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Placemaking Week 2017 is coming to Amsterdam!

Schermafbeelding 2017-09-19 om 09.32.56We are proud to announce the coming Placemaking Week 2017, which will take place this Fall in Amsterdam on October 10-14, 2017Building upon the momentum of last year’s successful event in Vancouver, Project for Public Spaces, in partnership with STIPOThe City at Eye LevelPlacemaking Plus and Pakhuis de Zwijger will host the placemaking event in Amsterdam! 

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Stockholm at Eye Level

Last October we spent 5 very busy days in Stockholm delivering a Plinth Game, Stockholm Edition. We very much enjoyed our days in Stockholm; there was great enthusiasm and momentum, it was great to walk the streets with the 40+ participants. We learned so much from the process and from their questions. We hope this will lead to many new collaborations in the new year.
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We are very pleased to share the final, extensive report, with all the results of the workshops. It consists of three parts:
  1. an introduction to the why, what and how of investing in a better Stockholm at Eye Level;
  2. the overwhelming results of our plinth game, visiting 12 locations in Stockholm, giving ideas for concrete improvement and conclusions for criteria for better plinths (bottenvåninger!) and
  3. ideas for your follow-up strategy, also based on the open space workshop we held on Friday with the whole group.

To stay informed, we’d like to invite you to become a member of our Facebook and our LinkedIn Group. It would be great if you could contribute to the discussions; starting soon, we will launch the plinth of the week (each week on Monday, a new plinth to be discussed, sharing international examples of good and bad examples), the chapter of the month (calling for reactions) and other discussions and inspiration.

Thank you Stockholm!

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Museumplein: from space to place

About 30 participants came to the placemaking session on Friday, including the Director of Concertgebouw, the Alderman, urban planners, entrepreneurs, and city- and neighborhood-level leaders. After an tntroduction by Fred from PPS and a short summary of Thursday’s placemaking game at the Pakhuis de Zwijger, we all headed out into the cold October air to walk  Museumplein and the surrounding areas.

At one point Fred conducted a mini-placemaking game with the group and that really got the juices flowing! Everyone split into smaller groups and came up 10 programs for 10 spaces in different parts of the square. There was lots of enthusiasm!

What were the goals of the day? It was basically a reconnaissance mission: we were trying to connect the institutes, users, (residents, entrepreneurs, institutes, visitors), with the space of the Museumplein. We wanted to rediscover and reconnect the different parts of Museumplein to the places and destination they have the potential to be. We also had in mind the Power of 10, to take it down a level and think in terms of programming the space.

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What were some immediate results, quick wins of the day? No doubt about it: a growing energy and a growing network between the participants. A sense that it doesnt have to be difficult: it can be simple, short-term, experimental solutions that make the difference. In the end, iterative place-based strategies means that nothing is permanent. So when can we begin?

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Placemaking on Museumplein

The Museum Quarter is a unique location in Amsterdam: it comprises no fewer than five world-class cultural institutions: the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. For the people of Amsterdam, the best works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Rietveld, as well as concerts by Bach, Händel or Liszt in one of the world’s best concert halls, are just around the corner.

In the immediate vicinity we find the Vondel Park, P.C. Hooft Street (the most up-market shopping street in the Netherlands), Van Baerle Street, the Spiegel Quarter (specializing in antiquities, linked to the Rijksmuseum function) and the northern section of the Pijp district (the ‘Quartier Latin’ of Amsterdam, where Amsterdammers themselves go out nowadays).

However, these areas are not linked, and the user groups are very separated. This week we will take a closer look at Museumplein with Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, from Project for Public Spaces, Peter from Placemaking Plus, and Meredith and Hans from Stipo. With a select group of participants, including planners, directors from the institutions,  local politicians, and entrepreneurs, we will discuss: How can we reconnect the institutions to the grassy “square”? How can we connect the surrounding areas to the Museumplein? Where can we make quick fixes? All this and more (and a video!) to come.

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The case of Helmond: an unorthodox approach

by Jan van Teeffelen

Key words: the dna of a former industrial, textile-producing city; transition of the city center driven by a non-growth scenario; the danger of spreading vs concentrating energy and investment; importance of quality and image of the public domain; the role of ’local heroes’; conditions for realization; the challenge for the next ten years.

