When Eberhard van der Laan became mayor of Amsterdam in 2010, one of his missions was to make Amsterdam a ‘verantwoordelijke hoofdstad’ (literally, a responsible capital). In his acceptance speech, van der Laan suggested that Amsterdam, as the capital city of the Netherlands, should not only have good collaborative relationships with its own city-region, but also with the country as a whole. He felt especially responsible for shrinking municipalities, which are much less fortunate than the attractive and wealthy city-region of Amsterdam. Van der Laan expressed the willingness and ambition to show solidarity with the fastest shrinking parts of the Netherlands and to offer them help to solve their problems.
Amsterdam:The Responsible Capital?
Filming Cities is a new feature here at The Proto City. Each month, one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. After looking at modernism on the West Coast (see last months ‘Coast Modern‘), Lukas Franta reviews Ingo Baltes’ documentary ‘Conversations in Milton Keynes’ (2011).
Conversations in Milton Keynes
by Ingo Baltes
Milton Keynes: ‘We try to catch people with our landscape’
Milton Keynes is a city in Great Britain, approx. 72km north of London on the way to Birmingham. It is a city quite well known, though not for its beautiful city center or its turbulent history. Milton Keynes is known as being the biggest planned city (‘new town’) in the country, designed in the 1960s and subsequently built according to the ideals of modernism: functional separation of living, working and shopping, with a strong focus on the car as the main means of transportation. Vast green spaces with a network of paths are connecting the neighborhoods with the shopping mall, which is as well the ‘heart’ of the city, and the only lively public space.
Baltes’ documentary starts with a very personal story on why he made a movie about this city: he ended up in Milton Keynes by accident, got lost on the way from the bus stop to the ‘center’ on the search for a hotel in the middle of the night. And failed. Continue reading
Beyond natural disasters and poverty
Bangladesh has recently made the headlines of western media as a country of floods, collapsing garment factories and poverty. In addition, these media coverings often incorrectly portray the country as religiously and ethnically homogenous. Through this contribution I hope to enrich the image of the country and challenge some of the often implicit assumptions in western media. I will do so by looking at a largely neglected process of social change; the rapid urbanization and the challenges that arise as a result of it. This contribution is an outcome from my own experiences from a three-month fieldwork period in 2012 in the country’s capital Dhaka on urban migration and structural urban challenges in the city. During my stay my attention was drawn towards Chakma migrants, an ethnic minority from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a rural region in the Southeast of Bangladesh. As the sections beneath will illustrate, Chakma migrants do not only face chronic urban challenges such as air pollution, traffic congestion and housing problems as other Dhaka inhabitants, but also face social exclusion on the basis of their ethnic belonging. Namely, Chakma migrants are by many other Bangladeshis considered to be underdeveloped people from the jungle. More broadly, the focus on this group of migrants reveals the additional challenges vulnerable social groups may face when migrating to major urban centers.
View over Dhaka (source: UN, photo taken by Kibai Park/Sipa Press)
“Having dementia is very tough but having a city who excludes dementia that is really tough” (Bart Deltour, Foton Dementia Charity, Bruges)
Can’t see. Can’t hear. Can’t talk – Widespread Approaches Towards Dementia in Cities? (Photo made by Michael Corsi)
Buzz words and ideas revolving around ‘sustainable’, ‘age-friendly’ or ‘inclusive’ city making are relatively widespread and gained increasing momentum in the past decade. All of which aim to improve cities in one way or the other, calling attention to population groups or issues often left out of the discussion. Recently a new term and rhetoric has been put forward and enjoys growing attention in cities across the world –so called ‘dementia-friendly’ communities. Not (yet) something very typical to be found on urban planning and community development agendas. Given the increasing number of people diagnosed with dementia today, this will most probably change.
