Category Archives: Street Culture

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.

Afaina de Jong on Visual storytelling

Last week, we organized the second workshop for our students participating in the “we the people” graduation studio. This time: a hands-on session by the multidisciplinary architect Afaina de Jong on Visual storytelling.

During this workshop, Afaina de Jong – creator of the book  ‘For the People, By the People: A Visual Story of the DIY City’ – introduced the students to her vision on what architecture and the city can be in the 21st century with a DIY attitude at the heart of the city making process. She explained how photography could be used as a tool to register urban trends and to create a consciousness about what movements can serve as a basis for sustainable urbanism rooted firmly in local communities.

The students were asked to think about questions as: How do we tell a story using visual means? Why do architects go to a site, take hundreds of pictures and then come back to the office without having really looked at the place? How can we look at places and see, discover what’s already there? What are the stories that already exist on our sites, that pass in front of our eyes without us even noticing? Why do designers have to make up stories if they are already there?

Loaded with a bundle of visual content (videos, pictures, drawings, etc.) from an unknown place, students were asked to look attentively and discover the underlying narratives in the area. Then they had to rearrange all that information into a basis for an architectural intervention, that represents the local people and their needs, while at the same time connecting to the bigger picture of what plays nationally and also internationally.

Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots

Who has seen our lectures knows that Design as Politics is -just as Reyner Banham and Charles Jencks– fascinated by Los Angeles. The movies, the glamour, its rap culture and of course the Riots.

Now 20 years after the violent uprising that was triggered by the savage beating of Rodney King, filmmaker and former CNN staffer Mark Ford (known from his doc about N.W.A.) released the movie Uprising: Hip Hop & the LA Riots. The film –narrated by the one and only Snoop Dogg– revisits the riots in gripping detail and documents how hip hop forecasted –some say ignited– the worst civil unrest of the 20th century. It contains interviews with rappers, musicians, police officers and victims who lived through the 1992 riots and shows never-before-heard stories from Rodney King, John Singleton, Too Short, Big Boy, Sir Jinx, and even the L.A. Four. Check the trailer, but careful, it’s shocking.

Ill Manors

“I genuinely want to change things. This is just the first step. Let me make my point first and raise the issue, if anybody wants to talk to me about how I think we can change these things I’m ready.”

With this statement the British rapper Plan B released his latest track ill manors, persuading the audience that this is not about commerce. This is the real thing! For the guardian reason to honor it with the title ‘greatest British protest song in years’. For lovers of political music -like us- almost to good to be true.

The track, basted on Peter Fox’s Alles Neu, reflects the raging unease around the London riots of last summer, life on a council estate, the closure of community centers and the adverse impact of the 2012 Olympics on London’s poor. It has much in common with Public Enemy or the Clash. Music that addresses a riot and sound like a riot. How Plan B said: The song needs to get under people’s skin. Just like those horrible pictures we see on cigarette packets that are designed to shock us into being aware of our actions.”

The song is part of a bigger project. An album and film, both called Ill Manors, are set to follow, along with plans for social activism. Oi!

It’s procrastinate-o-clock again! This time, the most glamorous riot of them all: the Rodney King riots. Los Angeles, 1992. Lots of anger. Lots of guns. Lots of helicopters and cameras. And gangster rap.

Ah, Los Angeles. Design as Politics loves it, admittedly because Reyner Banham does too. His book about the city is amazing, but this is even better: watching Banham himself cruise through town for about an hour is indeed an hour well spent. But that’s enough reality for now: more than anything Los Angeles is a place of myth and media and fiction. The city of course stars in about half a million movies – this one is great because it has Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and lots of violence. Else, try Blade Runner. Interestingly, Hollywood has also produced quite a few movies in which Los Angeles gets destroyed completely.

Then, the riots. This is what started it. Then this happened – for about a week. Naturally, there is an incredible amount of footage from the riots: do pay attention to the awesomeness of 90’s fashion and hair styles. Only in LA do looters care about their appearance. Also, this oddity of a documentary is an interesting watch if you can sit through the horrific starting credits.

Lastly, there is music. Lots of it. And a white, British reporter talking about LA’s gang culture in 2008.

Note for those who want to attend the lecture: tomorrow’s and next week’s lecture will be held at 10:45, in lecture hall C!

Yes! Another lecture! And more tips on how to waste time on the youtubes! This week: the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot in London. Extra interesting because of the recent London riots – about which much, much more very soon. For now, lots of grainy VHS-format fun below.

The first half of the 80’s were somewhat of a riotous period in the UK: the Broadwater Farm incidents were part of a larger series of uprisings. See for instance John Akomfrah’s Handsworth Songs (part 1,2,3,4), documenting racial tensions leading up to a series of riots in Handsworth, Birmingham (Wouter Vanstiphout’s favourite reggae band published an album about Handsworth, by the way). Also, Tom Cordell made a beautiful documentary on London and its planning history, but it is rather hard to find – here’s the trailer. For even more on London’s cityscape, we kindly refer you to Johnny Rotten.

But in Broadwater Farm, a police officer was murdered by the mob – something that hadn’t happened in more than a century. Everybody’s favourite documentary manufacturer – the BBC – reconstructed the how, where and who (or, in this case, who not) twice: click here and here (watchable in the UK only, unfortunately). Also, Broadwater Farm itself also has a devoted reggae track from the 80’s – and a number of, ehm, more contemporary beat poets, too. For more on the estate itself, see the BF Community Centre website.

For a comparison between 1985 and 2011, see this article in the Telegraph.

Picture by Cromacom

This post accompanies part two of the Blame the Architect lecture series. This week we’ll discuss the 1967 Race Riots in Detroit; extra material for those who are interested or otherwise unoccupied can be found below.

Firstly, please watch this before you do anything else Detroit-related: it’s made by Julien Temple and it’s an absolutely brilliant (8.0 says IMDB)  portrait of present-day Detroit. Yes, that’s a dodgy looking Russian website we refer you to, but unfortunately the documentary is pretty hard to find (or buy, for that matter). For those who like their documentaries sponsored by a shoe brand and featuring celebrities-through-self-mutilation, Palladium had Johnny Knoxville walk around some ruins actually make a very interesting portrait of the city. And this looks interesting too.

Then there is this gem of public broadcasting: Detroit on the Move has mayor Jerome Cavanagh paint a bright and prosperous future for the city of Detroit, just two years before the riots would tear the city apart.

On a lighter note though, besides urban decline and violence Detroit also means cars and music of course. And more music. And even more music. And some more cars (caution: Australian accents). O, and great songs too. The Supremes were born here, by the way –  and Eddie Murphy’s claymation series the PJ’s was set there as well.