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Crowd-made urbanism - when people make cities by Veronika Kovacsova

This time our Talking Cityzen is Veronika Kovacsova, an urban design student at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. She holds a Master degree in Social Sciences (urban sociology). Besides her academic education, she has 3 years of experience working as a jr. urban designer at renowned offices in Amsterdam. Currently she is working on her graduation project dealing with the topic of urban climate change.

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In just a few decades, around seventy per cent of humanity will be living in urbanized areas. Also, ninety per cent of our wealth is going to be generated on less than three per cent of the earth's surface1. Therefore, it will be ever more important to reconsider how we regulate, plan and design our cities. One of the main objectives will be to recognize the playfield - its players and their rules. Urban planners and regulatory institutions will have to realize and accept that super-imposed, long-term master planning is not the way to go. The increasing role and power of cities will reach on its direct users - its inhabitants. The role of institutions and governments will be still important, but will have to be balanced with the new party. Both groups will be responsible for implementation of urban development, and both will be included in the process of making cities. Hence, new forms of urban planning and participation will be necessary to create a new, sustainable and inclusive urban realm.

 

Inclusive cities are places where right to political expression, diverse economical (formal and informal) structures, cultural openness or social interaction form a stronghold of public life. However, is an inclusive city - a place where people have basic rights to be citizens, users, occupants or even creators - a utopia or reality? And – could these so-called 'urban commons' unlock new, innovative ideas and solutions for urban design?

 

Urban planners often focus too narrowly on the hard-drive of cities, while forgetting its software. Cities are made of and by people. There has been a number of interesting cases in participatory urban design in the Dutch cities, however there is one recent unique example which is currently under construction and goes beyond co-operative design. In October 2011, a project called 'I Make Rotterdam'2  has been launched by ZUS architecten, an Rotterdam-based architecture and urbanism office. It's a crowd-funded project to build a 350m public pedestrian bridge, connecting the Central Business District by the main railway station with Hofbogen, a residential area north of the centre. The initiators proposed this project because they believe the area lacked street-level livelihood and public space with slow-traffic connections.

 

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True public space is inclusive, for everyone. The Rotterdam-based project is an interesting experiment since it's 100% funded and paid by the city's inhabitants. The first part of the bridge over a 6-lane highway has been built and opened in July 2012 and within the couple of months the progress and results of this initiative will be visible. This new and rather pro-active development certainly enhances some kind of togetherness. Could communalism, connectedness and decentralization become a new form of governance in the 21st century? These concepts of social inclusion as a kind of new solidarity are nothing new (Jacobs, 1961,  Castells, 2001 & 2002, Mitchell, 20033 studied them extensively), however should be in my opinion recognized as a reaction to today’s polarisation, inequality and imbalance of powers.

 

Not all public spaces are for all, as we tend to believe. Often, they are owned, controlled and restricted (socially, politically and economically) properties of individuals or institutions. Collective, shared and accessible spaces should, perhaps, be understood and called as 'common' rather than 'public'.


Thoughts that currently come across my mind is whether land ownership and its ulitisation could become a 'common'? Could privatised public spaces become an artifact of the past, and how would they look like? No more consume driven spaces, unutilised parking lots or sterile bench-free parks? How will inhabitants, (future) users of public space be motivated to participate and (co-)create their broader living environment? What rules and institutions would help best to enhance a natural flow of 'communalism' and solidarity? And last but not least – what are the basic steps towards a long-term social, cultural and economic development in urban areas?


There are surely new methods in urban design needed to be developed and put in practice, and local experiments such as the one in Rotterdam should be supported by both - top-down and bottom-up – parties in order to enhance a fair governance and a sustainable living environment, developed further for and by the generations to come.

 

Her works can be found on website Stadachtig where she also writes blogs.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

Sources

1/ Burdett, Ricky et al.; The Endless city, Phaidon / LSE, 2008

2/ Project I make Rotterdam 

3/ Castells, Manuel; Special experience in the contemporary city lif, 2001/2002
Jacobs, Jane; The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1961
Mitchell, Don; Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, The Guilford Press, 2003




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