This short piece is not about how to prevent dementia (which researchers and medical companies appear to disseminate on a daily basis). It introduces and discusses the concept of ‘dementia-friendly’ cities by reference to Bruges, a Belgian city actively working towards ‘dementia-friendliness’. When thinking of dementia, rarely (practical) questions come to mind: How is it like for dementia patients to go about their lives and navigate in a city? Or what are the experiences of care takers, family members and friends accompanying them. Usually when dementia enters (public or private) discussions, images of nursing facilities and other care institutions (specialized or not) in patients with dementia are portrayed. It is those images (of mostly locked up, passive and very old recipients of care) and a lack of diverse portrayals of dementia that a ‘dementia-friendly’ rhetoric challenges and critically questions.
Modernist Housing With Plain Public Space (source: das-neue-dresden.de)
Large scale urban developments as they were common since the 1960s were often inspired by modernist ideals such as the ‘tower in the park’ and the idea of a functional separation of spaces in these estates: living, working, moving and transportation and leisure activities. This separation resulted in often disintegrated and ample spaces, especially for leisure activities that were as well insufficiently designed. Rather than being conceived as an intrinsic part to the quality of life and the well-being of residents, leisure spaces were seen as gap fillers between the buildings and provided besides grass and some trees few diversity in its design. Public spaces and streets were designed in a similar conception as spaces of movement and circulation rather than places which residents should use to live, meet, or spend some of their spare time.
Various estates in cities around the world highlight the modernist understanding of public space in such estates: from the banlieues in France to the big housing estates in Germany and especially in cities with a socialist history in the eastern part of Germany to Poland and Russia.
Time not only changed the political order of the world, but also the planning paradigms away from the modernistic and functionalist understanding of cities and life in cities to a more integrated, open and differentiated view on spaces and places in neighborhoods. In the following paragraphs I want to outline a positive example of how to conceive and plan public spaces in large scale residential developments: the project ‘Seestadt Aspern’ in Vienna. Continue reading
Filming Cities is a new feature here at The Proto City. Each month, one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. To kick off the series, editor Adam Nowek reviews a film about West Coast Modernist architecture.
Promotional Poster for Coast Modern
Directed by Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome
Produced by Twofold Films
“The environment we grow up and we live in really does affect our ways of understanding and relating to space.” – Kim Smith, architect
Still from Coast Modern
The aesthetics of modernist architecture in most countries of the world has a particularly negative connotation: huge and monotonous tower blocks are replicated endlessly across the city, from the centre to the periphery. On the Pacific Coast of North America, though, something very unique happened: modernist residential architecture, from Vancouver to Los Angeles, sought a deep relationship with art and natural surroundings in the home. Continue reading
Scaling the Housing Project
Planning is a profession. When a new housing development has to be planned, urban planners need to think of suitability, supply and demand, stakeholders’ interests, and feasibility, amongst others. But most of all, they need to question the scale of the project in combination with the demands of the local people they are planning for. In other words, is a new development suitable for the environment? What are reasonable projections in terms of housing demand? Given all these considerations, urban planning needs to be taken seriously. When this is not the case, things can go horribly wrong. This blog is about one of such cases: the Goese Schans, a big housing project in Goes, a city in the southwestern part of the Netherlands. I will show you what went wrong in the decision-making process, why it was too ambitious, too big, and how planners lost sight of the appropriate scale. But first, let’s introduce you to where this post is all about: the Goese Schans.
The Goese Schans from a (rendered) airial view (Source: goeseschans.nl)
Light traffic on Shenzhen’s six-lane Shennan Avenue (Photo: 121214.004 by Adam Nowek)
Whether you consider his architectural legacy to be a boon to urbanity or you see him as an architect that sucks the soul out of the cities he builds in, there is no denying that Rem Koolhaas, with his Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), is one of a select few globally recognisable architects that leaves a lasting impression, for better or for worse, on the city as a whole. One city, Shenzhen, is rapidly becoming the canvas of the Pritzker-winning architectural rock star, with two major projects in Shenzhen’s financial heart. Continue reading