I was pleased that Jan van Zanen, mayor of Utrecht, was able to take time from his busy work schedule to speak to us at Utrecht Central.
Jan van Zanen was born in 1961, and spent his childhood in the city of Edam-Volendam. After Grammar School (classical teaching Gymnasium), he completed his law studies at the VU University Amsterdam and at Cornell University Law School in Ithaca, New York, USA. He did his military service as an officer in the Dutch Royal Air Force, and subsequently filled the position of legal and executive secretary for a National Employer’s Association. Between 1990 and 1998 he was a member of the Municipal Council of Utrecht, and in the period 1998-2005 was an Alderman, on behalf of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). After that he became mayor. Since June 3rd 2015 Jan van Zanen has been the national chairman of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG).
How long have you been Mayor?
I have been a mayor since july 2005. First in the city of Amstelveen.
In January 2014 I became the 330th mayor of Utrecht.
Is this something that you always wanted?
Becoming a mayor is not something I always wanted. I grew up in Edam-Volendam, where my grandfather had a business in the wholesale of cheese. I come from a family of entrepreneurs.
However serving the public cause was always my ambition.
As a little boy at a school party we played a game, where everybody had to draw a piece of paper out of a hat. On the pieces of paper there were all kinds of professions written. You can already guess – on my piece of paper the word mayor was written. Nobody was surprised.
How did you get this post?
At the time I was a mayor of the city of Amstelveen. When I read about the vacancy for Utrecht, the city where I worked and lived before, I applied and was appointed. In the Netherlands a mayor is appointed by the national government. The municipal council and King’s Commissioner express their preferences to the Minister of the Interior. Formally the King appoints.
What talents do you bring to the post?
It’s very important to be able to connect in all senses of the word. Connecting people, companies and initiatives on all kinds of levels. Also being able to represent the city as an ambassador on national and international level. That is one of the aspects of the job that I embrace the most.
As Mayor can you make a difference in Utrecht?
I can contribute to our local governance and I enjoy doing that. Of course there are difficult moments, but I get a lot in return. Being a mayor also means having the guts to take decisions, even when not everyone agrees.
What are you most pleased with during your term so far?
In general I am pleased when Utrecht and it’s people are doing well. Especially when no one is left behind. The fact that our economy is booming, also means that jobs are created and more people find their way to our city. On the other hand more people also means something for the way we live together now and in the future.
Are you happy with the number of foreign workers/students who come to Utrecht?
The fact that Utrecht has so many international workers and students shows that Utrecht is an attractive place to live, work and study. We also need them, because there are sectors and companies with a lack of skilled workers. So I am pleased that so many of them find their ways to our city.
What do they add to the city?
They create new opportunities and have innovative solutions from their personal backgrounds and experiences. Some of them have seen other parts of the world. It’s an honor that they choose Utrecht to settle in. They bring enthusiasm, and new flavours to our city and region, in terms of diversity,and they give new perspectives and a fresh eye on our city. This also helps us to keep an open mind.
Did you know that Utrecht is home to 166 different nationalities?
We all work hard to make Utrecht a home for everyone. And let’s not forget that our companies need them: they bring skills and knowledge in sectors where there’s a shortage of skilled workers.
What brought you to Utrecht?
I’m from Edam-Volendam, I’ve lived and worked in Utrecht longer than anywhere else, both my children were born in Utrecht. During my period as an alderman of Utrecht I was responsible for economic affairs, tourism, but also the public spaces and the men and women who make sure that our city is clean. All subjects that you have to experience if you want to be responsible for them. I really got to know the city and it’s people very well.
Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?
There are quite a few beautiful places in Utrecht. Of course the Dom Tower is one of the most significant landmarks for our city. When you arrive in Utrecht and you see the tower, it gives the feeling of being at home. The streets behind the Dom Tower “achter de Dom” have something special about them, especially when traveling by bike. Also the Watertoren in Rotsoord is one of the places I like to visit. I used to live in it’s neighbourhood. It’s very nice and peaceful to walk along the water but also to see the view from above.
What inspires you about Utrecht?
The region of Utrecht is developing quickly. Utrecht is one of the fastest growing cities in the Netherlands. The location right in the centre, the very heart, of our country makes it easily accessible to everyone.
Our city has a lot to offer, on one hand you have the medieval parts of the city.
On the other hand the city has developed a lot of modern areas, for example around Central Station with the WTC building, the fully renewed shopping centre Hoog Catharijne and the world’s biggest bike parking garage. Utrecht is known for its monuments. Walking through the city along the canals you can almost breath our history. Everything is within walking, and or biking distance.