A Bird’s Eye View of the Nest!
In this book we introduce a new framework of thinking on how to build cities. The idea is to place social cohesion and community building in the center of urban development and to bridge the gap between the social and the physical aspects of construction. For this purpose we suggest to initiate temporary settlements in locations designated for city extension, in the time gap, where the old use has been discontinued, but building preparations for the new use have not started yet. While temporary settlements provide much needed housing on the lower end of the housing market, they also serve to “jump-start” the social process in newly built neighborhoods.
The Nest! idea is as simple as it is a complex concept. It relates to a wide range of issues and provides missing links to key debates. By treating challenges as opportunities, a comprehensive view is developed of the potentials inherent in problems, both on issues that presently are starting to surface, as well as on issues that have been on the political agenda for some time.
The basic idea is to create innovation by integrating the dimension of temporality into the field of urban planning and construction, traditionally the realms of permanence par excellence. The basic assumption is that a neighborhood can win in quality, if it can grow over time out of a small-scaled beginning. This applies socially, economically and physically. The temporary settlement provides diversity as well as an open gradual process, both assets for urban development.
Many new neighborhoods take a long time before public transport functions, before shops, services, schools or care facilities are operational. It takes many more years before there is real life, before people know one another and form a strong community. Good neighborhoods are not something that can be engineered by experts on the drafting table like a car. Good neighborhoods are made by people, they grow from a community process. A temporary settlement on site before the physical construction of a new neighborhood begins, can provide the function of a “social warming up” of the new neighborhood as well as the basis for a wide range of close to home services for the new inhabitants.
Creating cheap accommodation and experimental space by setting up a temporary settlement in development locations where the old use has ended, but building has not started yet, is a way to attract and mobilize the pioneer energy of groups who are interested in cheap housing. Artists and creative people, people starting new lives in a new country, students and beginning entrepreneurs need access to affordable space. They have skills and talents to contribute to the emerging neighborhood. Migrants are often the first to fill market niches by the creation of shops and services. Artists use experimental space to create events and cultural innovations.
People with little money often develop elaborate social networks to compensate for the lack of monetary resources. Different kinds of people in different phases of their lives have different things to offer each other and their neighborhoods.
Integrating temporary settlements into development sites brings people together with different assets and creates a basis for the development of new markets and services.
The series of studies presented in the following chapters show ways how temporary settlements can be economically and socially productive and beneficial to all target groups: to the inhabitants of the temporary settlement, the residents of the new neighborhood, to adjacent communities, the municipality, as well as to developers and investors.
Temporary settlements offer ways of counteracting the problem of ‘dormitory settlements’, by attracting and linking different forms of resident capital: social, economic, symbolic, and cultural.
Temporary settlements can be initiated anywhere there are time and space gaps in urban planning. This book develops the general concept of temporary settlements. In order to make the concept concrete, it has been applied in a case study to the municipality of Arnhem, the Netherlands, with special focus on the Vinex town extension project Schuytgraaf. In chapter 13 we develop four case scenarios as examples for the Nest!.
What is often lacking in urban development is an understanding of what creates socially and economically vibrant neighborhoods. Much know-how has been developed in increasing the quality of the physical dimension of urban construction. Often, however, beautifully designed and built new neighborhoods fail to come alive. What is lacking is the social component: communication between the residents, and the claiming of public space in the neighborhood for social interaction. The way physical environments -but also modern timetables- are organized often stands in the way of developing the social fabric of communities. The capacity to spend time and to make contact in the neighborhood is decreasing. The development of social interaction and social cohesion increasingly requires supportive infrastructure and animation.
To develop social cohesion in neighborhoods, residents need places and opportunities to meet, to do things together, to exchange knowledge, talents and information and to develop social interest and responsibility towards each other. Merely designating indoor and outdoor space as community meeting places, however, does not seem to do the trick. More often than not, community meeting places remain rather lifeless, green spaces are anonymous or unpopulated and do not feel safe.
What is required for communities to come alive is people who have the time and the incentive to spend their time in the neighborhood.
