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.
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 →
Should dwelling options be re-conceived in the city of the future? Are the urban fabric and its public spaces more fluid in the future thanks to the advantages of emerging and new techologies?
Sharon Wohl, assistant professor in Architecture and Urban Design at Iowa State University, examines the creation of housing as a more nimble, flexible component: one capable of deploying to different sites and atmospheres, while simultaneously providing more broadly distributed access to amenities that otherwise remain limited to the privileged few. These ideas are operationalised through a speculative case study: a mobile dwelling architecture that can be deployed to various sites across the city – each being characterized by particular ‘niche’ offerings. Here, rather than dwelling units being considered as static entities within the urban fabric, they are re-considered as nimble, deployable agents – able to relocate to different sites and settings in accordance with different parameters that are customized through individual cost-benefit analyses and feedback dynamics. Accordingly, over time, bottom-up, self-organizing ‘niches’ of fit inhabitation emerge. The talk associates this kind of designed urban environment with the dynamics of complex adaptive systems – where emergent global features arise from the bottom-up. Here, a new kind of ‘swarm’ urbanism is deployed: one adjusting over time in response to atmospheric variables.
(closed discussion in The City of the Future Lab, TU Delft)
Socio-Spatial Processes in Rotterdam
Challenging the City by means of Urban Design
Each year, collaboratively a mix of about 100 students have been challenged to improve the environment of people by strategically intervening in the urban fabric. They have been asked to do so in a sustainable and feasible way, and on a small scale. Next to a majority of urban designers and landscape architects, we’ve seen architects and planners joining the design teams too, and incidentally a social-geographer and a civil engineer. The multidisciplinary approach has added not only to the richness of the scope of solutions, but also and foremost to new understanding of the complex problems the city is facing.
On-Site Expo Hofbogen Project
Exhibition of Design Ideas for the Urban Area around an Abandoned Railway Line at
10th-12th April 2013
This expo exhibits a project focused especially on socio-spatial transformation of the city, as a base for the urban design profession. Nearly two hundred participants illuminate the particular level of scale of the urban project, the scale where urban design meets the human scale. As such, urban design is closely related to (landscape) architecture. By strategically intervening in the urban fabric urban design improves the environment of people in a sustainable and feasible way. These designers understand the design and use of public space in its conjunction to the built programmes, because in the end people make the city.
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