After a 15 minute train ride, City Makers from all over Europe -Budapest, Arlon, Lviv, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Haarlem, Almere, Brussels, Ljubljana, Sofia, Talinn, Vilnius, Lisbon- stepped off the train and onto the platform of Zaanstad to learn about how this municipality looked to their past in order to create a prosperous future.

Upon stepping out of the station, the City Makers playfully erupted seeing this iconic hotel in real life. After being warmly welcomed into City Hall, Hans Bosma gave a brief introduction, highlighting the importance of water and how this has shaped the city that is situated 1.5 meters below sea level. Alderman Rita Visscher-Noordzij addressed the importance of active citizenship in tackling complex challenges.

The mastermind behind the transformation of Zaanstad, Sjoerd Soeters, then took us back in time, where he found a uniquely Zaanstad style -small, ornate green wooden houses next to water- that has driven the transformation and is building the future of the municipality. Armed with his vision rooted in traditional architecture, Soeters wielded his story of a vibrant future for the city and gained the necessary support and momentum to carry out his plan.

Sjoerd Soeters walks on water in front of his realised visions of a new Zaanstad with historical ties.

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After Soeters guided us along what are now vibrant streets, full of life and people, we arrived at FietsenPakhuis where we discussed issues of mobility and the importance of stimulating the use of the bicycle. Thinking about the connection between mobility and the new pedestrian city centre and mobility is central to the overall success of the project.

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City Makers gladly dug into a delicious Syrian meal at the Noorderkerk prepared by a Syrian refugee who lives in the nearby camp and participates in many of the events held at the church. Noorderkerk, which does not place a religious stamp on the activities for refugees is instead a safe haven for those who have been forced to flee their home country and offers them the opportunity to connect with the local community comprised of over 500 volunteers. This place provided a great opportunity to discuss how City Makers can help refugees in their cities across Europe.

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The last stop on the expedition was the Juliana building, a former school that has been turned into a shared office space. Here, City Makers were inspired to transform, old, abandoned building into new, vibrant spaces. Before heading home with new found knowledge and inspiration, everyone shared their experiences over dinner at de Fabriek.

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Here are some tweets that captured the thoughts of the City Makers during the expedition.

You can read a detailed report about the expedition by City Maker Sarah Vermoolen here.

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