialects have.

As an urban planner, I developed land use plans for several municipalities in Ostfriesland. Aside from the German Building Code, which was a bit of a challenge at the beginning, the German planning process is quite similar to the Dutch one. However, the planning approach in the Eastern Frisian rural area didn’t much look like smart growth or compact planning, but was basically nothing less than the urban development of ‘greenfield’ farmland. Still, the complexity of the plans arose through strict water management regulations, protected landscape elements and all restrictions linked to the heaps of wind energy plants in Ostfriesland.

Besides working on these projects, I also learned the ins and outs of land surveying. This often took me outside the office building for measuring ditches, ground surfaces, sewage covers, hedgerows, pavements, water retention basins, and even sewage treatment plants. I remember well doing land surveys in the scorching heat at the Lüneburger Heide, as well as in the pouring rain on the island of Borkum. Here I found the perfect combination of both desk- and fieldwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Land surveying for a water extension in a natural area. 

After some years my girlfriend and I began to feel the limitations of living in a small town surrounded by rural areas. That’s why we decided to settle down in lively Groningen. I started working for the Cadastre, land registry and mapping agency (in Dutch: Kadaster) at the spatial planning department  (in Dutch: Ruimte & Advies). The agency collects and registers administrative and spatial data on property and the rights involved. This also goes for ships, aircraft and telecom networks. Doing so, Kadaster protects legal certainty. We are also responsible for national mapping, e.g. topographic maps, and maintenance of the national reference coordinate system and parts of the national spatial data infrastructures. For decades, Kadaster has been sharing knowledge on land administration and geo-information with other countries.

Kadaster office in Groningen.

Traditionally, Ruimte & Advies used to support the national and regional government with land consolidation and reallotment. The exchange of land rights among land owners aims to deliver a sustainable development of rural areas by reducing land fragmentation in agriculture, expanding and connecting nature areas and to allocate land for water retention or new infrastructure among others. More recently, Ruimte & Advies has been working on land readjustment as a tool to improve liveability in urban areas, like shopping streets and business parks. Again, a participatory approach and the exchange of property rights constitute these spatial planning processes. For the agricultural water management programme (Deltaplan Agrarisch Waterbeheer) we work together with other government agencies, such as water boards, and the Dutch farmers’ association (LTO), to improve soil condition, water quality and water supply in rural areas. Our role herein is to facilitate the application for subsidy for projects under the agricultural water management programme. After some months contributing to these projects, I gained a lot of knowledge about agriculture, land administration, and land and water management in practice.

After years of being islander, studying in Groningen, visiting many places with EGEA, exploring the idyllic Ostfriesland, I’m now back in beautiful Groningen. “Home is where the heart is” doesn’t always have to be true. With Ameland still in my heart, Groningen feels like coming home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martinus Spoelstra

This article was first published in the First year edition (Year 49 of Girugten – issue 01 -september 2018).

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