Category Archives: Social Inequality

WE CARE A LOT! – Final report

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In the autumn of 2016 we conducted a research and design project commissioned by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (Rijksbouwmeester) as part of his program ‘Oog voor de buurt’. The topic was aging and healthcare in Dutch neighborhoods. Together with students of the architecture master track, two Design as Politics Alumni and the International New Town Institute, we took a closer look at two specific cases: elderly home Humanitas in Deventer and the assisted living facility ‘Buiten Zorg’ in Zuid-Scharwoude – a village in the province of North-Holland. This led to two reports, one for each area, in which we made recommendations and proposed design interventions for a better integration of healthcare in those neighborhoods – responding to the current and upcoming changes in the Dutch healthcare system which is aimed at living at home as long as possible. We also organized a symposium around this topic. Wanna know more? You can now find both reports on our issuu account here and here (in Dutch only)

Workshop: Democratic integration in Feijenoord, Rotterdam

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As part of the graduation studio ‘A City of Comings and Goings – Designing for Migration and Mobility’ a workshop was organized by Design as Politics PhD candidates Nurul Azlan and Els Leclercq about political and democratic integration of inhabitants with a migrant background in the neighbourhood Feijenoord in Rotterdam-South.

Just as in many European countries, the influx of refugees in the Netherlands is a prominent issue in the social-political debate. Opponents often refer to the failed integration of migrants who came to the country in the ‘60’s, of mostly Moroccan and Turkish origin. The long-term impact of inhabitants with a migrant background on neighbourhoods, the fear of losing the ‘Dutch identity’ and the rising tension between various groups in society is often a central issue in this debate. Feijenoord is one of those neighbourhoods that has changed a lot over the past decades and the group of non-western migrants has increased up to 76% of the total population. In addition, the district faces an accumulation of socio-economic problems such as high unemployment rated, a low education and income level and a high percentage of school drop-outs. Also there is a lack of services and amenities in the neighborhood and much of the public space is of low quality and underused.

While the Rotterdam authorities have received multiple subsidies from the Dutch government in order to improve the impoverished quarters of the city and a lot of money actually was spend on Feijenoord, it does not seem like the neighbourhood has improved much. Some public spaces were refurbished, but the inhabitants are still facing the same problems as before the regeneration, while the level of participation on any political scale remains low. In this workshop the students were therefore asked ‘how public space or the public sphere could contribute to, not the cultural but the, political/democratic integration of migrants? During a full day in neighbourhood centre ‘de proeftuin’ in Feijenoord, the students were challenged to design spaces or processes that could establish an environment for a new democratic public sphere in which (temporary) migrants (or all citizens) can feel part of the bigger system. Students could either concentrate on spatial design, or also develop apps that could trigger engagement with the public space. This resulted in three totally different, sometimes slightly provocative, proposals.

Vote For Space
The first group of students (Anouk Klapwijk, Giulia Spagnolo and Ramon Cordova) imagined a new way to approach participative design. They created a democratic device that allows people to directly choose and intervene in their own environment. The concept consists of an app that allows people to choose physical spaces for potential urban developments. Moreover, it also allows to choose the function that the space would get through a collective decision. The management work would be ultimately translated into a physical intervention based in a collaboration scheme. While the app is developed for Feijenoord, it leaves open possibilities for further development in the rest of the city, the country and even the world.

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The app is based on four steps of participation by the user. The first step is about marking empty spaces. Users take a picture of an empty public accessible space that they feel is suited for developments. This space then gets marked on a map. The second step is called brainstorming. Users can brainstorm about the activity they want to take place in that particular space. Three categories are provided to keep it simple and clear: nature, culture and sports. In order to inspire the user, for each category an example can be found. Step three in the process is voting. Users can vote on their preferences for the development of a particular empty space. The app also allows the users to see the statistics for this space, in order to encourage discussions and campaigns for the development of one space. After the voting process, a decision can be made about the favourable category in which the development for this particular empty space should take place. For the creation and construction of the new space, a responsible inhabitant needs to be assigned within the neighbourhood. The difference between a survey and a more participatory application like ‘Vote for Space’ is that the inhabitants are not only answering the “question”, but also choose which spaces are at “question”.

