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Our alumni have their say. In this column our alumni talk about their time spent studying in Nijmegen, and briefly reflect on the theme of this edition of NSM magazine.
“The first time I came to the university, I had to climb in through the window because students were apparently occupying the building." For the 17-year-old Kaiser, moving from the mining region of Limburg to Nijmegen represented a major transition: "Because I was driven by Catholic ideals and not by the Marxism that was the favoured ideology at the time."
Solutions for urban problems often come from the ground up
Kaiser looks back on those times with mixed feelings. "I learned a lot, but I found the political climate difficult to deal with." As a Christian Democrat (CDA) he had a reputation amongst his fellow students as a right-winger, whereas within his own party, he was actually part of the left wing. To counteract this, he was a member of the student social organization Olivier where politics played no role. "The smart jackets of medicine and law rubbed shoulders with the denim jackets of science and mathematics."
Constantly having to swim against the tide was difficult for Kaiser, "But I didn't give in. Professor Hans van den Doel, who supervised my graduation, told my parents, 'Now your son has survived this period, he is prepared for any political position.' "
Kaiser's career progressed swiftly at the former Ministry of Culture, Recreation and Social Work (CRM). When the position of mayor of Margraten - "the most beautiful part of the Netherlands" (in the hilly southern province of Limburg - ed.) - became vacant, he successfully applied for the post. At 31, Kaiser became the country's youngest mayor. After positions in Roermond and Doetinchem, and a side-step into consultancy, he has been wielding the sceptre in Arnhem since 2013.
Cities are something close to Kaiser's heart. That is why he became a member of the board of the Dutch G32 city network. "The city's effects reach further than the city limits. For example Arnhem carries a responsibility for people in the entire region. Our facilities have to be accessible for them too. Our way of thinking has to include solidarity and subsidy: not just for the benefit of our own city, but also for that of the surrounding region."
Like Doetinchem, keeping the city centre of Arnhem alive is a 'top priority'. "All technological, cultural and international changes come together in the city. You can go into mourning and complain about shops disappearing, or you can grasp the new opportunities with both hands."
Examples of this can be seen in the newly-reopened station and at the Rozet, the new cultural centre. "Projects like these can be infectious: new movement is created, entrepreneurs join in. The city stimulates the process, but in the long term, the market does the work itself." This is why Kaiser is optimistic about the future of the city. "We’re at the beginning of a new momentum. It's essential that we work hard, communicate clearly and take care of the pennies."
New knowledge Arnhem is working together closely with the city of Nijmegen as well as with researchers such as those from the Nijmegen School of Management. Kaiser isn't expecting any tailor-made solutions for urban problems. "These solutions often come from the ground up. The art is to refine all the snippets of information into real new knowledge. It's a challenge for the region's universities and universities of applied sciences to develop this knowledge further, in collaboration with local government and business."/MvZ