The temporary settlement as developed in this book contains several key elements for these conditions to be met:
In the chapter on “Pioneer Motivations” we describe how cheap accommodation, room for self-initiative and experimentation, an active community and opportunities to build up a more promising future are key pioneer motivations. By providing these conditions the temporary settlement attracts people with time and pioneer energy to the location: students, starter families, artists, migrants. The level of services offered by pioneer groups can also attract seniors as (part-time) residents to the settlement.
In the chapter on “The local Economy” we describe an economic model that creates opportunities and incentives for people to spend their time and money in their neighborhood.
The Community Academy, the Mother Center and an International Garden are initiatives that stimulate resident involvement, strengthen social cohesion and keep up the pioneer spirit as the settlement evolves into permanence.
Despite town extension projects starting to build new housing, in Arnhem like anywhere else in the Netherlands there is a serious crisis in housing production. This problem has a complex set of causes that are related to complicated regulations, artificially low prices in the subsidized sector, the general economic situation, stagnation in the rental market and decreasing possibilities to enter the home owner market.
To get into one of the newly built locations one must be either economically well off, have a house to sell, or be eligible to the grace of social housing. With the widening of the gap between high quality investment or nothing at all comes the risk that the traditional motor of new neighborhoods, young starter families cannot get in anymore on their own force.
That shifts the balance between potential pioneers for the temporary settlement and potential residents of town extension settlements in favor of the temporary settlement.
Despite the present demand for cheap houses for starters, experts say that the strategies should not focus on “more of the same” but on long term demand for high quality housing. In providing this quality, just building a good house is not enough. Increasing numbers of especially seniors request good facilities in their living environment. They are looking for care services and facilities that make life more easy, pleasant and luxurious. Real estate agents sometimes say that the three major selling points of a house are location, location and location. The atmosphere of a neighborhood must be good, and services, entertainment and image become major points of competition on the housing market. These are factors which the traditional players in the field (corporations, developers) are not the best equipped to provide.
People identify with their neighborhoods to the extent that they can contribute to it. Participation in the shaping of the living environment supports a sense of ownership, pride and belonging. Development takes place when people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. The more inhabitants invest in their neighborhood, the richer it becomes, in culture, social cohesion, local knowledge building and problem solving.
The current situation in city development is shaped by a long tradition of welfare state mentality that defines people in regard to their needs and problems, creating public services as answer to these needs. As a result residents begin to see themselves as people with needs that can only be met by outsiders. They become consumers of services with little incentive to be producers. Self-initiative and self help tend to be activated only when public provision is seen as insufficient or things are perceived to have gone wrong. As a consequence citizen activation and participation tends to be associated with and linked to protest and opposition, rather than being an inherent part of governance.
In the Nest! approach residents are viewed as a central resource and as co-producers of urban problem-solving and development. Such an approach implies redefining and restructuring public services so that they support residents in identifying and mobilizing their assets to provide for their own needs. In such a process the role of government is to support citizens’ initiatives and assist inhabitants in getting involved in community development. Citizens are approached as partners rather than as clients.
Reinventing cities as a process of respectful collaboration to this end involves providing space and resources for people to ‘do their own thing’ as well as gaining independence from paternalistic welfare agencies and bureaucracies so that cities can be shaped by citizens, not just by developers.
Mobilizing and including women is an important element of participatory planning as it is often women as the producers of everyday life in communities who have great knowledge and expertise on what cities need to look like to be enabling and life supporting environments.
Local Economic Development
Social capital is created when people link to family, neighbors, friends, interest groups or close business relations. The amount of social capital, however, is declining in due to the socially fragmented nature of urban communities. People are adopting more and more individualistic survival strategies and/or they are depending on the state for services that, however, tend to not be able to replace what is provided by social networks.
Social cohesion, however, is also linked to economic activity, especially when conducted locally. Community life happens when there is local exchange of different forms of resources and assets. Community development goes together with economic development if the focus is kept local.
In our societies the labor market has become the primary way to access income and the only valid way for inhabitants to apply themselves to work. This market orientation blocks the energy and potential of all those who are excluded from the labor market.