Istanbul on the Maas – Feijenoord as a test case for an autonomous zone
The second group of students (Alon Sarig, Lena Knappers, Yi Yu) were fascinated by the pirate TV satellite receivers, that characterise the urban landscape of Feijenoord and that could be seen as the most visible physical manifestation of ‘binational urbanism’ in the area. The people who live in Feijenoord simultaneously divide their life between two worlds – the urban everyday life of Rotterdam and the cultural, political and social content from their previous home (in the case of Feijenoord mostly Turkey) that they receive on their TV sets.

In the context of Feijenoord, the aim of this group of students was to explore a speculative scenario of a new form of autonomous zone. Instead of an ongoing reality where the migrants in Feijenoord are being forced to integrate in the Dutch society by forbidding for example the satellite dishes on the facades of their houses, they explored the opposite approach: ‘exter-grate’. An exclusive autonomy for the migrants. A place where the migrants of Feijenoord can develop their own distinct social, political and cultural environment (one that does not necessarily correspond to the Dutch or European values or norms). A symbol of local pride that at the same time creates new financial opportunities (such as new forms of tourism and media distribution).

The primary act of ‘Istanbul on the Maas’ was to define the Western part of Feijenoord as a physical and political entity. In order to express autonomy through geo-political operation, they transformed several of the existing informal activities (the informal beach, the community centre and pirate TV satellite receivers) that are already taking place in the island into formal attractions, institutions and landmarks. Ones that will eventually convert and declare the area as a self-governed neighbourhood-state.

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The Burkini beach, that was transformed from the existing informal beach serves as a unique emancipatory space for the island’s women. As a reaction to the expelling of muslim women wearing burkini’s from European beaches. A public space that would shape a new political reality through emphasizing public realm.
The current community centre of Feijenoord, where inhabitants from the neighbourhood are meeting each other, where different residents are working together and where new ideas for the area are developed, could become the governance building of the island. This institution will play an important role in the political and democratic participation of the ‘Feijenoorders’. In the city-state democracy is brought back to the local community.
The TV tower, is formed from the existing three social housing towers at the entrance to Island. The buildings, once represented the welfare state integration oppression governed by the Dutch state, are now transformed into a huge telecommunication tower, that independently receives data from middle eastern TV channels and transmit it exclusively to the citizens of the island
‘Istanbul on the Maas’, will turn the migrant condition (that might be seen as an obstacle in the way for full integration) to a local symbol of pride and economical prosperity.

Come Dine With Me
The last group (Olivia Forty, Jere Kuzmanic, Signe Perkone and John Lau) took the fact that more than 40% of the people in Feijenoord is unemployed and that a correspondingly large amount of people report being lonely. People in this area lack access to common social structures, such as connection between the individual and society, opportunities and inter-personal connections. In particular, there is no public place, where these kinds of connections could naturally arise. The students argued that space needs to be democratised, in the sense that people need to feel that they are in charge of it, and can take full advantage of it in all its capacities. The question is then: what can connect all these people with their various backgrounds and problems? Their answer to this was ‘food’. Food is universal and it is the most easy and common way of engaging with other cultures – which is preferable in areas where people are less open to socialising. While consuming food is generally viewed as a social practice, making it is normally much more intimate, either done in private or with family. The premise is that, if people not only eat together but prepare the food together too, that will create more space for real interaction and productive encounters. For this it is necessary to take the private function – the kitchen – outside of the private realm – the house – into the public. In this way communal cooking and dining can become a platform for dialogue, a step closer to building a strong community that can fight for improvement.  This communal dining can be event-based, or rather in the mood of a festival or weekend-market, with the aim of building interest and encouraging self-organising and taking initiative. This can also involve healthy competition between members of different communities and cultures. The concept is inspired by the old-school game ‘snake’ with the idea that the dining tables can gradually move across the area picking people up along the way. In that way the tables and the dinner parties can become a physical link and an advertisement.

Nurul Azlan Reports from Kuala Lumpur

Nurul-Fieldnote1DJI_0010-700x525Image of Bersih 4 in Kuala Lumpur. Picture courtesy of Malaysiakini.

