Sunday, 26 June 2016

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?

At the exhibition a copy of 'The Urban Design Guidelines for POPS' by the city of Toronto caught my eye. "As Toronto continues to grow, there is an increasing need and demand to revitalize existing parks and open spaces as well as to create new parks and open spaces. In order to provide this much needed open space within Toronto’s dense urban landscape, the City often negotiates with private developers to include POPS as part of the development application and review process.” With this colorful document the municipality tries to provide “guidance on the location, programming and design of these spaces so that they contribute to the City's overall open space network in a meaningful way”. The purpose is to influence design direction and to facilitate discussions between City Staff, local residents and the development community in the location. In the overall scheme of things, the City is clear about the function of POPS: “The municipality sees these POPS complementary to the existing and planned publicly owned parks, open spaces and natural areas, not replacing them". They also made a map for residents where to find them (similar maps are available of Seattle, New York and Rotterdam).

Saturday, 11 June 2016

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.

A pocket park (also known as a parkette, mini-park, vest-pocket park or vesty park) is, according to Wikipedia, a small park accessible to the general public. They are frequently created on a single vacant building lot or on small, irregular pieces of land. They also may be created as a component of the public space requirement of large building projects. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

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.

Food production in and with the city
Urban agriculture, urban farming or community gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a city. The idea of supplemental food production beyond rural farming operations and distant imports is not new. In Europe for example there have been associations of allotment gardens since the 19th century. People - mostly without an own garden - hired (and still hire) their own piece of land somewhere in the city where they can cultivate vegetables. Others grow their herbs and tomatoes on their balcony.
Mostly these are individual or community initiatives on a small scale. This is changing. In recent years large and commercial urban farms are multiplying. As a result of the possibilities of modern technology, vacant buildings in cities, the need for sustainable urban development and the desire to reduce our ecological footprint. This had led to many new initiatives in for example New York, Hong Kong, London, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Ghent. Most of the time these initiatives are outside on for example rooftops, but also more and more inside buildings ('vertical farming'), where you can control the weather conditions.

Monday, 16 March 2015

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 Graeme Stewart, one of the initiators, about the goals and progress.

Between 1960 and the mid-1970s many high-rise buildings were constructed in western countries, mostly in the outskirts. Peak productions in housing were reached during this period as an  answer  to  the  enormous  housing  shortages. As  far  as  I  know,  there  has  never  been  a  period  in  house building  in  which  the similarities between countries have been as great. Large open parks between the apartment blocks and a separation of functions were characteristic features (Helleman & Wassenberg, 2004; Van Kempen et al., 2005). In Toronto it was no different. In fact, it was taking the lead by building many estates throughout the City and its suburbs in the post-war boom (today known as the inner suburbs). As a consequence the Toronto area contains the second largest concentration of high-rise buildings in North America. The City of Toronto has 1.200 multi-unit residential buildings built between 1945 and 1984 with 8 stories or more. In the Toronto region there are 2.000 high-rise residential buildings.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

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), Bangladesh (Dhaka) and Canada (Toronto). In this article (also available as pdf) you will find an extended response and more information on immigration policies and migrant neighborhoods in the Netherlands.

Writing a review about a book that covers many themes in even more countries isn't the most easy job. Nonetheless, it was a great joy to read the whole book for a second time and being inspired again. As a Dutchman and urban geographer - working mainly on social and housing issues - my expertise lies in issues concerning migrant neighborhoods in the Netherlands. Logically, this is also the focus of this contribution. On the other hand I also pay attention to more global matters, because there are also a lot of similarities in issues and policies. 
To understand the integration processes in the Netherlands we have to know a little bit more about the Dutch context. So first I will describe the broad guidelines about immigration policies in the Netherlands and will sum up some characteristic figures. And making, I have to say somewhat reluctantly, some generalizations. Next, I will say something about the struggle between the planned and lived city. A struggle I've encountered several times - while I was reading the book - in the different Arrival cities. Finally, I discuss the different analyses, visions and approaches for these immigrant neighborhoods. In which I plead for more accuracy and precision.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

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.

In 2004 the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) summed up the (upcoming) changes in society: Individualization, Internationalization, Informalisation, Intensification and Information. The five I's stands for more freedom of choice, emerging network organizations, less dependence on traditional groups, a need for variety and change, international culture, globalization, the loosening of social ties, decreasing authority of formal organizations and the unlimited possibilities of ICT, internet and social media.

Bottom-up interventions
The Pop-Up City is powered by these global trends. But the Pop-Up City is also a reaction to the  mismatch between the built environment (planned city) and the actual use patterns of the city (lived city): "Modern cities are a mixture of ego-driven architecture, profit-oriented pursuits, and long-term master plans. Office developments are designed for the first entity to use them, leaving inflexible spaces for future tenants once the original tenant packs their bags for greener pastures in the next fashionable building." Pop-Up is a way of city-making which tries to cope with and react to this mismatch. And at the same time it's a call to a reformed kind of urbanism that is more flexible, adaptable and mobile. Just as society.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

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. 

The book is about the duality between centralized corporate action and decentralized individual action. A hot topic these days. It dichotomize the two positions in urban planning to bring clarity to urban actors and processes. Top-down versus bottom-up. Planned versus spontaneous order. Designers’ intent versus users’ needs. The planned versus the lived city. The authors are aware that in reality it is difficult to pinpoint a genuine bottom-up or top-down process, but more important: a paradigm shift is happening. The retreat and retrenchment of the state and other top-down players has encouraged the entrepreneurial energy of citizens and communities. As a result they take on or claim an increasingly important role in city-making processes. With or without the help of formal institutions.

Best of both worlds
The publication focus on how the top-downers are changing their approach to enable this bottom-up movement, and how both actors can better collaborate in the future. To answer this question the authors researched twenty case studies in five cities: Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York City and Taipei. These cities were chosen because their histories display the typical patterns of top-down development. But now you can find here traditional top-down organizations that are transitioning towards more bottom-up approaches. Each in different ways.

Levels of involvement
The case studies are not only about initiatives that are 100% bottom-up. Do not expect a journey along projects that all fit to the criteria of tactical urbanism or pop-up urbanism. The book treats different steps on the ladder of citizen participation: from informing and consulting to partnership and citizen control. The first steps may sound like we are going back in time, but some countries (China, Russia, Taiwan) and disciplines (governments, architects) come a long way. Take for example the situation in Hong Kong: “We have to be honest with ourselves on the subject, and admit at the outset that, as yet, we don’t have a fully developed culture of community planning. […] Government owns all the land and it is a valuable commodity. […] Governmental agencies are only just learning that they must reflect public opinions.