This Expert Session was part of the New Europe City Makers Pre-Summit on the 4th and 5th of February at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam.
What value do City Makers create and how? Should these values be measured, and how can we do this? These were the main questions asked during the expert session Value Creation. Different speakers told their stories about creating value in redevelopment and area development projects. Value creation isn’t always about creating profit in a monetary sense; it is also about increasing health benefits, safety or happiness. These are the kind of values that were discussed.
Hans Karssenberg (partner, founder and public developer at Stipo) told us about the project ZOHO in Rotterdam. This formerly neglected area is now being redeveloped according the concept of slow urbanism. Within 10 years (2013-2023) the ZOHO-area will be redeveloped by creating a community of committed residents. Start-ups, social enterprises and artists can find a working space here, under the premise that they will be involved in the area. The goal is that the users of the area, corporations, organisations, residents and even visitors can influence the development.
Community building can really help to put a place on the map. In the case of Halele Carol, creating a community made sure everyone in Bucharest knew the name of this project in less than two years, according to Cosmina Goagea (program director at Zeppelin, Bucharest) and Joep de Roo (Director of Eurodite, member of Zeppelin, Bucharest). Halele Carol is a factory, which had been empty for more than ten years and was in terrible shape. The owner of the place was reluctant to redevelop the area, but after constant dialogue, many changes were made: the factory has been refurbished and is now a space for creative culture.
Mapping these kind of empty building can already create value for the city, stated Veronika Kovacsova (urban designer & researcher at Paradocks/Das Packhaus, Vienna). In Vienna there is a paradox between supply and demand: there is a lot of vacancy but people don’t know how to access it. Kovacsova helped by creating Das Packhaus, a working space in a formerly empty building for people who usually work at home, so they can come together and work together.
Sabrina Lindemann (director mobile project office OpTrek, The Hague) stated that it is also very important to take into account what resources are available in the area , because through these resources added value can be created. She likes to develop areas using the existing structures and people who live there.
After hearing all these stories, the participants split up in groups to discuss the value that City Makers create and how these can be measured, and also what they would like to add to the City Makers Agenda. I joined one of these groups, to see what they would talk about. I joined the group led by Hans Karssenberg and Antonina Llieva (Don’t Do It Yourself Studio, Sofia). With her organisation, Llieva had to pressure the government to make it understand the importance of area development, with a focus on creating values for the neighbourhood. She noticed that measuring the created value, good or bad, could be helpful in this process, as the results can be used to stress the importance of projects.
When measuring value, it is important to make an effort to recognize the positive and negative impacts of a project. A participant noted that most revolutions seem to have positive impact at first, but can have negative impacts as well, which need to be identified sooner rather than later. That way, the negative impacts can be acted upon as soon as possible. Karssenberg agreed, and mentioned that at ZOHO unfortunately they didn’t start to collect data from the start, so effects cannot be measured yet. A negative impact of area development is gentrification. Most of the time this is seen as a positive effect, because housing prises rise but as a participant observed, this can cause the local people harm, because they might not be able to pay the rising rent.
A participant who lives in ZOHO mentioned being wary of gentrification and that the real challenge of ZOHO is to create real, inclusive development. Local communities, specifically immigrant communities, need a voice and some kind of ownership in an area to prevent them from moving out due to gentrification. Llieva agrees “the focus of area development should shift to creating value for people, instead of property value”. It is clear that there was a general consensus that City Makers should focus on creating personal values, for people already living in an area, in order to promote better living, instead of just making profits.
Measuring these values however seems to be difficult. Existing approaches don’t seem sufficient. Qualitative measures are simple, for instance counting how many people come to events or how many more start-ups are in the area. Quantitative research is more difficult, because these values tend to be looked at subjectively. Sabrina Lindemann and her breakout-group talked about effective ways to measure the impact a project has on an area. She explained that by comparing the place where you are working to a similar area and describing the differences you can actually show your impact. You have to ask people how they feel about certain events and decide how to measure the outcomes. It is also really important to look at the different roles you have within a project, for instance you can have the role of an artist, pioneer or connector, so you can communicate form each role depending on your audience. This way you can make sure you communicate the impact of your project appropriately. It is very helpful to share this kind of knowledge, for instance through a network like Re:Kreators or the network of Pakhuis de Zwijger, Steden in Transitie or Cities in Transition. If a network shares experiences of successful and unsuccessful experiences, lessons can be learned and mistakes can be prevented.