(This text was originally published on the Global Urban Lab blog). The tension is palpable. It is the morning of August 29th, 2015, and I am peering out the window of my hotel room in central Kuala Lumpur for last minute clues. I have two shirts laid out on the bed, one checkered with yellow and dark blue, and the other is plain black. At the corner of the bed is the yellow Bersih t-shirt I bought after the ‘Your Rights and the Police’ talk I attended a few days earlier. Wearing that t-shirt is out of the question. I am there as an observer, not as a participant. Surely, the yellow and dark blue checkered shirt is safe enough for that purpose? Surely, the authorities are not serious when they announced that yellow items of clothing are banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984? Surely yellow t-shirts are not seditious?

I am in Kuala Lumpur to observe Bersih 4, an organised rally protesting against the 1MDB financial scandal, which also implicates the Prime Minister due to the RM 2.6 billion found in his personal bank account. As the name indicates, this rally is the fourth iteration of such organised by the civil society movement, Bersih 2.0, which is a coalition of NGOs that call for electoral reform. Since achieving independence in 1957, elections are regularly held every five years, even though the same coalition, Barisan Nasional, has won every time. Bersih (Clean in Malay) argue that the electoral system needs to be reformed, due to manipulation of the system such as gerrymandering. After all, elections are, the cornerstone of democracy.

The rallies organised by Bersih have always taken place in Kuala Lumpur, the financial capital of Malaysia, a city established on tin-mining in mid -19th century during the time of colonial British. The first rally in 2007 brought thousands of people to the streets of Kuala Lumpur after a period of relative quietness. That particular protest seemed to have opened the floodgates. There was an explosion of protest activities since then, with a myriad of causes ranging from the purely political to environmental issues.

Nurul2 First day of the protest (August 29th). Picture courtesy of Nurul Azlan

The first Bersih rally in 2007 also witnessed the use of social media, although it was not until the second rally in 2011 that it became truly widespread and, as some have argued, crucial to the success of the rallies in terms of mobilisation. Set against the backdrop of a worldwide eruption of protests in 2011, from Occupy to the Arab Spring, Bersih share a similar trait with the others, a prominent online presence matched with a highly visible occupation of urban space.

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A City of Comings and Goings – E-Publication

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We’ve got a brand new Design as Politics E-publication for you! A City of Comings and Goings – about the spatial implications of migration.

In this publication, originally written for the Dutch urban design magazine De Blauwe Kamer, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost discuss that the way we deal with the current refugee crisis and the locations on which we house those that seek refuge, reveals a wider problem concerning the flexibility and absorption capacity of our cities. They argue that by isolating the refugee crisis we deny the fact that migration has become a fact of life. It will only increase in decades to come and  we should look at the broader phenomenon that concerns not only those fleeing war or poverty but also well-paid expats, migrant workers, nomadic students, architects who travel from city to city and even Dutch workers whose existence has been rendered unpredictable by a more flexible labour market. This asks for different ways of planning our cities in order to deal with demographic fluctuations.

A city of Comings and Goings is a research project initiated by Crimson Architectural Historians and executed in collaboration with the chair of Design as Politics and The Berlage Center for advanced studies in architecture and urban design at TU Delft. A Dutch version of this text was originally published in the Blauwe Kamer Jaarboek Landschapsarchitectuur en stedenbouw 2015.

Wouter Vanstiphout is Professor at the TU Delft Chair of Design as Politics and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians. Michelle Provoost is director of the International New Town Institute and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians.

Lets Work! Da Lang Fever 2.0

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In the Fall of 2015 the Design as Politics graduation Studio ‘Lets Work!’ visited the Chinese City of Shenzhen on a factfinding excursion. Part of our visit was focused on Da Lang  – a migrant neighborhood in the north of the city. The International New Town Institute, who is working in Da Lang for many years, helped us to set up an amazing program. In order to  thank them for their great efforts, we made this poster as an virtual addition to INTI’s contribution to the Shenzhen Biennale titled: Da Lang Fever 2.0, which is focused on the transformation of a vacant hotel into a place for the empowerment of  migrant workers.

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Shenzhen can rightfully be called the ‘Manchester of the 21st century’ since, just like the northern English town in the nineteenth century’, it is the capital of the current industrial revolutions. It is the place where the most important industrial activities take place, where innovation happens on a tremendous pace and where the urban form, the social structures are most affected by industry’s transformations.