In a similar way our qualification system blocks the potential and energy of anyone who did not make it through mainstream education systems. In the case of many migrants for instance, their certificates are not recognized in the host country. When inhabitants cannot contribute their talents and competencies through the recognized mainstream channels, their potential risks to be lost for society.
The Nest! provides ways to unblock these potentials and to create new channels through which the unused energy, talents and resources of people, who are outside the formal systems, can enter into society. The local focus of a neighborhood provides good conditions for accessing unused potential by offering a platform for local exchange. By organizing the temporary settlement as a learning organization and by creating local exchange structures the Nest! seeks to bring out and further develop the different forms of social, cultural, economic, and symbolic capital, that inhabitants have to contribute.
For exchange to happen there needs to be diversity, a matching of supply and demand, people having different needs as well as different talents and contributions to offer. There needs to be facilities and methodologies for identifying as well as validating skills and competencies. There needs to be a system that creates visibility, recognition and valorization of different forms of capital. And finally there needs to be a system to make these different forms of capital exchangeable and to offer incentives to invest them in the community.
The temporary settlement creates local conditions for social and economic development as well as citizen participation. Bonding and networking are stimulated through community meeting places and events: the Mother Center, the International Garden, the Settlement Events Program. The Community Academy serves to exchange and validate local knowledge, creates reflective space and organizes resident participation in the development of the neighborhood. This enables to draw on local knowledge as well as to make informal learning settings productive for urban development.
In the chapter on the Local Economy a local trade system is designed in a way that draws on local assets and local talent, and that contributes to the social cohesion of the community as well as to the economic sustainability of the temporary settlement.
Communities that have mobilized their internal assets, offer attractive opportunities and partnerships for investors who are interested in a return on their investment. They open up new markets and create lucrative development perspectives. For local communities partnerships with public and private investors are an important part of the process. Be it government programs or private investors: investing in empowered and economically active local communities is an effective use of resources. Social welfare expenditures decrease as the economic well-being and self sufficiency of residents grow.
Communities where life-styles are very uniform tend to stagnate. Diversity proves to be an important factor for neighborhoods to be vibrant and animated. Diversity, however, is also a challenge for integration and social cohesion. Creating opportunities for social interaction and mutual benefit between diverse groups constitute crucial elements of diversity management required in human settlements.
Seeing diversity as a resource rather than a problem is key to a productive approach to diversity. In international debates on migration, increasing emphasis is being put on the talents and resources that migrants bring with them. These often remain inaccessible to host societies due to blocking conditions caused by rules and regulations. If allowed more space to build up a future for themselves refugees and migrants are a group that can contribute considerably to identifying market niches, creating affordable services and developing small businesses that can generate the type of multi functionality needed for settlements to be alive and attractive.
If allowed to start building up their lives and their livelihood by usefully investing their time and talents in projects and activities in the framework of a temporary settlement, refugees and migrants can contribute a great deal to the development of vibrant neighborhoods.
Learning the language of the host country is a central part of integration. Recent evaluations have shown that obligatory language courses achieve limited results in this respect. Successfully learning the host language depends strongly on linking the learning to everyday life motivations and every day life situations. The host language is learned to the extent that an identification with and a promising future in the host society is developed. Learning a language well is linked to applying it, to using it in regular life situations. The different projects and activities developed in the temporary settlement create many occasions for linking language courses to practical use in neighborhood settings.
The Mother Center, the International Garden as well as the Local Economy include many approaches and in-roads for a productive use of cultural diversity and for intercultural mainstreaming.
Interjecting temporary settlements in city development is an end in itself as well as a means to an end. It solves current shortages on the housing market as well as providing a basis for more alive neighborhoods.
Accessible Accommodation: The Folding Chairs of the Housing Market
Despite the rather modest and temporary conditions of the temporary settlement, we expect all the units to get rented out easily. This is because they are cheap and because the temporary settlement appeals to pioneer motivations by offering opportunities to build up a future, to be creative, do things yourself and to experience community.
By planning the start-up of the temporary settlement to coincide with the beginning of the academic year, many students will be interested in living there. The temporary settlement is also a solution for people who have a refugee status, but are forced to rent an expensive shared room in the asylum seeker center, by lack of possibilities for starters on the housing market.
