When reasoning our material world emerged in cities, ‘matter’ was first to question. This is obviously what we see and what we can handle. This shapes our urban environment. Yet, in an arcadian search for beginning, origin, or first cause the lens was put on finding primordial substance; ‘arché’ (oersubstantie, urstoff, …). This informed the search to actuating principles (as a cause) in Aristotle. The subsequent cosmic search towards the genesis and structure of our world introduced the concept of a material substratum, an interval considered to be invisible and unshaped: ‘khôra’, chora, or space. The territory of the Ancient Greek polis outside the city proper. In Politeía, Plato relates it to the just city and just (hu)man. In these pioneering thoughts, public space is found. Continuously echoing today in understanding chora as a place of being a being or mediating between sensible and intelligible, it also introduced change… Public space isn’t static. People move, societies transform, humans age, generations follow…. This effects our thinking on public space.
Who owns the public space?
Join the online symposium ‘Matter – Space – Change’ on 23 April 2021.
As an opening for the Bits of Public Space 3.0 webinar, I have taken the audience along with a short story.
Imagine: You are walking in a public space, and you are using your navigation app to meet at a place, which your friends suggested a few seconds ago on WhatsApp. Your headset is on. Noise is reduced. While walking, you’re traced and tracked; the shortest and fastest route is recalculated continuously, In the mean, a health app may record your cycles, Spotify remembers your music preferences, many other web-data fuel the algorithms, …and synchronically all kinds of devices around you sense your environment too. Every detail is collected for third-parties. Also webcams and what looks like cctv register where you are. They monitor your moves and avoid the unexpected to happen. This morning, the weather app has announced rain. Indeed, while clouds make it shimmer, your smart screen illuminates, and lamps turn on.
You’re still walking… People don’t walk close. This makes you think of what you have read this morning: In some cities, drones are measuring social distance, today, and if too close, through image recognition big brother sends you a fine. – In the mean, a car is passing by smoothly. Your mind links it to the lecture on self-driving vehicles. They are keeping distance automatically… “Who is behind the wheel, btw?” You can’t see. Humanoids, perhaps…? Anyways.
Back to your walk. You have to pay attention for a minute to the surrounding, while you are crossing a street. (Small sensors, have made traffic lights turn green for you.) You are starting to be curious to the place where your friends are waiting. They have been involved in the redesign of this meeting space. Some years ago, one would outline public spaces with computer-aided design. You remember how outcomes have always been presented in ‘sunny’ artist impressions. But, during its realisation, budget restrains always made such a plan somewhat more realistic… Today is a different world. Tools are innovating, and include components ranging from environmental analysis to robotic control. The old outlines may still work… Yet, simulations of human behaviour in space helps to understand complexity. The design of public space can be informed more accurately by our updated models, and digital twins. Automation and print-on-demand can still make old dreams happen. You have seen new video presentations of the place, where you’re heading to, on the internet; they are quite realistic. You’re convinced as a designer, your imagination benefits the people, but alike your friends, nobody is alone in design. Online meetings are integrating viewpoints of other experts and novice users. Webinars are bringing people, ideas, and living rooms, closer together. It may be enriching. Yet, the design of your friends may never be finished. Invitations by Zoom, Meets, Facetime, Webex, Slack, Trello, Miro, Messeger, or Teams are following up. #multionline #haveitall – Also, participatory platforms have invited as many users as possible, to join VR sessions and visit the augmented space, to be. Some of the users have replied and have worked within the framework of your friends, their concept of the future. But for some it was not enough… On Insta, some users have found a better idea. As pro-active citizens, they have organised themselves on social media, via transnational networks and microblogging they have got more inspiration. Tutorials have helped them to learn the trick. Public space design changes in a kind of grassroots development, including peer-2-peer exchange of probably two unfamiliar neighbours. The one simply likes gardening, the other orders always outdoor stuff on discount pages. The pro-active group of users co-create and make the space theirs.
