Rik Thijs, Vice Mayor, Eindhoven, handles the energy, sustainability, public spaces and climate change portfolios. This June, Thijs completed his first year in office. Born in Eindhoven and raised in Nuenen, Thijs is passionate about green spaces and building a sustainable ecosystem as is his party Groen Links (Green Left).
Eindhoven News finds out more about his achievements and experiences. Thijs is qualified in architecture and has a bachelors from Tilburg University and masters from TU/Delft. After graduating, Rik returned to Eindhoven and around that time began his involvement in politics. He has been a councillor since 2014 and before that worked as a strategic advisor at the municipality of Valkenswaard. I ask him “how much do you like Eindhoven”, and I get a surprisingly fresh and genuine answer. “I had my first beer in Eindhoven” recollects Thijs.
Architecture and cooking
The 34-year alderman, who now lives in Woensel west with his partner, loves to cook in his free time. Thijs has a fetish about sketching his recipes in a book and without fail gives his twist to classic dishes. Moreover, Rik carefully chooses the crockery and cutlery to go with the recipe or meal and loves entertaining at home.” It’s my way of combining architecture and cooking; I guess” quips Rik.
Working towards the Paris Climate Agreement
Rik declares that executing the needs and means to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement is a top priority for him. Probable legislative actions this autumn could help the process of converting to sustainable measures expects Rik.
Green sustainable roofs and solar panelled roofs are high on the list. The vice mayor points out that the neighbourhoods that are going to turn gas-free in the next few years are already marked so that citizens can have a better perspective when they make a decision. It is noteworthy that the numerous subsidy schemes help enable the transition. The municipality has subsidy grants even if you decide to remove the tiles in your garden and replace them with a greener alternative.
Gas free by 2050
The biggest challenge in the coming years will be in the energy transition. “The Netherlands, as well as Eindhoven, needs to get off the gas, and that concerns all Eindhoven residents. Though we have thirty years to achieve becoming gas-free, it is best to lay the foundation today and set the ideal conditions so that we can scale up incrementally. We have to move towards a sustainable alternative though gas remains a cheaper option until now. How the markets will behave to adapting to the new expectations would be clear in the next five years or so and also depends on the national initiatives” says Thijs.
“Focussing on a greener environment is paramount because we have to make our city more climate-adaptive. Notably, during last summer, Eindhoven was the hottest city in the Netherlands. No doubt we have to preserve our three big wooded parks, namely Het Groene Woud, Rijk van Dommel, De Aa and De Groote Heide. The Genneper Parken is part of the Rijk van Dommel en Aa. But most importantly, I want to focus on the inner city to make it a lot greener” emphasises Thijs.
The Medina complex, Glasplein project (in front of Witte Dame), the restoration of Strabrechtse Heide (Heathland area near Heeze) and the islands on the Eindhoven canal, part of Picuskade project are examples of the recent city projects on this front. Rik’s department chooses to plant a hundred indigenous trees within the city ring. They are also ambitious in connecting the three big parks in the city centre.
Neighbours can collectively adopt a street to plant trees or make a hedge etc. The municipality provides the necessary raw materials, e.g. seeds, plants etc. The residents of Kleine Berg have successfully adopted a street.
Air quality in Eindhoven
The city has upgraded its air quality grading system, AiREAS that measures not only air pollution but also sound pollution. Rik Thijs insists “the measurements only make the issues visible but the essential aspect is taking action”. The measurements have influenced working towards reducing the pollution levels within the city ring and also abiding by the Paris agreement.
Measures to decrease traffic pollution within the Eindhoven inner-city.
The city has recently announced that older cars would be barred within in the city centre in phases starting from 2025 and by 2030 only zero-emission vehicles would be allowed within the city ring. However, older commercial vehicles would be denied entry within the city ring from 2021.
The Vice Mayor encourages people to take the ring road to get from south to north of Eindhoven. He also adds that “conditions would be in place to facilitate smooth traffic flow on the ring road”. He hopes to woo residents to use the bike within the city centre by increasing the number of park & ride facilities, introducing some combination offers for both parking and public transport. The Vice Mayor confides “Groen links has proposed a Brainport light rail between Helmond and Eindhoven. The project is waiting for a go-ahead on the national agenda”.
Thijs on tour
Thijs on tour is an initiative to showcase to the residents about the city’s efforts on sustainability. “Being an alderman is not just about sitting in the conference rooms but also about going out there and interacting with citizens” affirms the Groen Links councillor. Thijs specially mentions his visit to the urban farm in Tongelre. He also enthusiastically shares his experience about planting trees with school children. Rik indicates that his tour programme is also an opportunity for people to invite him to their initiatives.
Effect of the pandemic on sustainability goals
When asked whether priorities would change because of the pandemic, Rik emphasises that “all the more it is crucial to reconsider sustainability goals as the number one priority. The pandemic has positively influenced people; many have learnt to appreciate their neighbourhood and region much more than before the Corona period.”
Our conversation moved from informative to opinionated aspects, so here are the excerpts from the korero.
“So, in essence, I would paint the city green if I had a magic wand” – Thijs.
Q: If you do not have political hindrances and at the same time are supported with bottomless finances, what would you do for the city? (Rik’s face lights up as his mind minces possibilities)
“Every inch of the roofs in the city would be fit with solar panels. And if the roof can’t support a solar panel, it will be turned to a live green roof. I have a utopia for a green city so I would make a big green city centre. Besides, I would enhance the biodiversity by adding to flora and fauna of Eindhoven. So, in essence, I would paint the city green if I had a magic wand”.
Q: Why did you decide to become a politician? Who is your role model in politics?
(Chuckles…) I actually do have an anti role model. Towards the end of my graduation, I used to work as a cleaner at DAF. I remember the day well, the day after the election results when Geert Wilders (PVV) made it considerably big in that election. That morning I was suddenly aware of my skin tone. I felt very white. Consider this; I walk into the office armed with a master’s degree amidst my non-white colleagues who have been in that job for many many years. All-day, I ended up thinking and saying that I am not one of those who voted for him (Wilders). The whole day I somehow walked around in shame.
Towards the end of that week was my birthday. At my birthday party, I got into a political debate, and then the seeds were sown. I decided to jump into the action rather than talk about it over booze. Not all Dutch feel the same way to Muslims and other outsiders as does Wilders, so I felt a compelling need to show that.
Q: What is your advice to youngsters who want to join politics?
Get active is what I would say…The future depends on them, and I am so happy that youngsters, especially school children, are so inclined towards sustainability goals and measures. So the only advice for them is to get active, [in politics] it’s fun.
Q:Does the right-wing activism now seemingly more prevalent in Europe, concern you?
On the other hand, we witness more protests for the prevention of climate change etc. In effect, I draw my energy from that. The young generation stands up for it because they want to see the change.
Thanks to Thijs, for an open and pleasant conversation that brings to our attention to the city’s sustainability path. Eindhoven News is always happy to give you insights and information about the city’s initiatives.
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