Health is an important societal topic in the Netherlands. In one of the most densely populated countries in the world, healthy living environments reduce diseases, deaths, healthcare costs, and shifts focus from prevention and medicalising on the individual levels to taking care of communities. Still, for example, the air quality in the Netherlands is considered moderately unsafe, resulting in the highest rate of asthmatic children worldwide. The same goes for recordings of diseases related to polluting substances on land and in water. This makes public spaces social determinants of public health. We see similar correlations when it comes to the presence of infectious microbes and parasites, and environmental stress. Especially in world port-cities like Rotterdam unhealthy conditions coincide with unequal socio-spatial patterns. Here the impact on individual health is largely untraceable. Understanding the impact of inherent industrial and human activities on urban areas at the neighbourhood level and crossing it with heterogeneous data sets help us understand the socio-spatial impact of pollution-related and vector-borne diseases on cities. Measuring environmental pollution in public spaces can tell us e.g. more about the impact of air quality on citizens as a group. Statistical time series and cross-sectional data analyses can be applied to generate valid correlations if they are made geo-specific. By using machine learning and AI technologies we cross data on environmental pollution with other heterogenous socio-spatial and temporal data sets. The use of mapping, spatial statistics, and urban narratives including historical data can lead to a better understanding of the lived experience at the local level. Through workshops at the local level and notably in the public spaces of the city, we engage the general public and local decision-makers in discussions on public health using advanced computer models for visualisation. The Rotterdam case study provides insights applicable in other cities internationally.
Today, historiographies seem to have moved away from traditional political and diplomatic histories describing cities towards social and cultural approaches. In general, this current shift of interest follows a Late-Modern turn toward the marginalized and marginalizing evidence, and thus explicit hypotheses are tested, and, among others, unbiased data is collected by current biographers. Still, certain narratives stay manifest. Also in Rotterdam. Here, bifocal narratives on the world port and the cosmopolitan city, and the dichotomy among these territories, remain persistent in the most recent biographies. What is seen in everyday space does not match this ontology generally applied in Rotterdam. To greater extent, as such, the samples of the biographies of public spaces as places help to fulfill the most essential public function of researching and abiding justification, while reinvigorating the critical public present in spaces. By opening up to the multiplicity of narratives, the article ‘The Port-City Portrayed in its Public Spaces: Introducing Micro Biographies of Places’ is able to focus on descriptions of Rotterdam which fall outside the scope of the current conventional. Through the lens of ‘biographies of places’, this study particularly follows the so-called material turn, in difference to stories of lives or narratives on actor networks. Hence buildings and artifacts placed in context, are the principal unit of analysis, for a multidimensional interpretation of urban sites across regions and periods.
The approach is operationalized by linking the urban and architectural design of public space, with studies of urban history, literature, cartography, and other urban humanities. This integrated perspective on port-cities is put forward most recently in a wider variety of projects at the LDE Centre of PortCityFutures, which has been promoted and supported for the approach below.
Harteveld, M.G.A.D. (2021) The Port-City Portrayed in its Public Spaces: Introducing Micro Biographies of Places. In: PortusPlus: the Journal of RETE (Association for the Collaboration between Ports and Cities). Venice: RETE, Vol. 12.
Exhibition ‘What have we learned?’
Preview on Post-Pandemic Public Spaces
How do you think our the design of public space, thus our cities, will change under influence of the pandemic? The answering of this question has been explored in nine engaging interviews with representatives of the Dutch practice and presented in a documentary. Key players in urban design, at the municipality, active in city-making, and/or working in the public domain differently have given their views. In addition, this question has been leading in a survey given to undergraduates and graduate students of our faculty, as well as to a few students in other programmes concerned with the public space (like human geography and planning, urban studies, and metropolitan analysis design engineering). Stimulated by innovation and creative thinking, a vast majority wants to explore new directions, against those preferring ‘back to normal’.
The documentary is made by Matt van Kessel, Hanlin Stuer, and Olivier Wiegerinck, embedded in the research group on public space of Maurice Harteveld, Birgit Hausleitner, Claudiu Forgaci, Tanja Herdt and Ioanna Karadimitriou. A preview of the documentary is presented on the large screen at the exhibition ‘What have we learned?’, on display during the month of September 2021, in Delft. Please feel welcome to have a break, and watch!
Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Architecture
2628 BL Delft
Deserted public space in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Image by Maurice Harteveld.
“After working from home for more than five hundred days, our daily lives and rituals have been severely changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, social distancing and other measures have affected everyone’s access to public space and exposed a range of impacts on different levels. Researchers from more than twenty universities explore those impacts in the new open-access publication ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
The crisis in early 2020 immediately brought together the global community of experts on the design of public space. Maurice Harteveld (Urbanism) is part of the scientific board of the Journal of Public Space and distinctly remembers how the initiation of lockdown upon lockdown sparked debate: “Chief editor Luisa Bravo was already in lockdown in the north of Italy, another colleague soon followed in Hong Kong. The progressively worsening health situation led to images of abandoned public space. We started to share local insights, forming a global perspective on the issues arising from the pandemic for the current situation of public space. By connecting with UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, this became an opportunity to re-think how cities should be.”Deserted public space in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Image by Maurice Harteveld.
