On the second day of the summit, over sixty City Makers from the Netherlands and Europe made their way to ZOHO in Rotterdam, home base of the re:Kreators movement. It was a packed day, organised by Stipo and revolving around the theme of co-creation in area development. Discussing the topic with Markku Markkula, president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), it became clear that both groups need each other in order to make the city of tomorrow. How can these types of partnerships be strengthened?

In small groups the City Makers visited initiatives that take matters into their own hands when larger institutions are not able to deliver. They demonstrated how the relationship of small-scale, bottom-up projects and large-scale, top-down institutions are changing from a vertical hierarchy to a horizontal and equal partnership.

Co-creation in area development

The re:Kreators are an European network of cooperative area developers moving away from blueprint planning towards more flexible and small-scale developments. One of the partners in this network is ZOHO. Once a forgotten and derelict area, called Zomerhofkwartier (ZOHO), was given new life by the joined forces of City Makers, housing corporation Havensteder and the municipality of Rotterdam. Havensteder owns the buildings and rents these to City Makers such as the re:Kreators network and Wijkcooperatie Rotterdam Noord. The rent that is paid is then reinvested directly into the buildings and the area. This ensures that the value creation stays within the area and does not trickle away.

On a small scale, this is relatively easy with a limited amount of stakeholders. However, the question is how a small-scale network such as this can be mobilised to enable change on a bigger scale.Co-creation is everywhere in Rotterdam. The initiative ‘City in the Making’ (Stad in de Maak) redevelops vacant buildings that housing corporation Havensteder wanted to renovate before the crisis, but had no money to do so after. