Doing research while walking in the countryside

News - 05 December 2022 - Communication BK

Like many, Professor Zef Hemel discovered the pleasure and usefulness of walking during the corona period. "By walking, you reconnect with your natural surroundings, it does something to your body and mind," he reports in the Leeuwarder Courant. In recent weeks, he has explored the countryside of Groningen while hiking.

As holder of the Bonnema Chair at TU Delft and the University of Groningen, urban planner Zef Hemel studies the potential of regional cities and surrounding landscapes. His field of research is the role of the countryside and specifically in the North of the Netherlands with a focus on Friesland and Groningen.

His way of doing research is not commonplace: he goes through his research area while walking. On his autumn (trial) walks, he invited journalists to join him for short walks. On the walks planned for the spring, students and interesting people from the North are also asked to join him. In particular, the goal of the hikes is to find "stories" about the North. Not the standard issues like economic growth. But about the significance of the countryside and landscape on health and connection. And how history can help us live healthier lives.

Healthy in the countryside of the future

During a hike in October, he walked with Daan Bultje, the director of the Healthy Ageing Network North Netherlands. Els van der Laan, landscape architect and curator of the Landscape Triennial, the landscape festival that will take place next spring in the village of Blija under the Wadden coast, also walked along for a while.

Hemel was also one of the speakers at the Health Festival in Leeuwarden, an initiative of the Health Impact Noord program that seeks to accelerate the transition from care to health. "Creating a landscape that makes us healthier again is what Hemel wants to work on," he said. ''And I think the North can be a forerunner in that.'' he states in the Leeuwarder Courant.

Asked by the NRC journalist what is actually scientific about walking, Zef replies, ''The greatest scientists have walked. Goethe said: by walking, one only experiences. Otherwise you do not be in the area. The chair is about the Northern Netherlands. I know of nothing more scientific than walking through an area."

Bonnema lecture

Zef Hemel delivered the Bonnema Lecture on Saturday afternoon, December 10, at the Rijksmuseum with the inspiring title "The Healthy Landscape of the North - Five Years of Walking. The full spoken Abe Bonnema Lecture can be listened to via this link. In the spring, Zef Hemel will continue his walks; then the entire wadden coast is on the program.

More information

Zef Hemel holds the Abe Bonnema Chair, an initiative of the ir Abe Bonnema Foundation, which administers the estate of Frisian architect Abe Bonnema (1926-2001). The aim of the Foundation is to spread and increase understanding and knowledge of contemporary (architectural) art and to support cultural-social projects.

Zef Hemel is professor in the department of Urbanism. View his professor page here.

Read here the articles of NRC and Leeuwarder Courant (Dutch only).