Erik de Ridder: “The Tilburg of today shows it is possible”

| Sanne Leenders

According to Erik de Ridder, Tilburg is a city buzzing with energy. A city with potential, a city where people can build on themselves. A city where many young people find their way and consciously pursue this. However, according to Erik there is sometimes the danger of what he calls "The Tilburg disease of projects". What exactly does that mean and can we get rid of it with more than a dose of luck? You can read all about it in this new Unfiltered edition.
Photos: RAWCAT media 

Many people probably know Erik de Ridder as an alderman for the municipality of Tilburg with quite a few years on the clock. But Erik's story in Tilburg started much earlier, when he decided to come from Dordrecht to Tilburg to study law and public administration at Tilburg University. Erik says: "At the time I went to study, Tilburg University was regarded as the best law school in Europe. That, and the fact that my girlfriend came from Brabant, made me leave on a weekday to go south to get my bearings. From the first moment I walked around the university, I felt at home. The city took some getting used to though. It was a kind of love at second sight, because I was a bit unsure about how the city worked. For example, I literally got lost in the Dwaalgebied."

From student to alderman

And getting lost in the Dwaalgebied was not the only thing that kept Erik occupied in Tilburg. Erik had a busy student life full of study associations and drinks. For example, Erik was a co-founder of the legal faculty association Magister and he was a welcome guest at Biercafé Kadinsky and the unfortunately no longer existing café De Voortuin and café Tweekeerbellen at the old Pieter Vreedeplein. "In my student days I became more politically involved, first as a member of the poster team of the CDA campaign team. That's also how I met Hans Janssen, then a CDA alderman for economic affairs. What he could do for the city in that role appealed to me so much that the seed had been planted in my head; perhaps I would like to become an alderman myself one day.  I didn't expect that to happen at 31, by the way." Meanwhile, Erik has been an alderman in three periods in which different portfolios came along: from finance and economic affairs to health and welfare. One thing that has always remained the same is Erik's involvement in society. My parents always said that you should not sit on the sidelines and say what could be done differently, but that it is better to get involved in order to make things better. If you think about something, try to do something with it and contribute. That is something I have always done in my time as an alderman and what I also pass on to my children."

Tilburg is a city full of potential

Erik says: "Nowadays Tilburg is a city that is full of energy, but in 2010 when I became an alderman it was very different. There was a major political, administrative and financial crisis going on. We really had to work on building up the energy in the city, along with the pride and profile." As an example, Erik mentions the location where we are now: Plan-T on the Burgemeester Stekelenburgplein. A place where construction is going on and where the LocHal stands as an anchor in the development. "Besides buildings, many great companies have come to Tilburg such as Tesla, Coolblue and Van der Valk. 10 years ago no one would have expected this in Tilburg, but it is here now! I think it's great that I was able to contribute to this together with the city."

The connection is key

After 9 great years as a Tilburg alderman, Erik made the switch two years ago to Waterschap de Dommel as water commissioner. Does he miss his role here? "The work I do now is similar to what I did before as an alderman. My daughter was once asked what it is exactly that Daddy does, to which she replied that I mainly drink a lot of coffee. And she is actually right about that," jokes Erik. "It takes a lot of coffee to activate the environment and connect ambitious people and organizations. As an alderman I dedicated myself to the sustainability of our society, including closing the gap between people with and without opportunities. A task that is, of course, never-ending. As water commissioner I now work on the other major social task of our time: the sustainability of our environment. This still partly contains a Tilburgian hook, namely that the city must get more cool places." 

The Tilburg disease of projects

Erik is therefore eagerly looking forward to the development of the Stadsforum, but whether it will be at the level of quality that it needs? He sincerely hopes so. "The decision has been taken, the City Forum is coming, but it will be very expensive. We therefore run the risk of getting Tilburg's project disease. That is that something is not quite finished, as happened at the time with the Pieter Vreedeplein. There, the connection with the square and the city was not made. The new Frederikstraat, which will be connected to the Emmapassage and the new square must solve this. We must guard against an inner city that is divided into fragments, because as a visitor you don't understand the connection. That makes a city inaccessible."

For me, Tilburg is a city where things are possible

Despite the enormous jigsaw puzzle Erik told us about, he is very pleased with the way in which we, the people of Tilburg, put our shoulders to the wheel and go for it. "In the past, some projects were unfortunately not completed, but to me Tilburg is a city where things can be done and where the collective energy takes things just that one step further. We can do it! Take for example Koningsdag in 2017, when the King came to visit. The whole city was one big party and everyone contributed. That is the Tilburg of today, where things are possible and are indeed completed. Let's build on that, because you make it in Tilburg."

UNFILTERED OPINIONS OF THE PEOPLE OF TILBURG

Within this section, we give creative people from Tilburg a stage. A ticket to... the expression of their unfiltered opinion about the city. Are you curious who else has something to say about Tilburg besides Erik de Ridder? Then take a look at these interviews:

What's new?