The city of Helmond, the Netherlands, is one of many communities in the Netherlands that must transform from a blue-collar economy into a modern knowledge-based economy, like that of Rotterdam, Tilburg, and Eindhoven. In the case of Helmond, the people involved focused on the importance of the city center. Of course a (network) city is more than its center, but the center represents a major trump card in the game of city competition. The thesis was that the city and its ambitions would only be taken seriously if its image, performance of the public domain, and the experience at eye level were of high quality. The way this is achieved in Helmond is special and has never been realized on this scale in the Netherlands. This so-called ‘Helmond approach’ is difficult to copy because of its specific approach and strategy, but the principles are open for a process of learning and application elsewhere.

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The ‘Helmond method’

City planning and urban development often starts with a top-down approach, a long-term vision, and an elaborative set of policy documents (which are subject to plans of realization in several sectors like traffic, housing economy, etc.). This approach is bureaucratically conducted in a sequential, time absorbing process.

The case of Helmond was different. The city government saw it as a very special chance to take a different approach, more bottom-up. The policy gap was filled by private initiative and it was a process of learning by doing; it was business-driven and integrated.  But only under a few specific preconditions was this approach possible.

Preconditions and approach

People. People involved had vision, organizing power, a position in the city and the city center, and had convincing business skills. They were committed to starting a coalition of stakeholders to ‘get the job done’. Jan Verspaget and Thieu de Wit[i] were the key players from the beginning when they formalized a tight-knit city management organization with a clear mandate to act. The first step they made was to start the conversation with the responsible politicians. By doing so they created trust in their ambitions and plans to upgrade the city center in an integrated way, but also in a short amount of time, at low costs, and with more support of all the people who are going to be affected by the interventions. They also promised to realize a made-to-measure image for Helmond.

Trust. The city government quickly became partners and invested their trust in the management organization. This represented a huge step for the government, who were willing to ‘let things go’, quite against the Dutch planning tradition and eagerness of wanting to be in control. The next step was to ensure trust and cooperation from those concerned.

Process. Imagine the traditional way of reconstructing a shopping street from obsolete and desolate to a street that ‘works’ and is enjoyed by many. The process is often delayed by numerous construction and infrastructure projects, budgets are exceeded, street furniture and landscape assessed and installed, and finally the street manager who asks the shopkeepers to work on their exposure to the street and the public, the plinths and the facades. It is usually a time-consuming, expensive, and bureaucratic process.

The ‘Helmond method’ consisted of a ‘chain gang’: a parallel process that eliminated several limitations and responsibilities and resulted in a coordinated, time-efficient and cost-reducing approach. The first finished street showed that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and soon after the rest of the streets followed the example.

City management

The question remained: what to manage? During interviews we discovered the answer.[ii] “First we managed the recently regained trust from the city government, the entrepreneurs, and the involved citizens. Managing these partners started in 2002, and from the beginning we knew it had to be done in a different, unconventional way. We also had to involve various responsible city departments, which are usually managed in a top-down method. In order to save time and reduce costs, we also closely managed the budget.  With the many stakeholders involved, our management style was an intelligent way of building coalitions and trust in order to realize collective ambitions for public and private shareholders.”

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How it looks

The first strategic decision was the selection of the core investment area. This area should not be too large. Visitors, especially pedestrians have a limited reach (in time and budget) when visiting a city center. The area outside the core is not less important but different, with unique conditions for development and investment.

The next strategic decision was to present a visualization of the character and materials to be used. The visualization, a proposal made by a professional office[iii], was very convincing; it underlined the ambition of the project and the effects on the public realm and adjacent real estate.

Starting in 2003 and over a period of 10 years, the entire city center was designed and realized street by street. Not in a sequential order (sector after sector) but as one unit. All the necessary interventions occurred in one move. Support by local entrepreneurs has since grown, and there has been very little interruption in their businesses. The visual results are very convincing.

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Spin offs

  • A regained local pride by the citizens. The city center is a place to be once again.
  • Living in the city center became interesting again, while supported by high-quality streets and squares.
  • Real estate values rose as a proof of these qualities, allowing for opportunities of future investment.
  • A greater catchment area and support for enhanced shopping. Competition with other shopping centers in the region continues.
  • While vacancies in real estate for shopping have not diminished, it has been easier to find alternative uses such as new formula services, workplaces, cultural and social activities.

