independent school for the city

The Polder of Babel 2024

A Community of Learning, specifically developed for employees of the Municipality of Rotterdam (departments SO, MO and Urban Management) taking place on 18 January, 27 February 2024, 21 March 2024 and 11 April 2024.

The Polder of Babel is a community of learning of the Independent School for the City that focuses on the development of cities in relation to today's major social issues. It is a place where policy makers, designers and researchers from different backgrounds come together for inspiration, reflection and the development of new ideas that move Dutch cities forward. As always, the Independent School for the City uses Rotterdam as its research area, but its themes, issues and insights are relevant to many other places in the Netherlands. After a successful first course in the summer of 2021, a second series of meetings is now being organised in 2024 in collaboration with the Municipality of Rotterdam and the New Institute.

The Polder of Babel

The Netherlands has an international reputation for inventing and developing new landscapes and urban areas. This development has always been based on a collective sense of urgency and pragmatism in the face of the harshest conditions. Even today, the tasks are great. Climate adaptation, the housing shortage, social inequality or the transition to sustainable energy are just a few of the issues facing our cities. Rotterdam is no exception. Like many cities in the world, the city is struggling to find a new balance in "living together" between people and with nature. On the one hand, Rotterdam is proud to have become the most diverse city in the Netherlands with a fantastic bazaar of languages, cultures and identities, but it also has to deal with great differences in income, living situation and development opportunities between the different groups in the city. At the same time, it wants to be a green and resilient city, while still heavily dependent on its fossil industry and economy.


Following the central themes of the Independent School, this edition of the Polder of Babel will build on the theme of Post Growth. Together with participants, we will explore ways for urban development that is not (solely) focused or driven by economic growth, but that takes into account a better balance between people, animals and nature. A model that focuses on a livable and equitable environment, on sustainable use of food, water, energy and materials, and on meaningful work for as many people as possible. Consider, for example, meeting enough affordable housing, curbing unnecessary consumption, or the use of bio-based building materials. How might a post-growth economy affect the way we plan and develop our cities and towns? What will it take for radical change? And what models and inspiring case studies already exist as alternatives to the current growth-oriented model? We use Rotterdam as a case

What are we going to do?

Within this Community of Learning, theory and practice are linked, with the common goal of bridging the tactical gap between ambitions in policy on the one hand and the complex reality of projects in daily practice on the other. In doing so, a good mix of participants from different departments (SO, MO and Urban Management) of the municipality provides interesting new insights and perspectives, new cross-overs and further substantive deepening on daily work. Through several inspiring and active meetings with lectures, discussions and assignments, a concerted effort is made to develop strategies and mindsets to close this gap. The insights gained will then be presented and discussed with invited guests during a wrap-up event

Register here

Interested persons can apply by means of a short motivation (maximum 2xA4) containing a description of your professional background in relation to the theme and the reason why you would like to participate in this program. Based on this motivation, the Independent School will eventually select a maximum of 20 participants for the course. The goal is to compose a good mix of participants, consisting of Rotterdam civil servants from different departments (SO, MO and Stadsbeheer) possibly supplemented with participants from other (neighbourhood) municipalities. You can register until 1 November 2023 by sending an email to

Preliminary programme

Thursday 18 January 2024,
10:00 – 10:45 Welcome and introduction
10:45 – 12:00 Presentation of project by participants
12:00 – 12:30 Conversation
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break
13:30 – 14:00 Lecture and assignment
14:00–17:00 Field research

Thursday 27 February 2024
10:00 – 11:00 Discuss first findings
11:00 – 11:30 Introduction of case
11:30 – 12:30 Work in groups
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break
13:30 – 16:00 Work in groups
16:00–17:00 Conversation

Thursday 21 March 2024
10:00 – 12:30 Conversation
12:30 – 13:30 Lunchpauze
13:30 – 14:30 Lecture
16:00–17:00 Work in Groups on Rotterdam as a Post-Growth City

Thursday 11 April 2024
15:00–17:00 Presentations of final outcome