Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Jos Kenter

04.11.2021, Regina Schröter

Jos Kenter is an urban designer, illustrator and researcher based in Rotterdam. He studied his Bachelor's and Master’s in Urbanism at TU Delft, and graduated with a thesis about autonomous vehicles and what their arrival to cities might mean for urban planning. Jos is working on the development of future scenarios for Dutch cities and regions as Junior Urban Designer and Researcher at RUIMTEVOLK. # PURSUING URBANISM FROM THE VERY BEGINNING At TU Delft, after obtaining a [Bachelor’s degree in Architecture, Urbanism and Building Science](, you can specialize with a Master’s degree in one of the four tracks: Architecture, Urbanism, Management in the Build Environment, or Landscape Architecture. I still remember vividly a moment during the first year of the Bachelor’s, where the students were asked who among us was planning to become an architect – about 90 percent raised their hands. After three years of study though, only half of them stuck with this plan, whilst urbanism and the other tracks had gained in popularity. For me it was a little different. I knew from the very beginning that I was going to choose urbanism – a decision partly influenced by my father, who had also studied at TU Delft and made me aware of this profession. # THE DUTCH APPROACH TO URBANISM TU Delft has been known for its urbanism department for decades. It is housed in a beautifully renovated building where architects, planners and designers share large studio spaces and workshops. I don’t think I have encountered any other faculty that managed to create a creative space that felt so homely. In one of those studios, I was taught the Dutch approach to urban design and planning, called “stedebouw”, which means that the two disciplines are fully integrated. For my study abroad semester in Melbourne, I had to choose between urban design and urban planning. It was at that moment that I realized the Dutch approach of blending the two aspects of the profession was quite unique, and that “urbanism” is a less established profession in other countries. The projects I saw being developed during my stay in the city of Melbourne reinforced that assumption: the “most liveable city in the world” was becoming a whole lot less liveable with tons of high-rise developments which seem to primarily benefit the real estate developers rather than the citizens themselves. {{Pic1: Photo by Maarten Jellema}} # BUILDING SCENARIOS TO IMAGINE FUTURE CITIES My thesis for the Master’s degree in Urbanism was about the future of mobility in relation to urban development. Students are left free to choose and build their own research methods, and my tutor and I came up with the idea of utilizing a certain type of scenario building, “socio-technical scenarios”, meaning creating different scenarios about sociological and technological development in order to imagine multiple future outcomes and their potential impact. In my research, I focused on the years leading up to the arrival of autonomous vehicles, a process called the “formative phase”. Back when the first cars arrived in cities, there was a similar phase of around 15 years in which seemingly small decisions determined the future that we see today. New regulations, such as jaywalking, took pedestrians off the roads making room for the car to take over the cities’ streets. A century later, we are still driving petroleum-powered cars and our cities and lifestyles are built around this technology. We are now in a similar situation with autonomous driving: which decisions can we take to not get locked again into an unpreferable future? {{Pic2: Image by Jos Kenter}} Taking different societal worldviews as starting points, I imagined four scenarios in which new lifestyles, technologies and urban planning paradigms intertwined. I illustrated these scenarios with maps and drawings of future cities and wrote stories describing them. I then developed policies these societies would use to introduce and manage new technologies. By evaluating these policies and their outcomes I then extracted so-called “no-regret measures”: policies and interventions that we should put in place – despite all uncertainties and differences in worldviews – because they are essential for a preferable future. # HOW TO GET A JOB WITHOUT INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE I did not do any internship during my studies, yet I still got a job after graduation. After finishing my thesis I researched firms that used scenario-based approaches in their work, similarly to what I did in my project. It turned out several companies use this methodology to help their clients deal with uncertainties and decision-making. My skills developed in my study projects and thesis happened to match exactly what they needed. # BUILDING A PERSONAL NARRATIVE THROUGH A PORTFOLIO I applied with my CV and [my portfolio](, which I used not just to show off final products but rather to explain the process behind them. What was most important for me was to find a narrative about who I was as a designer and to show my way of working. To make sure I wasn’t going to waste too much time fine-tuning the portfolio, a pitfall many designers can recognize, I limited myself to a maximum of 10 to 15 pages, which really helped in making decisions. Building a clear narrative about yourself through your portfolio, CV, and motivation letter should give you a lot of confidence. It is fully up to you to decide what you are telling - it is your story! Showcasing myself as a combination of an urbanist, illustrator and researcher, helped me create a unique profile about which I felt confident. This also helped me to pitch myself in the interviews – you know the most about the combination of things you are! {{Pic3: Photo by Maarten Jellema}} # LIVING IN THE CITY, WORKING FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE After studying in Delft it was clear to me that I wanted to move to Rotterdam and find a job there in one of the many architecture and urbanism offices. In the end I took an offer from an office based in Utrecht. But as we are working mostly from home and the commute is short, I was able to stay in Rotterdam. It’s a fascinating city for an urbanist: the open vistas, the combination of old and new architecture, and the creative initiatives in the former harbour area make the city unique. I currently work as Junior Urban Designer and Researcher at [RUIMTEVOLK](, a creative agency for urban and regional development. The team is rather small and formed by people with a wide variety of backgrounds from urban design to planning and even philosophy. Here, I get the freedom to be creative and apply my knowledge about scenario making in practice. For example, we help Dutch provinces to set a course for future urban development through applying story-driven scenarios or we make use of scenarios to figure out what could make our inner-cities future-proof. # GOING BACK TO THINKING BIG The scenario-building we do at the office is often a collaborative process of writing stories and making maps based on the input of residents, experts and the provincial government and/ or municipalities. After discussing each scenario and picking the most desirable one, which can also be a combination of two, we can then hold that up against their current situation and help them to figure out what policies are needed to turn the scenarios into reality. Back in the 60s and 70s, Dutch urban planning was known for providing a strong top-down vision of the future and carrying out this idea of “maakbaarheid” – that we could redesign our country and create a better society through urban planning. We should not aim to return to this kind of rigid master planning, but I do feel like we have lost the art of thinking big and imaginatively and consequently the ability to connect people with a shared vision and story. As an urban designer I can play a role in shaping those visions and bringing back a bit of long-term thinking. {{Pic4: Photo by RUIMTEVOLK}} # COUNTERBALANCING TECH COMPANIES’ VISIONS I once attended a lecture by Evgeny Morozov, a big critic of tech giants who talks about the dangers of these monopolies and their desire to expand into many different fields – including urbanism. In that lecture he heavily criticized the (now cancelled) [Sidewalk Labs Toronto project]( The project presented beautiful illustrations of a future city filled with smart technologies, supposedly fixing many of the problems contemporary cities have. But Morozov gave an understanding of what was actually happening: a powerful tech company was trying to form its own prototype-city to test and sell its technologies in order to then export this complete “urbanism of the 21st-century package” worldwide. I fully agreed with Morozov’s take, but I also understood what made such projects so appealing. Promoted by private companies, these projects play into our desire for a utopian vision of the future city. Today’s private corporations are doing what our Dutch government was so good at fifty years ago: providing the people with a connecting narrative of where we want to go as a society. Though in the corporations’ visions, it usually revolves around their own technologies and benefits. Therefore, the important question for me is: how can I use my profession to counterbalance such tech-giant visions and help democratic stories to take shape?