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What’s next?

Even though the stakeholders are celebrating the results of the past 10 years, they know they must consider the future. “How do we proceed for the next lap? A broad discussion is needed to explore the possibilities for a strategy based on a continued form of private-public coalition, which preserves the present results as well as explores new ambitions for the next ten years.” This is the next challenge for Helmond’s policymakers.

Conclusions and recommendations

A few of the most relevant and significant conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

  • The Helmond method is unorthodox, not to be copied as such but easy to learn of.
  • You need ‘local heroes’: people with vision, organizing power and persisting drive.
  • People/entrepreneurs with a well-understood private interest, but at the same time an eye for the greater public interest.
  • City government must be willing to give credit where credit is due, trust and room to move, but all under the condition that they stay responsible for the application of public means.
  • The scope should be based on how people experience the center on eye level: because this determines their behavior and appreciation.

[i]    Local entrepreneur and retail manager

[ii]   Interviews with: Jan Verspaget, Thieu de Wit, Gerard Lutters

[iii]  Proposal: Bureau de Twee Snoeken

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A new plinth strategy in De Pijp | Amsterdam at eye level

The North-South metro line is slated to change Amsterdam in many significant ways. It is the first metro in the city that will move people on the 9.2km axis and under the Ij river, to Amsterdam Central Station, and then on to Amsterdam Zuid Station. Zuid Station could potentially become the major transportation hub in the city, over Central Station. The line will run every 4 minutes in the day and every 10 minutes at night, with about 180.000 passengers per day. The €3.1 billion project has had several set-backs, budget adjustments, and delays. It is now slated for completion in 2017.

source: www.railway-technology.com/projects/ns_metro/
source: http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/ns_metro/

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What does this project have to do with the city at eye level?

Our assignment was to analyse the plinths in the area around the future metro stop at Ceintuurban, located in the vibrant neighborhood called De Pijp. De Pijp has a long history of being Amsterdam’s “Latin Quarter” and a melting pot of cultures and people. More recently, the neighborhood has begun the gentrification (and hipster-cation) process and more young and established professionals are moving into the area, which is undoubtedly changing the fabric of the neighborhood.

Our preliminary analysis, as usual, consisted of personal, one-on-one key stakeholder interviews from all types of fields in the area: shop owners, residents, developers, street managers, municipal officials, and users of the area. These are the people involved with De Pijp at eye level. It is important to get a well-rounded understanding of the current situation in order proceed with any further physical or social analyses of the plinths.

The analysis built up to an intensive, one-day “game” with about 40 other stakeholders. For the game, we used our Spider Graph method to assess the current plinths. This method is useful for identifying the priority areas among a host of criteria regarding the buildings, street, and context of the area (laid out in the book). It is also useful for identifying the “quick-wins” (easy solutions) and the longer-term gains.

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Right now, the plinths show the character of a diverse, multi-cultural neighborhood. Their design (or lack of) vary from cozy, organic feel to a stoic or tousled look. The variation can be charming and offers a ‘real’ neighborhood vibe. De Pijp also has a strong sense of local entrepreneurship, clearly visible in its plinths. Ferdinand Bolstraat, a main commercial street that crosses with Ceintuurbaan, has a good mix local shops and small and larger chains. The smaller streets that branch off from Ferdinand Bolstraat boast a number of high-quality local shops, cafe’s, and restaurants. On these streets, there are also a number of local artisans who are part of the network “Ambachten de Pijp” (Made in de Pijp).

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So, what are the impacts of a new metro line on this neighborhood’s plinths? In terms of design, function and programming?

The Ceintuurbaan metro stop expects to bring in about an extra 40.000 people per day to the area (about the population of the neighborhood itself!). We believe that a coalition of stakeholders must be formed (soon) in order to maintain the character of de Pijp. Large developers and investors are licking their chops at this type of opportunity and are waiting for the perfect time to make their proposals.

Our main questions to the group were: what should be cherished on these streets, what could disappear, how will those things happen and who will take responsibility and initiative to see to it?

Stay tuned for the results.

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