Thoughts fade away; You’re still walking…. Happy you. You are almost there, at the meeting place, where everybody seems active. You see your friends coming near. It’s a really nice place. Not as slick as you thought before, but you like it! “We would have liked to introduce a moving beam here…” on of your friend says: “People would love to sit on such a thing, really.” “It adjusts its position and form in accordance to their moods and likes”, the other adds… – You reply dry: “This bench works for me too”. While you are scanning the surrounding facades for heritage details, your friends starts to discuss hyperrealities, and phygital spaces …endlessly. In the mean, you are distracted by a piece of planting in front of you. It is a bid unorganised, and it seems organically grown, obviously added by the community. It looks like one of those greens, which you must have seen in ‘Spaceship Earth’, the movie, which you screened on your laptop, pay-per-view, during the opening night of the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, last month. After a long chat on the ‘future on being’, you really want to leave again. Your eyes are dry and your mind is tired. You are suggesting to play more together next time and relax a bit. You have heard that they have launched a brilliant new ‘massive multiplayer online role-playing game’ Then everybody leaves, and walks away
This is the end of my story…
What do you think: How have you listened to the story: Have you been walking and talking in reality? Or was it your avatar in cyberspace? Near everything in this story is out there. It affects your profession everyday as an designer. Everything is existing as real space as well as virtual space
This story is recorded with a live audience via YouTube on Friday, November 5th, 2.00 – 9:00am CET. – The webinar has been part of the initiative the POLIS Urbanism and Landscape Architecture Week, of Polis
If the current period teaches us, as colleagues, anything explicitly, it is that we must take account of a changed way of thinking on public space and housing. This shift presents us with a major challenge when it comes to further densification of the city. The existing urban fabric needs revision, even in areas where there is no increase in density. Public space is becoming more homely, and houses are becoming workplaces, so partly more public. We will pay more attention to the immediate living environment: the space in the vicinity.
Ruimte + Wonen is a Dutch magazine and knowledge network for spatial professionals and housing experts, originated from the magazines S+RO and Tijdschrift voor de Volkshuisvesting. Go to ‘Ruimte + Wonen’ membership
Port cities are a particular type of territory and are often long-standing examples of resilience, bringing opportunities, wealth, and innovation to their nations and their citizens. They have developed at the crossroads of international trade and commerce and the intersection of sea and land. Flows of people through trade and migration have played a key role in their spatial, social and cultural development. Their strong local identities share legacies of diversity and cosmopolitanism, but also of colonialism and segregation. The Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, Fujian speaks of the exchange between Arabia and China along the maritime silk road. Hanseatic cities stand as an example of far-flung networks with districts for foreign traders—think of the German merchants who established Bryggen, the German dock, in Bergen, now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Port cities are places that accommodate change —and often thrive as a result. As logistical patterns, economic organization, spatial structures and technological devices have evolved, port cities have consistently provided spaces and institutions to host changing social, cultural and demographic needs and have built their local identities around them. Chinatowns, for example, are emblematic of many port cities worldwide. For many centuries, traders and merchants depended on the interaction between local traders and short- and long-term migrants of all classes. To maintain and facilitate shipping, trade or organizing defenses, traders, workers, and citizens have come together and developed long-term strategies and inclusive governance systems. Built around trade, these shared practices have not always benefitted everyone. Colonial port cities hosted the buying and selling of enslaved people as well as minerals, animals and opium. Many workers lived in squalid conditions in walking distance to the port. The degree of tolerance and inclusion depended on the extent of ethnic diversity overall, the degree of spatial and social segregation in the city, and the economic structure of the urban economy.
Waterfronts have been and in some (smaller) cities still are contact zones of people from diverse backgrounds: public spaces bring together dockworkers, displaced people, casual labourers, and trans-migrants waiting to board ships for overseas travel. However, waterfronts have been looked upon as places of otherness in need of social reform even at the turn of the twentieth century. Since the 1960s, container districts and offshore ports further increased the separation between ports and cities. Following containerization, waterfront regeneration has become a worldwide tool to overcome the range of social, cultural and public health issues associated with the nineteenth century waterfront. Urban renewal and gentrification have been central to many of these programs that took off beginning in the 1980s in most European port cities. Rebranding has been an essential part of bringing new capital and new people into neighbourhoods next to former dock areas, which normally would not have been of interest to private investors. In select cases—such as HafenCity Hamburg—planners and politicians have consciously opted for spatial and social inclusion.
Rotterdam as a port city reflects the long-term history of migration traditionally related to shipping and trade in all aspects, but since the 1970s the working port is no longer a decisive pull factor. Other international, national and local factors have changed the city’s population characteristics. The past decades have seen increasing diversity in ethnic groups and religions but also increased variation in socio-economic statuses among inhabitants with a migration background. Rotterdam hosts so many ‘minority’ migrants that it is now considered a superdiverse city where 52%, and in some districts, almost 70% of the population have a migrant background.
Rotterdam’s hyperdiversity—a term meant to acknowledge the multiple causes of diversity—has challenged existing local integration policies. The city government’s development strategy focusses on a balanced composition of the population and regeneration programs in combination with new residential, sustainable urban planning and branding strategies aim to assure integration. Like other cities with major waterfront revitalization activities, Rotterdam is witnessing a gap between cosmopolitan aspirations boosted by international capital and symbolic waterfront architecture and the existing reality of a hyperdiverse population inhabiting the urban fabric. Redevelopment projects of former waterfront port areas, such as Lloyd Quarter, RDM and M4H stand as examples. Yet, like other cities with major waterfront revitalization activities, the question arises: to what extent is Rotterdam widening the gap between diverse neighbourhoods and gentrified port-city redevelopment projects? There is a potential risk of economic segregation as authorities, educational and cultural institutions aspire to build the post-industrial economy on the port industrial foundations of the past, neglecting those areas where a linkage to the maritime mindset of Rotterdam as a port city is hardly felt let, alone visible.
