Domestication Will Shape Future Public Spaces A Report from Rotterdam
This commentary aims to provide a window on the future by studying actions, taken to control the spreading of the coronavirus, while obviously affecting public space over a year. What have been the effects on public space directly linked to these actions during the pandemic; what values play a role, and what can we expect for the future? We have seen how immediate responses induced by the COVID-19 crisis influences traveling, gathering, and public life in general. Now, it is time to look further. Having a base-point in Rotterdam and taking The Netherlands as an example, the commentary argues that some shifts in using, appropriating, and experiencing public space will remain. Yet, mainly those not just being immediate responses to sudden societal change, rather those which are embedded in long-term change.
2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic! new publication of The Journal of Public Space
The Journal of Public Space published ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’. This monumental publication of 280 pages witnesses the year we all lived on social distance dictated by COVID-19 health emergency, a measurement severely affected everyone’s access to public space and with it creating a range of impacts on different levels. Delft University of Technology, as a worldwide recognised leader in the field of urban design and public space, united with more than twenty universities globally to question; how can we face this unprecedented emergency and get prepared to its consequences, with specific regard to health disparity? Will public space restrictions stay in place after the recovery period? Should we just aim to return to a pre-COVID status quo, or for a ‘better normal’? And more generally, what will be the future of public space?
Maurice Harteveld, part of the scientific board, remembers how the situation induced by the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020 immediately brought together the global community of experts on the Design of Public Space; “I remember how the alarm bells didn’t stop anymore in the third week of April. Health situation worsened progressively in China, and a new decree imposing quarantine became in act in Northern Italy. Public space was abandoned there. Without doubt, we started to share local insights and form a global perspective on the issues arising from the pandemic for public space the current situation of public space.” Together with UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, this became an opportunity to collaborate to re-think how cities should be.
As the pandemic was moving across different continents and urban conditions, through shared online initiative public space experts across the world exchanged experiences of care, solidarity, entrepreneurship, academic perspectives, artistic interpretations, and creative practices of human resilience, engaging more than 100 speakers during 20 webinars from May to September 2020, and more than 2,700 registered attendees from over 80 countries, including representatives from UNHabitat. Global impact of the online initiative ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’ has been even broader by counting more than 72,000 page views in that same period. This publication encapsulates key learnings globally from the early stage of the pandemic, which stand relevant to this day when we face squarely the same issues as we step into gradually and navigate the post-COVID era.
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
Imagine: You are asked to draw a port city from memory. What would you put on paper? Do you think of harbours? Water, docks, cargo, moving loads, and ships? If your drawing shows these elements, don’t be surprised. Sixty-five graduate students also took on the challenge. In answering: “draw the port city of Rotterdam by mind”, the drawings of the participants (fig.1) displayed exactly the above features. Of course, this makes sense. A port just happens to be a place on the water in which ships shelter and dock to (un)load cargo and/or passengers. A harbour is a sheltered place too, and in its nautical meaning, it is a near-synonym for sheltered water, in which ships may dock, especially again for (un)loading. So, all the above linguistic lemmas are there and all these are connected to imaginable objects.
“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.”
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 →
The theme of this playground meeting has been ‘value dynamics’. We have touched upon questions like: How to deal with value dynamics when designing for values? How can we successfully operationalize values to inform design decisions, whilst anticipating possible value changes? How can we make our designs able to adapt to value changes in society? How does the theory apply to specific application areas, such as architecture and urbanism?
Two pitch presentations have kickstarted interdisciplinary discussions:
Design for Changing Values (ERC granted research project)
by Ibo van de Poel
Historical and Spatial Approaches to Value Dynamics
by Carola Hein and Maurice Harteveld
21 March 2019, 12:00 to 13:30h
Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
Classroom H (31-A1-210)
“After 9 months of researching, designing and discussing new ways of making a city, the results of the design research De Stad van de Toekomst (The City of the Future) have been presented in a festive closing event on 30 November. Over the course of 2018, design teams, municipalities and a large network of involved experts worked on integrated designs for five test locations of 1 × 1 km in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and Eindhoven. The central question: How can the major transitions that we stand for as a society help to create attractive and future-proof urban environments?” (source)
“This is the Department of Urbanism of the TU Delft for you, folks! We are a big bunch of people from all over the world working to make ou cities, regions and communities more sustainable, fair and inclusive.” (source)
Introducing the Anthropocene
Colin Waters is Secretary of the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, the body investigating the Anthropocene as a potential geological time unit. His working group is putting forward a proposal towards the recognition of the proposed new epoch. They started in 2009 and up until last year, they were pulling together all information that was available. “For example the biological changes that have happened are irreversible. Once species are transferred across the planet, you can’t put them in a box and put them back in their indigenous state”, he has explained while being our guest in Delft: “Even things like carbon dioxide, this will last as a signal for thousands of years. Even if we are reducing our carbon emission immediately, we are still looking at emissions which are going to be elevated above natural levels for thousands of years. At the present, there is no indication that we are changing that trend.” The human impact may be like a meteorite impact. At the end of the Cretaceous Period when the dinosaurs became extinct, a spike of iridium (an extra-terrestrial element) changed the conditions on Earth. “You still find a layer of a few millimeters thick which is high in iridium, and we can use that as the basis of the start of the new Paleogene Period following the Cretaceous.” It has been “a state change, a game-changer, to a state which now is very different from what it was before and is not recreatable to a large extent either.” What is our share, as designers?
Architecture is perhaps one that we have not mined sufficiently in the past that can provide information that is new to us and help build the story that we are developing. – Colin Waters
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