Diary entry by Zoraima Hupkes: “Complaint Session” at Buurtcentrum Kanaleneiland Dock March 2024

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“Complaint Session” at Buurtcentrum Kanaleneiland Dock  -maart2024.png

When we first join the table with around twelve, mostly elderly residents, we’re offered coffee and stroopwafels immediately, waiting patiently for the group to be complete. When all the scoot mobiles were parked next to the table we could start.

When we introduced ourselves as being part of the Gemeente and talking about the new developments in Merwede, it caused a complete panic in the room, a good learning experience for us on how to NOT start these sessions. “Where were these new residents going to park? Probably here in Kanaleneiland? How many houses, also houses for elderly people?”

Monique mentioned mail from the Gemeente Utrecht about possible changes about the parking situation in Kanaleneiland and started complaining about people from outside of the neighborhood parking in front of her house, especially the big station wagons she minds a lot. Even before we started to session, we noticed a first complaint, untransparent and confusing communication from the Gemeente Utrecht.

Then the topic of the convo changed quickly to the disgusting new “alternative” and mostly vegetarian menu of the hospital which many of them have been in recently. Especially resident Jannie is very critical and warning others you will get a lot of beans, halal meat and vegetables. But everyone agrees, the food is awful but very healthy which is important because they’re old.

In the meantime, resident Maurice offers us the Zuidwester, a local newspaper which could be of interest for us and also we can advert our project in in the future.

The group is finally complete when resident Wim rides in on his scootmobiel, and Amilia introduces us and we can also finally explain that we are NOT from the Gemeente or from the Woningbouw vereniging and that we're here for the people, we want to know what they would like to see in terms of art and culture in their neighborhood and what they think should be improved. When we ask everyone what they would like to see as art in a neighborhood, resident Monique immediately says she likes flowers, green and wall paintings of flowers. She mentions these things can help to recognize streets and that a neighborhood can be famous for its color.

Resident Petra, who’s wearing these beautiful big diamond earrings that spell the word “love”, knows a Utrecht based artist who works a lot with kids and schools, we should make the kids owner of the neighborhood and create art for it. Make it beautiful together.

Resident and volunteer Dinie at Dock mentioned green is important but especially collective spaces for people to meet each other, think about people who are lonely and especially an aging community (vergrijzing).

Amilia, volunteer at Dock mentions in Kanaleneiland they don’t have enough benches. For people to rest. Now many residents agree out loud. When they go to the store the walk is sometimes too far and we need to rest. Somebody mentions the nice illustrated electrical kastjes and others mention mosaique tiles or maybe even set out a route in mosaiced tiles. Another resident mentions the arrows for joggers which she likes, adding there should be more spaces for physical exercise in the neighborhood. Then resident Joop says there is a church he always goes to that organizes afternoons for elderly people where youngsters act as hosts and the local Albert heijn provides coffee and snacks that are past their date. This starts a long conversation between residents about the manager of the Albert Heijn in Kanaleneiland who is unfortunately not so nice and generous.

Maurice says that he thinks it’s important when we have art in public space that it should refer to local history, especially in an area like Merwede. We should do something with the Mobach ceramics factory and the function of the canal and reference to its old functions.

Jannie says again that for her it’s important that kids are involved, kids are the future. Also some nice “terrasjes” and horeca would be nice. Not the big chains but small coffeeplaces or something. Somebody else agrees and says picknick tables in the play gardens could be nice.

Then somebody mentions the need for more “public bathrooms” and unleashes a fiery

discussion amongst the residents and they start advising each other where to go and not to go to the bathroom. Apparently the public bathroom in the winkelcentrum is disgusting and broken, it’s not even accessible since the elevator and electric stairs are broken. Petra advises everyone to go to the bathroom in the Maroccan Fishshop, it is great, you can always walk in and use it. Cityplaza has really nice bathrooms too. Finally, Amilia mentions the bathrooms in the Spoorwegmuseum as an inspiration for us since she notices an opportunity to combine toilets and art.

One resident mentions very quietly, something that struck us both as really crucial! She says that they need practical stuff in the neighborhood first and then we can think about art.

The conversation comes to an end talking about Hof van Transwijk where they have some benches at the water, but only two and they’re always occupied. They want to enjoy the sun and nature more so it should be more inviting. So benches!

We ask the group if we would implement all these wishes, would they come to Merwede? A collective yes followed. Jannie says, especially if the kids are making something I will go there for a nice walk more often. The group also agrees that art can mean a lot to a neighborhood, it changes it and makes it more attractive.

Petra is worried that we’re not getting input from all the surrounding areas and we should go to the Buurtcentrum near the Rijnlaan. We explained this was our first session but we will definitely go to as many as possible.

We walk to the pharmacy together with Monique who keeps mentioning how she appreciated this meeting…we were just as excited as her.