Health Disparity, Public Space Restrictions and the Future of Public Space
Shared online initiatives resulted in experts from across the world exchanging experiences of care, solidarity, entrepreneurship, academic perspectives, artistic interpretations, and creative practices of human resilience. The resulting key learnings from the early stage of the pandemic are encapsulated in the publication. The research addresses questions like how we can prepare for the consequences of this unprecedented emergency, particularly health disparity, but also addresses the impact of public space restrictions. More generally, the learnings reflect on what the future of public space might be.
At first glance, the challenges for each urban region might look different. Harteveld: “I vividly remember how Casper Chigama, a community developer from Zimbabwe gave an online presentation from his car, addressing how the local concerns there were about how social distancing might be achieved in the short term. But in the long term, pre-existing concerns on urban hygiene were the main challenge. Another colleague from New York City, Setha Low, mentioned how, even with urban hygiene relatively well organised, she still noticed disparity in access to qualitative public space between different population groups of the city.” In the end, the solutions to these challenges might lie within the same realm of making public space more recognisable on a local scale. People should not only have access to public space from their own homes, they should also be able to identify themselves with these places. “We stay closer to home, shown by trends like the increase of working from home and online shopping, and the consecutive decrease of commuting and going to the city centre,” explains Harteveld. “We clearly saw this in 2020, but the trend already emerges in the 1980s. Today, that means we need to be able to feel at home within the public space. As designers and planners of urban space, we can actively contribute to the detailing and programming of the public space to make such attachments possible.” Harteveld calls this the ‘domestication’ of public space. Fellow researchers observe the same, also at places where urban hygiene and inequality is of urgent concern. Josephine Mwongeli Malonza mentions for example how neighbourhood streets function as public space in Kimisange, Rwanda. The future of public space is local, equitably accessible, and very much an interesting and continuing challenge for urban designers, planners, legislators, and other city dwellers.”
The 500th day at home passed by on Monday 19 July, 2021
2020: A year without public space
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.
Read Open Access Article: Harteveld, Maurice (2020) “Domestication Will Shape Future Public Spaces”, The Journal of Public Space, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 53-66. doi: https://doi.org/10.32891/jps.v5i3.1379.
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.
Download full issue here
In this introduction video, MaartenJan Hoekstra and Maurice Harteveld introduce the issue of urban design and inequality on the neighborhood level and its public spaces. They look at the theory behind the question “does the increase of social mobility and mixing housing add to the inclusivity on the level of the neighborhood?”Continue reading
All webinars of the ‘2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic’ are online.
The Impact of the Pandemic to Street Life, Urban Culture and Beyond
Webinar 4.1 by Maurice Harteveld, published by ‘PublicSpace COVID19’ on YouTube.
Roundtable Discussion and Closing Remarks, as published by ‘PublicSpace COVID19’ on YouTube.
See the transcription of the closing remarks of Maurice Harteveld, including reflections and an outlook beyond, here: Public Spaces for Domestic & Local Life, a slightly adjusted transcription of the opening of the august series of our initiative here: Beyond the Pandemic and read more on the initiative 2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic.
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
While the ‘UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report 2020 on the Value of Sustainable Urbanization’ has been launched, the international symposium ‘2020 A Year Without Public Space: Reflection and Outlook’ has been an opportunity to look back, reflect, and plan ahead for 2021.
The transcription of the closing remarks of Maurice Harteveld at our initiative ‘2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic’, including reflections and an outlook beyond (online symposium on 7 November 2020, 3PM (+ 8UTC)):
2020 – A Year without Public Space has been an impressive initiative. We have seen 20 webinars, engaging more than 100 speakers all over the world, and over another thousand attendees watching the presentations and thematic discussions live. On the YouTube channel, we can see that the numbers of views continuously grow. From May to September; the global community of ‘public space’- experts have joined together. The networks of public spaces have become a world-wide-web. Non-Exclusive!
At the moment, we are online, but our concerns are at the human space, in its physical reality. We keep sharing our observations, in an immense challenge. It is not easy! Under the current pandemic crisis, the global death rate is approaching 1.5 million people; 50 million cases of positive testing. An extremely small minority of countries have not reported any coronavirus cases. Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu seem to be still on the safe side. In contrast, particularly, communities in urbanised areas are infected at large. LA, Miami, and New York City… Rio, and Sao Paulo. Here densities are higher, people live closer together, and thus, transmission may go too fast, & too easy.
My contribution to the round table discussion is not another presentation. Deliberately! Continue reading