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But Shenzhen is of course also a a consciously planned community, based on the twentieth century model of the New Town. Therefor it is also one of the places in the vast international network of New Towns kept up by the International New Towns Institute, with which our faculty has a close relationship. INTI had been working for some years with the community of Da Lang in the north of Shenzhen, a typical Shenzhen collage of rationally planned factories, densely packed and more organically grown urban villages, that is now making a fast and sometimes harsh transition from pure manufacturing to more design and knowledge based activities. This means that many of the existing urban villages, with their low educated migrant workers communities are threatened with expulsion and the demolition of the urban fabric.

In the middle of this contested urban situated, lies a gigantic, monstrous neo-classical husk of a never opened hotel. INTI has been working with the local community to use this building as a base where the lively culture and entrepreneurship of the urban villages might take root and express itself to the outside world, as a way to assert the value and existence of the existing community, and defend it against the blind replacement with another, rocher class of workers.

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In a day long workshop on the site, and then further design workshops in Delft, the students of the grad studio, translated INTI’s ambitions into an architectural/economic scenario for the building, filling up its endless cavernous halls and long hallways with cultural, economic, domestic and community programs.

The ambition was to show how a building like this could become a hub for a community with many different identities and activities, and could harmonize its existing qualities and people, with the exciting new future it faces as a center for design and fashion based industries. Also the Design as Politics students and tutors used this scenario as a way to report on the mind boggling richness, the density and the inventiveness that they found on the streets and in the buildings of this most dynamic of New Towns.

Our intervention questions the ability of the current top-down approach to planning. to fully regenerate the neighborhood whilst maintaining its identity. Our proposal considers how the hotel structure could be repurposed to create some of the socio-economic conditions necessary to regenerate the neighborhood whilst also incorporating the needs of the existing population of migrant workers. To achieve this, an accessible space catering for all the daily activities of a migrant worker is provided. Spaces for education, production, consumption, dwelling and leisure are provided, as well as the urban circulatory infrastructure needed to engage with though surrounding area. Through the integration of different programmatic functions we believe an active, collaborative environment may be nurtured giving opportunities to migrant workers to acquire the necessary skills and equipment to become entrepreneurs.

The design for the hotel in Dal Lang is not just a group design for the reuse of a building, but also the mémoir of a trip.

 

A Different Approach To Migration

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While many European countries, cities and villages are discussing how to solve the ‘migrant crisis’, the rural village of Riace in the South of Italy has found its own way to turn the influx of immigrants and refugees to revive their shrinking village. We at Design as Politics wonder what other places in Europe can learn from the approach in Riace? Why are migrants for example not located in areas where work is available? Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more widespread phenomenon? And can we think of ways to bring multiple interests into the picture? … We don’t know the answers yet, but will for sure keep (re)searching, discussing, and talking about this issue. We have an event coming up this week together with Crimson Architectural Historians, and more to come next year, that’s for sure! We’ll keep you posted.

Along the coast in Riace, a small rural village in Calabria, Italy, signs are placed saying: ‘the beach and the sea are free for those who come here to swim, and for those who arrive here swimming.’

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Riace – once an almost abandoned village, which was in danger of becoming a ghost town as people left to northern Italy for jobs during the economic growth – has today secured its own future by offering homes and jobs to migrants who arrive in the village. At this moment over 400 hundred refugees and migrants from twenty-five nationalities are living in Riace and make up one quarter of the total population.

Welcoming refugees allowed the village to preserve basic public services such as schools, as well as shops and businesses that had almost all vanished. “Without foreign children, this school would have remained closed” says teacher Maria Grazia Mittica. “But the number keeps changing. Because foreign children come and go.”

According to the mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, the arrival of these people creates optimism – both for the people who arrive, as for the citizens of the village itself. “Whatever the challenges, this has to be a better solution for migrants than being locked up in a holding center where their children cannot go to school.”
Some years ago, the mayor of Riace contacted the owners of since long uninhabited houses asking them to make the houses available for refugees and migrants. The houses would be refurnished and a little rent would be paid. Most of the owners agreed. A foundation was established, named ‘Citta Futura’, which would receive 30 euros per day of the Italian State, intended for housing, language training, medical costs and workplaces. The Citta Futura hands out token that can be exchanged for food in local shops. The refugees receive monthly 250 Euro for their daily needs. They can earn additionally 500 Euro if they work. Special workshops are established where migrants can learn old crafts.

