Finishing with the lecture series “Urbanists Talk” that the NAi has been organized within the 5th IABR Making City, is the turn of Gert Urhahn, who made his speech after Pablo Allard on June 7th.
Gert Urhahn was Senior Urban Designer for the Municipality of Amsterdam between 1985 and 1990. He founded Urhahn Urban Design in 1991 and have been particularly experienced in renewal strategies for harbour and waterfront related projects. He is specialized in complex assignments where various stakeholders are together aiming to find a sound and tailor-made solution, as a senior designer or as supervisor is a member of the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP) and of the advisory body of the Amsterdam council (ARS).
The presentation was focused on the concept explained in his book “The Spontaneous City” applied to a specific project: Amsterdam Oostenburg. To explain how they developed the project he used a series of concepts based on the spontaneous city. He spoke about how people move into cities seeking to improve its economy, and the benefits that a bottom-up urban planning would provide for that purpose.
He showed the cases of El Alto city, in Bolivia or the Comissioners plan for Manhattan in 1811 as cases in which there are few planning rules, where priority is accessibility and well-planned public space, leaving room for spontaneous growth inside something so organized and strict as a grid. He spoke of attempts to apply this type of planning in Amsterdam and the rejection of political institutions, and how difficult it is to find support for bottom-up initiatives.
He also explained the message the Netherlands threw in the last Venice Biennale, re-use existing buildings, Re-use instead of expand as an strategy for the future of the city…
Supported in this background, Gert Urhahn moved then to the explanation of the specific case of Oosterburg, and how the Spontaneous City concepts are applied on it:
Zoom In, through plenty of small initiatives, moving from the single owner model to several ownerships, involving the people of the neighbourhood through small investments. The Colective Value, creating a framework for common space through accesibility, water, green spaces…
Leaving room for Open Development, just fixing what is absolutely necessary at the time, not creating a strict and close master plan, saving space for changes. And finally, Being User-Oriented, through the establishment of a participatory commission so the involved people can get an active role in the decisions regarding the plan.
A project where the concept of bottom-up planning is being pursued with success and served as the culmination of a series of conferences that have thrown some ideas about the urban environment and the way to make city that, in my opinion, will have much impact in the near future:
Participatory Urbanism (for real), bottom-up Iniciatives, Tactical Strategies, Low budgets, collective values, citizen involvement, open source, flexible rules… are just some of the concepts that are now in the spotlight of the discussion on the future of the city.