Rotterdam needs to find ways to come to terms with political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of its port city. That is one of the major challenges for Rotterdam in becoming an inclusive city. What is needed to connect Rotterdam’s migration narrative (and that of other port cities) to further the inclusive city ambition, using its present hyperdiversity, and acknowledging the value of diversity for creativity, innovation and making the next port city? Exploring the key values of an inclusive post-industrial, hyperdiverse port city drives the research agenda of our multidisciplinary LDE PortCityFutures program.
The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus PortCityFutures program employs multi-disciplinary methods and longitudinal perspectives to understand and design political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of spatial use in port city regions. It explores how the flows of goods and people generated by port activities intersect with the dynamics of the natural environment, hydraulic engineering, spatial planning, urban design, architecture, and heritage. It examines the spatial impact of competing interests among port-related and urban spatial development needs and timelines. It explores creative solutions and design measures to problems and considers their implications for the future use of limited space that will allow port, city, and region to thrive.
This article highlights the dynamics of values in our reasoning on public space. By means of an epistemological study, illustrated by examples in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, it tests the contemporary premises underlying our ways to safeguard the inclusive, democratic, agential city, and, as such, it aims to update our view on public space. The article raises three subsequent main questions: [i] Is the city our common house as perceived from the Renaissance onward, containing all, and consequently are public spaces used by the people as a whole? [ii] Is the city formalising our municipal autonomy as emphasised since the Enlightenment, in an anti-egoistic manner, and in this line, are public spaces owned by local governments representing the people? And, [iii] is the city open to our general view as advocated in Modern reasoning, restricting entrepreneurial influences, and synchronically, is its public spaces seen and/or known by everyone? – Inclusiveness, democracy, and agentiality are strongholds in our scientific thinking on public space and each issue echoes through in an aim to keep cities connected and accessible, fair and vital, and open and social. Yet, conflicts appear between generally-accepted definitions and what we see in the city. Primarily based upon confronting philosophy with the Amsterdam case for this matter, the answering of questions generates remarks on this aim. Contemporary Western illuminations on pro-active citizens, participatory societies, and effects of among others global travel, migration, social media and micro-blogging forecast a more differentiated image of public space and surmise to enforce diversification in our value framework in urban theory and praxis.
New public spaces have emerged in the entrepreneurial city. Their existence relates to entrepreneurial action of public governments, of the people, inhabitants of the city, and of entrepreneurial alliances of civic actors. The entrepreneurial way of governmental action led particularly to new spatial conditions and typologies as governments delegated the responsibilities for the production and management of public space to private actors. This extended the debate to the city’s public space in its ubiquitous shopping malls and private residential estates. Secondly, the opportunities which the city offers for the entrepreneurial contributions of general citizens, migrants, and refugees, relate to its public spaces too. Characterised by the proximity of mixed land-uses and flexible building typologies, as well as a well-connected street network and high density, the new urban typologies, effecting public space in their socio-economic nature, are found in many places, using the same models concerning citizens initiatives and popular action. Lastly, new emerging alliances of actors form the relationship of the ‘entrepreneurial city’ and public spaces. These alliances of civil society groups comprise old and new NGO’s, academics and activists, and start-ups of social enterprises launch own initiatives to co-designs alternative community spaces, more affordable and communicative workspaces, and build capacities. Such trends can be seen in cities worldwide too and start to create new forms of public spaces, which facilitate social interaction while creating more micro-economic opportunities.
Improving our ways to urbanise and innovate urbanisation processes are needed in order to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, hence deliver the Quito New Urban Agenda promise. During the Future Days event, participants renewed the listing of urban topics. They bridge the gaps between academics and practitioner. They have presented much more evidence-based policies at the global level and with local examples and test-beds. And, they generated a better understanding of the driving forces of urbanisation and of the needs for better regulating the processes.
People, Movement and Public Space
In a keynote at the Future Days 2019 event, themed ‘Legacy and Future of our Cities’, I illuminated the interdisciplinary topic ‘people, movement and public space’, in order to understand assembled complexities of cities which go along with this topic. I introduced a four-step approach: First, a network-theoretical approach in the analyses of path systems, aiming to understand the complex dynamic systems of real cities better. Second, the analyses of personal perspectives on these paths apply more a non-linear approach to understand complex trajectories and interactions in reality. Third, engaged with the human-adaptive approach, analysing the psychology of place helps to understand patterns in the evolutionary inter-subjectivity of being in cities. Lastly, by observing public life, understanding the emergence of life in real cities, and non-equilibria, may be understand from a self-organising approach. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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.
Boston, 15-17 May 2018
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA)
Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD)
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.
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