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Governing Urban Diversity

In the last decades cities have become more diverse than ever before. Individuals who at first sight appear to belong to a fixed group may show different attitudes and behaviours. They may live in the same neighbourhood, but lead very different lives and have access to different opportunities. A European research team examined how cities can deal with and benefit from this diversity.



DIVERCITIES is the name of a research program which had conducted a comparative study from 2013 until 2017 in 13 European cities and Toronto. Their central hypothesis is that urban diversity is an asset. It can be a strength rather than a burden. It can positively affect social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance. According to them a re-think of public policies and governance models is needed to make more intelligent use of diversity’s potential.
Last month I visited their concluding conference. In this article a summary of the results by using extensively (copy-paste) the policy reviews t…

Privately Owned Public Spaces: curse or blessing?
Last week I saw some interesting information at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) about the so-called  Privately Owned Publicly-Accessible Spaces (POPS). POPS are a specific type of open space which the public is welcome to enjoy, but remain privately owned and maintained. What are the pros and cons of these POPS?

Small is beautiful
In order to increase the quality of life in cities, it is not necessary to make major investments or interventions. During the past years unloved spaces in London were transformed into ‘Pocket Parks’ – tennis court sized green retreats for local neighbourhoods to enjoy.

Urban Agriculture
Urban agriculture is hot and happening. Underlined by the opening today of 'De Schilde', Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm. This unique farm stands at 40 meters high, and will grow 50 tons of local rooftop vegetables and 20 tons fresh fish all year round. Taking urban agriculture to a new level.

Toronto Tower Renewal
Toronto, the city of towers, is facing a major challenge as 1.200 high-rise residential concrete frame buildings are approaching the end of their effective service life. In the so-called Tower Renewal Program different parties are trying to improve  the quality and  the energy efficiency of these high-rise buildings. It will also - indirect - generate social, economic and cultural benefits by creating local green jobs, increasing small-scale retail, and upgrading green space. I spoke with Graem…

Arrival cities: the need for precision
In the winter of 2015 the City Builder Book Club, an online book club about cities, is reading Doug Saunders’ award-winning best-seller Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World. An interesting book about migration to urban centers around the globe with illuminations on all sorts of paths, policies, and people. I was invited to contribute a short response on chapter 10 ('Arriving in style') about migrant neighborhoods in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Bangl…

Pop-up City; city-making in a fluid world
After the success of the blog, this summer the book arrived: Pop-Up City. A city where existing urban planning frameworks and architectural landscapes do not hinder spontaneous human activity, but rather serve as an encouraging platform for innovative, inspirational and time-bound activities. In the book a diverse collection of these temporary initiatives pass by. Ranging from funny ideas to interesting improvements to the urban landscape.

We Own The City
Last week the book ‘We Own The City’ was launched in Amsterdam. The book is about the rise of community planning. It focus on the way traditional top-down players are employing to enable and support bottom-up initiatives in cities. The result is a book with descriptions of inspiring urban development processes around the world.

Torre David; informal vertical community
In Caracas stands an unfinished 45-story skyscraper. Despite the physical shortcomings it has become an improvised, continually revised home to more than 750 families. Urban-Think Tank, an interdisciplinary design practice, spent over a year studying the physical structure and the social organization that turned this ruin into a ‘squatters’ home. They summarized this process - were the planned city meets the lived city - in a wonderful book.

Triumph of the city
It is probably the most pro-cities book of the last years: Triumph of the City. Written by Edward  Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University. The book’s core thesis is that ideas spread easily in dense environments. “We must free ourselves from our tendency to see cities as their buildings, and remember that the real city is made of flesh, not concrete”. A summary and review of the book by using some of my favorite statements.


Arrival City
In 2011, the British-Canadian journalist Doug Saunders wrote the bestseller 'Arrival City' about the drift to the city. Because of this process, there are worldwide more people living in the city than in the countryside since last year. The Guardian called it "the best popular book on cities since Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities." That was reason enough to travel to Leiden, where Saunders gave a lecture.

Making Vital Public Spaces: the power of observation, community wishes and activities
Last Thursday Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces, gave an inspiring lecture in Amsterdam about placemaking: a community-driven, bottom-up approach for improving public spaces. Over the past 37 years, Kent has worked on hundreds of projects, including Bryant Park and Times Square in New York. “We have to turn everything upside down, to get it right side up.”

Places in the making
In the past, remaking cities has been the stuff of big visions and product-focused interventions. Now, as cities try to rejuvenate themselves, there is a new approach: bottom-up, flexible, temporarily and interactive. 

Gurgaon: the unplanned/planned city
Since 1991, India has been going through an enormous economic rise. The new middle class, who in the past sought their salvation abroad, are now looking for accommodations in satellite cities with large houses and a public space that has to be clean, intact and safe. Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, is such a place. In ten years time, three to four big developers have created a new world for about 1.5 million people. An extraordinary urban development in which the correct relations between marke…

What's in a name?
Maps provide a modeled representation of the earth’s surface: a geographical representation of the countryside or the planned city. On the basis of different kinds of lines, shapes and colors, you get an overview of the most important roads, buildings and facilities. Convenient for those on the road. However, there are also so-called typographic maps, these are maps with mainly words. Words that can be places within the physical structures to represent a social theme or an activity: the lived c…

Le Medi
There are projects that you just don’t know what to think of. Projects that are food for discussion.  Or at least raise some questions. Le Medi in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) is such a project. A new complex that I personally find beautiful, it gives me a true feeling of a city in spring, but that’s a matter of taste. There are much more interesting questions, like: is this an interpretation of multicultural building and/or multicultural living? Is there a market for these kind of living …

Greening the ghetto
Visiting Ted.com is like being a kid in a candy store. For who doesn’t know it: you can find inspiring and pioneering lectures on Ted.com. Their motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Their mission is mainly to offer a platform for great thinkers and doers to convince their audience of their vision or their new ideas. Each speaker has a maximum of 18 minutes for their talk. The content of the lectures does not include any heavy theoretical stuff. It is not about overall knowledge, but mainly about g…

Youth talks to youth
Policymakers and politicians love statistics. The statistics are often presented as the truth, while the research methods, the way of counting and the type of respondents often have a major impact on the real meaning of a statistic.

Civic economy
Mutual involvement, active citizenship and the ability to manage for themselves of inhabitants. Themes that, also prompted by cutbacks, become more and more prominent. But does this ‘civil society’ exist in the Netherlands? What can we expect of the self-organizing capacity of inhabitants?  And to what extent can a local authority or corporation stimulate or facilitate this?