Re-Learning Public Space

An Action Research Event

When: 28th – 30th June, 2018
Where: AMS Institute, Mauritskade 62, 1092 AD Amsterdam

Urban researchers, planners, communication experts, geographers, architects, as well as active citizens, policy makers trace the stories behind contemporary appropriations of public space. They identify related dilemmas and formulate research questions by liaison with locals, designing an alternative city guide inspired by a set of broad, yet timely themes: The ludic team focusses on the affordance of creative reuse an play in the city, grounded in co-creating public space. The circularity team focusses on self-sufficiency in the city, as manifested by places of gathering and sharing and tangible in productive urban landscapes. The informal team focusses on emerging inequalities and politicisation/de-politicisation, as a result of global commons and local governances of urban places. The wild life team shifts focus to the place of animals in our city. The mass tourism team shines the light on the effect of visitors, travelers, and short-stay residents on the public sphere.
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Moving and Meeting in the Boston Metro

In a flying visit to Greater Boston, particular urban design themes related to the city of the future have become manifest once again. On the one hand, thoughts on infrastructure and public space need to be interrelated. People move in various ways, yet the faster they move (most likely by individual or collective transport), the less exchange between them will happen. Although highways and rail tracks increase accessibility and connectivity, and are of extreme importance for the metropolis, it is known that these bundles may cause barriers for those present locally, on both sides to meet and greet. The impact of the Central Artery tunnel project and Rose F. Kennedy greenway on the Boston downtown waterfront is a classic example in showing the importance of designing public places and creating walkable space in a dense urban development. Pedestrian spaces, preferably supported with undergoing public transit or smart hubs alike, is only not less space consuming, but also serves the gathering of people in a better way, hence it serves coincidental exchanges between them. The images of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ the dramatic transformation are a clear witness of this. The same is true in the recently developed business improvement districts. In a opposite way the surplus of fast lane infrastructure generated a lack of public place thus human exchange. The transit hubs of the North and South Station areas may be multi-layered centrality hubs which easily could follow the same strategy, yet here little of this is visible here. Current transformation may be just a first step in improving the stations’ premises. With their high potential in the public spheres, they will be definitively the next challenging urban transformation areas in need to be directed by the City. On the other hand, the City as the public government is not alone in this. Other non-gov stakeholders and pro-active citizens join in the urban development too. Historic Washington and Summer Street areas show what can be the impact collaborative improvements and community development. In fact every citizen has impact simply by being present in the city. People are the prime actors in the urban networks and physical systems. They make the urban space public. It is omnipresent when one would simply walk from School-Franklin, Bedford West, and Park Plaza to City Hall, and trace whatever they do and sense in the city. It adds another perspective to future intervention areas.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Maurice Harteveld

Boston, 15-17 May 2018
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA)
Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD)

African Public Spaces?

What is public space in African? Does it exist as we may presume? At the current, we are analysing and comparing urban life and presumed public spaces in selected segments of four African cities to map what we know about these cities. It is a first step in deepening cross-cultural understanding: An exiting start of a new exiting scientific journey along Dakar in Senegal, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Maputo in Mozambique, and Lusaka in Zambia.


Image by Vaggy Georgali
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Places of Being and Eternal Paths

Magic Lanes in Hong Kong displays an inspiring community-design project that aims at turning a street into a place for stimulating vibrant urban life, which is rewoven with the present contemporary social fabric. By mapping current use and envisioning potential use of urban space by local residents, the project has set a base for real-life experiments. These experiments highlight the spatial assets people own by nature. In responding to the rapid urbanisation of this early-developed neighbourhood, the project it encourages their participation in the street. Located at Sheung Fung Lane (常豐里), the space used to be an empty concrete urban space characterised by outdoor stairs and blind facades of the neighbouring parking garages, and foremost no people actually staying there. With this project, people have entered a process of place re-making. It seems the essence of what is a ‘li’ (里), because next to its contemporary connotation of ‘lane’, this notion is used more accurate as ‘place’. Yet, also, it is ironically strong because it works with the street name. The notions of ‘sheung’ (常) and ‘fung’ (常) refer resp. to eternal/unchanging and to plenty. As if, magically, a flower pot is always full of living flowers. The project incorporates the ideas of its community members and it facilitates physical changes in this space. If people are present it will be a place again.

一刻 社區設計館,西營盤常豐里2號怡豐閣7號舖
First Community Design Museum;
Shop 7, Yi Fung Court, 2 Sheung Fung Lane, Sai Ying Pun

At the same day earlier, I have also noticed that many streets in Hong Kong are known as ‘toa’ (道). Tao, which has a much longer history, means ‘way’, ‘path’ or ‘route’, and thus is translated simply as ‘road’ today. Philosophically, again de-contextualised, this notion represents the intuitive knowing that life cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept. It relates to the path human beings are on. This path is known nonetheless through the actual living experience of one’s everyday being. This may make the presence of people in space, part of the same endless path we are on, wherever we are.

古之善為士者,微妙玄通,深不可識。
The ancient scholar is virtuous, subtly mysterious, deeply unknown.

or, as we may say at the present:
Once upon a time, those who knew the Way, were a mysterious and subtle people, transient yet profound, tranquil yet utterly unfathomable.
Chapter 15 (第十五章), Dao De Jing (道德經), attributed to Lao Zi (老子)