How to make a strong City Makers movement?

An inspiring City Expedition to The Hague on the second day of the New Europe City Makers Summit

The City expedition to The Hague was full of surprises. Not only because of five unexpected initiatives were added to the programme, but also because of the enormous potential for co-creative governance that these initiatives showcased. In The Hague the municipality actively searches for the ideas of citizens, there are City Makers who are not afraid to experiment, and there exist multiple spaces to meet and exchange ideas. What happened during the city expedition, and what should be done more often, is connecting the dots between them.  

We started our city expedition at the Werkatelier, which is an open office of the municipality with a huge map of The Hague on the floor and examples of city making projects covering the walls. Here Marcel Wijermans, urban planner of the municipality, presented the group of City Makers with another perspective on this city that is known for its bureaucratic image. At the Werkatelier the municipality has initiated the project ‘Ruimte voor de Stad‘ (Space for the City), which is an open office where citizens are invited to come by and share their ideas and opinions about the city’s development.

This way, the city seeks to learn how to adapt to transformations in the city while paying attention to the power and creativity of its citizens. Alongside the project ‘Ruimte voor de Stad’ the municipality also started to map and categorise city making activities per city district and bringing these into contact with the relevant city official. ‘Ruimte voor de Stad’ thereby nicely illustrates an important step towards creating more trust between citizens and the municipality.

Roggeveenstraat

After his presentation Wijermans joined the group of City Makers to Roggeveenstraat. In this street with picturesque red colored houses residents have successfully stopped the scheduled demolition and redevelopment of the neighborhood by starting a cooperation and together buying 65 of the houses in the street.

“We thought: we own the garden, why don’t we own the street?” – Hanno van Megchelen

While we walked through the street and the community garden Hanno van Megchelen explained to us that in terms of legislation it took a while before the residents were allowed to buy the street, but the street is still there and with the new housing law that was accepted last year the city is now very much supportive of this housing experiment.

Community Garden at Roggeveenstraat

Our next stop was around the corner at Lekker Nassuh where we enjoyed a very nice lunch and met a member of the Timebank that organises meet ups in the same building. The Timebank enables an alternative economy based on time instead of money. A very cool initiative that has a growing network of members all over the Netherlands.

We continued our expedition to the festive and busy street market at the Weimarstraat and café Kali Tengah where Jeroen Boon introduced us to the neighborhood’s energy cooperation the ‘Groene Regentes’, which aims to make the neighbourhood more sustainable by placing solar panels on the surrounding roofs and introducing a shareable electric car.

We then continued to the Schilderswijk, a district that is widely known for its social unrest and violent fights that broke out between different ethnic groups and the police. In the middle of the neighborhood next to the lively market, we met with a young guy of 28 who is the founder of Ap’s Recycling, a cleaning company that employs young guys from the neighborhood to clean the market and surrounding area. Many of the boys who work at Ap’s – or Appie’s – cleaning business have been on the verge of crime or radicalization. At Ap’s Recycling they get the strict rules, the attention, and the trust they need to turn their life around. This makes Appie a great example of a local hero who single-handedly solves one of the most difficult issues that the city has to deal with.

“Only yesterday I signed 7 new contracts. At the moment we are with about 25 guys.” – ‘Appie’ el Massaoudi

Ap's Recycling In the same neighbourhood we visited a public library, which is turned into a ‘participation library’ after it was forced to close because of the municipality’s austerity measures. With a lot of volunteers the neighborhood makes it possible to keep the library open as a place for children and adults to meet and do homework.

A little bit further down the street we visited another place designed to meet and exchange, namely Pakhuis de Regâh located in the Bazaar of Ideas. Edgar Neo explained to us that inspired by Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam they decided to start a similar kind of platform in The Hague. A place where City Makers can meet, exchange ideas and co-create.

Sabrina Lindeman at the Binckhorst

Our last stop was the Binckhorst, which is an industrial location just outside of the city center. After the municipality decided to leave the area to organically develop, Sabrina Lindeman (OpTrek) stepped in to start an experiment to turn the Binckhorst into a vibrant area again together with its residents. Sabrina found a way to reactivate people again by – amongst many other projects and initiatives – brewing their own community beer that has the taste, look and feel of the neighborhood. The circularity of the brewing process, which includes baking bread with the residual grain and locally growing of hop, makes it possible for the experiment to encompass the entire neighborhood and answer to several different problems.

Overall, there is a lot of potential in the city of The Hague to build a relation of trust between the different initiatives and city districts in order to make it a strong network for collaboration. Although some of the initiatives have a better collaboration with the municipality than others it became very clear during the expedition that they are all part of the same growing city making movement in The Hague and the rest of Europe. The City embassy, the municipality’s Werkaterlier, and the novel ‘Pakhuis de Regâh’ all in their own way map and support these City Makers’ activities. It will be worthwhile to work together to make it into one strong City Makers movement.

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