Living temporarily in the Nest! Settlement can also be interesting to other starter families. By living in the temporary settlement a saving on housing expenses is made and capital can be built up. Thus the settlement opens up the possibility to starter families to over time be able to acquire accommodation in the permanent settlement, which is now impossible for an increasing number of people.
Although the long-term solution for the problems on the housing market is in providing high quality housing with high quality services, the people who would buy or rent these are in no hurry at all. This implies that it won’t be solved quickly. The acute shortage is in cheap housing. Until a fundamental move in the housing market starts, a demand for cheap housing exists. Because this demand will be temporary (though it might be around for longer than we think or hope now) the solutions should be temporary too: the folding chairs of the housing market. Folding chairs are used in busy times and afterwards they are put away or brought somewhere else. They are not too comfortable, but better than standing. The quality of the Nest! should not be compared to the standard of social housing, because it is intended for the increasing group who has no access to that.
Social processes are the major outcome of the Nest! Project, rather then physical products. Obviously, putting down a temporary settlement requires a major investment, but the capital investment in physical structures is kept to the absolute minimum.
That way more space exists for those aspects that under the pressure of limited resources normally don’t get much attention, but are nevertheless vital for new neighborhoods.
Liveliness and social cohesion that are so important for a neighborhood do not just drop out of the air, but need to be built up with as much care as the houses. If this process is taken for granted, the ghettos of tomorrow are constructed today. All the more so, because the social structure of a neighborhood changes with a speed that has surpassed the life-span of its physical structures as described in the chapter on Changing Urban Environments. Therefore it is becoming increasingly risky to invest today in neighborhoods of which the use and atmosphere (and therefore also the value) cannot be overseen for a longer period than ten to twenty years. This makes it reasonable to reduce physical investments to a minimum and instead shift the social/physical balance more in favor of social aspects. This will assure also the stability of the prices of real estate.
The quality of the temporary settlement is found in services and image, rather than in physical quality. Besides of a minimal input of capital investment, the approach requires a large input of players, who are normally not active in the field of city development. These will in the first place be the pioneers, but the political parties represented in the city council, the social sector, and the municipality should take responsibility too. Such an important task like developing a new part of town should be the concern of all of the citizens.
The quality of the living environment that can be provided by physical means, has reached its limit. Now improving the quality of urban settlements must come through other channels. City development is too important to leave to developers alone. It is time that other actors step in. The Nest! Project provides a vehicle for providing physical construction with a much needed social supplementary process.
Activities in the Nest!
The temporary settlement includes a wide range of both social and economic activities that can serve as a link between the pioneers in the temporary settlement, the future settlers of the permanent development, as well as the residents of the neighboring communities.
Businesses and Services – the Local Economy
Services developed in the temporary settlement include a wide range of close to home services (like childcare and babysitting, eldercare, house-sitting and dog walking, repair and janitor services, mending and ironing services, grocery services, library services) for the busy task combiners moving to the permanent settlement as well as for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. Artisan businesses related to building and renovation are part of a plan for private commissioning of housing.
Businesses can also target niche markets like a biological food coop or a fashion atelier, combining the talents of fashion students with migrant tailors. The economic activities developed in the temporary settlement are part of a specially designed Local Economy System. This system links a housing cooperative, savings and credit schemes, local businesses and a local job agency as major elements of a local economy. It makes use of both the formal as well as the informal skills of the inhabitants and creates new markets by linking supply and demand on a local level by use of a local currency. The Nest! Local Economy is designed in a way that allows for the whole range of social, cultural, economic and symbolic assets and resources that exist in the temporary settlement, to contribute to economic sustainability.
Calendar of Events
The temporary settlement offers a lot of space to organize events like exhibitions, graduation presentations, theater, dance and music festivals. Such activities can be art related, location related, like a collective tree planting action or an exhibition of local handicrafts, or nature related like nature walks looking at local plants and the biotope in the area. Special focus can be put on youth related events like summer camps, cross country cycling or skate competitions, as attractive activities for the youth are often lacking in residential communities.