30 Euro per day per migrant might seem like a lot of money, but staying in a huge refugee camp costs about 70 Euro per day per migrant. The Riace funding comes from a national protection programme for refugees and asylum seekers, SPRAR, and is granted for one year stay for each new villager. If the year is over and the refugee has not found employment at that time, s/he has to go. According to Lucano, 10 percent of the migrants can stay after one year in the village. Others look for jobs elsewhere in Italy or abroad. It seems sad that many of the people have to leave after one year of living in Riace, but they at least have had the opportunity to learn the language and a profession, while they also have had access to medical care. Conversely, they keep the village alive. Without these people, Riace would be an empty town.

Riace might seem like an extreme example, but we think lots of European cities can learn from the approach of this village in Calabria.

Can we for example locate migrants in areas where work is available to them, like in Riace? In the Netherlands the majority of the refugees are staying in thinly populated parts in the northeast, while most job vacancies are located in the Randstad. This makes it very difficult for migrants to learn the language and to integrate.

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Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more disseminated phenomenon, and can we think about how to bring multiple interests in the picture? Migration has fundamental causes and it is an illusion that one can solve the refugee crisis by strengthening borders and finding ‘regional solutions’ as some people are arguing. Refugees and migrants spend over a billion euro a year in order to reach Europe, while Europeans pay a similar amount to keep them out. Europe’s restrictive immigration policy has been a windfall for the companies that serve it and for human smugglers. Can’t we use this money for creative solutions instead of paying these companies and smugglers?

The real problem in our cities, countries and societies today is not migration, but the inability to take in and adapt to new residents. By looking at the refugee problem in isolation we are denying that migration has become a fact of life and one that will not increase in the coming decades.

Announcements and upcoming events:

  • The first event around this topic  will already take place this week in the New Institute, together with Crimson Architectural Historians, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost will discuss the  Spatial Implications of the immigration Crisis.  Reading Migration – Nieuwe Instituut, Thursday 17 december 20.00 – 22.00.
  • Starting in January next year, we will host a series of seminars around the spatial dimensions of migration at the Berlage – Center for advanced studies in Architecture and Urban Design. More info Soon!
  • At the beginning of next year we will publish a Design as Politics Long Read on migration and design – coming soon!
  • In the course of next year we will organize a symposium on his topic together with the OTB Research institute for the built environment. More info Soon!
  • And more… (but you’ll hear about that later)

Who Builds Your Architecture?

transforming global workforces

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While looking at work in relation to architecture at this year’s theme of the Design as Politics graduation studio, we of course came across the fuss again about Zaha Hadid’s Quatar World Cup Stadium. Even more interesting is that the debate that arose around this project, triggered Laura Diamond Dixit, Tiffany Rattray, and Lindsey Lee to focus their contribution to the Istanbul Design Biennale on migratory paths of workers as well as working processes in design and construction.

In 2014 many people disagreed with the comments of star-architect Zaha Hadid on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. It was announced that more than 1200 migrant workers had died during the construction of the Quatar World Cup Stadium, which Hadid had designed. Probably, no one was more critical on Hadid than reviewer Martin Filler from The New York Review of Books, denouncing her carelessness to the estimated one thousand laborers who had died.

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However, Hadid had a disparagement suit against Filler and told the BBC during an interview that there had not been any problems in Qatar. She considered it not the duty of the architect to deal with the terrible conditions of migrant construction workers laboring on multi-billion dollar projects. According to Hadid, architects don’t have the power to do anything about this.

Is Zaha Hadid mistaken about having no influence on worker’s conditions regarding the buildings she designs? How can architects ensure human right protection extended to those who build architecture worldwide? How do architects, designers, engineers, manufacturers, consultants, production line workers and others contribute to building processes, and who takes responsibility for the illegal migrant workers?

In a project exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennale, visitors can discuss and experience what participation in an architectural complex building implies in the context of global mobility. In this project the convergence of global workforces on a building site is illustrated in schedules and maps, supported by reports from sources such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting all sorts of issues in regard to migrant construction workers. The migratory paths of workers as well as processes in design and construction are imagined, and connected to ideas on solution and intervention. Could this exhibition pursue architects, like Zaha Hadid, to advocate for better working and living conditions on building sites around the world?

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Sources images: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/qatar-reform-labout-laws-outcry-world-cup-slaves ,   http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/al-wakrah-stadium/ ,   http://www.e-flux.com/journal/who-builds-your-architecture-an-advocacy-report/.