Creating interdisciplinary research in the Netherlands

Meet the students participating in the LDE Thesis Lab
students at Leiden University - Den Haag campus

Get to know the IHS students participating in the Thesis Labs organised by the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability. Elisabeth Rohde, Charles Biney and Meiraj Khan conduct their thesis on a sustainability challenge set by an external organization, a company or a governmental organization in the Netherlands. During their thesis period, they will meet professionals and academic experts, follow workshops and lectures, and join excursions related to their research to create interdisciplinary research based on their chosen topic.

Elisabeth Rohde

Photo of Elisabeth Rohde
Maarten Zeehandelaar

Elisabeth is a student in the Strategic Urban Planning & Policies Master track. Along with her coursework, she is involved in the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Thesis Lab as part of the subteam of Landscape Transformations in South Holland. Before joining IHS, she worked in the non-profit sector with a membership organization, Urban Land Institute, catering to land use professionals and engaging members with educational offerings and networking opportunities to help more effectively and ethically develop land use projects within the Washington DC region. Originally from the Chicagoland area in the US, she has lived in Washington, DC, for the past years and hopes to return to a practitioner role in the area after completing the programme.

Looking at Ommelands in South Holland

Elisabeth's thesis focuses on the planning methods used in peri-urban areas in South Holland. As urbanisation continues to change the landscape in the Netherlands, peri-urban spaces, or “Ommelands”, have emerged as a transitional classification for areas encompassing rural and urban elements. Due to population changes, existing agricultural areas, and the transitional nature of peri-urban environments, these spaces face unique urban planning challenges that require flexible solutions to develop. Her thesis explores the combined use of planning techniques, both traditional and innovative, in peri-urban areas. The main question is: In South Holland, how do characteristics of PUA planning frameworks affect suitability based on existing spatial guidelines? To unpack this question, this paper will explore the current status of peri-urban spaces in Dutch planning documents, existing planning mechanisms for peri-urban spaces, and the community's and municipality's roles in peri-urban planning. 

"I will further explore peri-urban planning in Zuidplaspolder, an area in South Holland that is in the midst of the planning process. My thesis seeks to collect data on synergies between different planning methods and to show how these tools can be tailored to peri-urban areas."

Charles Biney

portrait of Charles Biney
Maarten Zeehandelaar

Charles is an urban planner from Ghana with a passion for spatial planning, sustainable transitions, and climate change. His academic journey began with a bachelor's degree in urban planning from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, which fueled his interest in GIS applications. He then pursued a master's in Geoinformation Science at the University of Ghana. In his professional career, Charles played a key role in Ghanaian projects like the National Affordable Housing. As an Assistant Urban Planner, he assessed rehabilitated mine sites for potential human settlements, conducted detailed site analyses, facilitated stakeholder meetings, and prepared sustainable layouts.

"My deep concern for environmental sustainability and the challenges of climate change motivated me to pursue a Master's degree in Urban Management and Development. I specifically chose the Urban Environment Sustainability & Climate Change Master track to focus on developing solutions for these issues within the urban context."

Competing demands in Dordrecht

Cities are growing, placing pressure on how we use land. The increasing housing demand and the importance of preserving natural environments intensify competition for land between residential development and agriculture. Charles' research focuses on how municipalities balance housing needs with sustainable land-use practices and explores how sustainable development translates to land-use policies and plans. Using Dordrecht, a densely populated Dutch city known for its innovative spatial planning, as a case study, he looks at the competing demands for land for housing and prominent natural area preservation protected by the Natura 2000, the Biesbosch National Park. 

"I'll examine how policy approaches consider both protecting natural areas and incorporating sustainable agriculture alongside residential development. This study will highlight the trade-offs involved in allocating land for these competing needs, offering insights for policymakers seeking to reconcile urban growth with a sustainable future."

Meiraj Najm Khan

Photo of Meiraj Khan

Meiraj is an architect from Pakistan deeply interested in the socio-spatial dynamics of shared spaces within communities. For her Bachelor's at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, she extensively explored topics related to socio-spatial alienation and agency in communities. As a participant in the Strategic Urban Planning & Policies Master track at IHS, her research primarily focuses on how urban informality, peri-urban transformations, and public spaces impact community dynamics.

"I find it fascinating how, over time, cities adapt through day-to-day social processes: how members of communities collaborate, connect and coexist, as well as how they respond to changes and challenges with their diverse cultures and backgrounds."

Exploring spatial justice in Westland

With a growing migrant labour workforce and limited land availability, the socio-spatial interactions and demographics of once closely-knit ethnic Dutch farming communities are rapidly changing. According to social theorists, chance encounters and contact with diverse ethnicities increase acceptance between communities, yet we see a contrasting trend in the Westland region. This raises questions about the role of limited public spaces in peri-urban areas and how they can influence social cohesion and community attitudes as vital contact zones. Over the next few months in Naaldwijk, Westland, Meiraj will investigate the factors in public spaces that can bridge differences or create divisions and how they affect community social processes. This research is crucial in the Westland horticulture clusters, where the changing physical and socio-political landscape, combined with increasingly fragmented planning due to the proliferation of greenhouses, reportedly leads to growing animosity between ethnic Dutch and labour migrant communities.

"The lab's multidisciplinary lens has exposed me to and given me access to many spatial justice and planning issues, which I hope to integrate into my future work."

More information

IHS alumnus Luciano Lopez Santesteban researched circular building and area development through the Thesis Lab initiative last year. Learn more here.

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