These events will either be open air events, or organized in temporary constructions. They are attractive to the temporary as well as the permanent settlers They will attract other participants from other parts of town and of other towns too, contributing to the overall image of a municipality as a place where things happen.
International Garden – Sowing the Seeds of Community
The International Garden can be used for recreation as well as for growing vegetables. The plan foresees an international garden with individual plots on one side and on the other side a herb garden and a park space, open to the general public, to cut herbs to take home or to have an outdoor picnic or barbecue. The International Garden Project has strong community building qualities. It is a good way to integrate the new settlement with its environment and to bridge diversity. Gardening is a ‘green language’ understood by all.
The Mother Center is a place, where the three worlds, the old, the new and the temporary settlement can meet. It is likely to flourish because day care centers, cafes or community centers tend to be the last to open in a new neighborhood. Activities organized by the Mother Center like art and craft groups or a choir can strengthen the social life in the community and give opportunities for expressing creativity and talents. The Mother Center also offers programs of special interest to young families like nursing groups and debates on parenting or on a child and family friendly environment. A second hand shop, a toy library or reasonably priced midday meals can support the often tight budget of young families. The Mother Center also contributes to an equal participation of women in the activities and decision making processes of the settlement.
The Community Academy also constitutes space for social interaction and the exchange of experience and information. The main focus of the Academy, however, is knowledge building and the structuring of the settlement as the motor of the ‘learning city’. The Nest! Community Academy hosts a participative planning process to engage residents in the development of the new neighborhood.
The Community Academy monitors the learning, reflection and documentation process of the temporary settlement. It hosts workshops to facilitate group dynamics and diversity management as well as evaluative debates to learn from the experiences in the settlement. Skills audit programs and targeted training programs help validate and coordinate the existing knowledge and capacities of the residents. Further training opportunities support the updating of qualifications, to build up their future.
The Academy is the central switchboard for information and referral and for questions, complaints and ideas to be gathered and dealt with.
In Chapter 13 we sketch four scenarios of urban development in a case study targeted at the municipality of Arnhem, the Netherlands. In doing so we link to the city vision “Arnhem on the road to 2015” which was developed in a broad participative process including thousands of city residents. The scenarios that were at the base of this vision describe different prototypes as possible options for the future development of Arnhem. These prototypes address issues like economic growth and city identity and profile.
The Nest! methodology is applied to the four scenarios developed to come to this vision. In each scenario a different development location in the municipality of Arnhem serves as the stage to illustrate the methodology and its application in a possible future of Arnhem. In each of the cases the Nest! settlement functions as an additional vehicle to realize the city vision.
Benefits for the Municipality
Urban economy has moved from the production of commodities to the production of services and now to the production of images. Hereby culture is the main tool. Still the housing market is all about product. ‘Services’ are only thought of for groups in need of special care and ‘image’ is very often reduced to a shallow marketing trick.
Culture can create an economic base in a city or neighborhood. “Culture used to be a byproduct of prosperity. Nowadays it generates prosperity,” writes the American sociologist Sharon Zukin in her book The Cultures of Cities. “Culture not only attracts visitors and generates income, it also creates competitive advantage with regard to other cities and neighborhoods. Culture creates the suggestion of coherence and cohesion.”
City marketing is often directed towards the external market. It should be internal as well, a mental map that people have of their place, something they can be proud of, that has the potential of creating identification and internal cohesion.
A temporary settlement as sketched out by the Nest! Project has the potential of providing neighborhoods with a positive innovative image and a source of identification. The pioneer energy, the cultural elements of the temporary settlement as well as the services provided towards a better reconciliation of work and family life can greatly enhance the attractiveness of new developments.
For the municipality of Arnhem as a whole as well as for other municipalities the Nest! is a methodology that can enhance the quality of urban planning in any given development project as well as provide an innovative profile as “Learning City”. This involves innovative thinking and procedures and a re-learning of governance, where the development of new ways of partnership and respectful collaboration between city officials, mainstream stakeholders and inhabitants take a leading role in urban development.