Liesbeth Spies, Source: Martin Sharrot/ Municipality of Alphen aan den Rijn

Liesbeth Spies: Our ambition is to make culture accessible for everyone

Liesbeth Spies: Our ambition is to make culture accessible for everyone

Find out more about a great place to live that wants to become sustainability capital of the Green Heart

Liesbeth Spies is a member of the Christian Democratic Party. In 2014 she was deputy mayor of Stichtse Vecht. From 2011 till 2012, she was the Minister of Internal Affairs and Kingdom relations. She was member of the Provincial Executive of South Holland in 2011 and member of the House of Parliament from 2002 till 2011. Liesbeth was born in Alphen aan den Rijn and still lives here with her husband, and two daughters.

Ms Spies, how would you describe your city briefly? What is special about it and what will a visitor discover here?

Alphen aan den Rijn is a municipality with over 110.000 inhabitants, consisting of the city of Alphen aan den Rijn and seven smaller villages (Aarlanderveen, Benthuizen, Boskoop, Hazerswoude-Dorp, Hazerswoude-Rijndijk, Koudekerk aan den Rijn and Zwammerdam). We form part of a beautiful green part of The Netherlands, where you can find the characteristic landscapes with windmills, dikes, and, of course, the Dutch cows. At the same time, Alphen aan den Rijn has an excellent location with the four big cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, the airport, and the beach all within half an hour travel distance. We have many recreational, cultural and sports facilities to offer, in addition to many events and festivals, beautiful houses, employment opportunities, and great people that look out for one another. The fact that Alphen aan den Rijn was elected second happiest of The Netherlands a few years ago, is proof for me that this truly is a great place to live and visit.

Serving your birthplace and becoming its mayor is without any doubt a great honour. What main achievements since assuming the post in 2014 are you most satisfied with?

I’m most satisfied with being one of the safest municipalities with more than 100,000 persons population. Furthermore, we worked very hard in renewing the centre of Alphen aan den Rijn. With new stores, facilities and apartments. Also, we are a municipality that thinks there’s always room for improvement. We aspire to become sustainability capital of the Green Heart. Moreover, when it comes to youth services, we make our own choices, different from other municipalities. Our strategy to improve the quality of youth services for our population turned out to be a successful approach. As you can see, we dare to be different and are not scared to challenge ourselves.  

Alphen aan den Rijn is proud to be the safest municipality with more than 100,000 persons population. What is this success due to and how do you maintain it over time?

Alphen aan den Rijn is a municipality that consists of very different areas. We adjust our approach for protecting safety and security to the particular situation of every neighbourhood or village. The low unemployment rate in Alphen aan den Rijn is most likely also a factor in explaining the low crime rates in our municipality.  Furthermore, we invest a lot in prevention and we have 70 neighbourhood prevention projects. When an inhabitant of our municipality is found guilty of a serious offense, we pay attention to the family, friends and neighbourhood. These are project in which residents monitor their own neighbourhood and look out for each other.

Together with the residents and the cultural sector, the municipality has adopted a new cultural policy. Could you tell us more about Culture Vision 2019-2024, its main goals and the resources put into its realisation?

Alphen aan den Rijn is a municipality with many dedicated, proactive, and resourceful amateur artists, professionals, and organizations. With the new Culture Vision 2019-2024, we want to create more room for culture, initiative, contact, and experiment. Our ambition is to make culture accessible close to home for everyone, regardless of age or background. We want to keep improving our image of attractive municipality, where many cultural events are organized, pop music has an important place, and art is abundantly present in the public spaces. We do this by taking boundaries, such as compulsory municipal authorizations, away for organizers and artists, and by giving them access to available spaces, such as empty retail premises or monotonous walls for murals. Furthermore, we want to stimulate cooperation between cultural parties and increase the cultural network, by organizing regular networking events and by making funds available to assign an intermediary that can bring the different parties together.

Please tells us about the Children’s farms: what is their purpose and how does the municipality support them?

Our Children’s farms serve as places where people, and especially children, can come into contact with animals, and learn about nature, the environment, and sustainability. Entrance to these farms is free. The municipality supports them by providing funds and by collaborating with the administrators of the Children’s farms to design a vision for the future in which we look at ways to exploit the farms in a more efficient manner.

What other green projects and policies does the city implement in order to keep up with the increased environmental needs of cities these days?

We work together with several organisations to realize solar power plants in our municipality. Also, we work very hard to facilitate more public transport. With new housing projects, we pay attention to constructing houses that do not need gas for heating or cooking. We assist our citizens in choosing plants over paving stones for their gardens, and we help the bees by planting bee friendly flowers on the roadsides. By planting tiny forests the size of a football field, we are creating green spaces in urban areas. 

Which forthcoming innovations or initiatives from Alphen aan den Rijn would you like to share with our audience? Do you anticipate the introduction of new advanced public services soon?

The citizens of Alphen aan den Rijn are very active people. They think of many initiatives to help their environment and the people around them. For example, they organize sports or music events in collaboration with local organizations and companies, or together with their neighbours they improve their own neighbourhood. One particular example that really stands out for me, is the whole of many initiatives that is being developed in honour of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands from WWII on May 5th, 2020. Many citizens and organizations are very enthusiastic to celebrate this special date and have different ideas to commemorate our history.

Also, we are digitalising our products. In that process, we try to unburden our inhabitants in different ways and provide a better service.

As a municipality, you really want to understand your inhabitants and try to get to know their needs. For that reason, we change our workways to get closer to them. For example, we treat each area of our municipality different and we stimulate public participation.

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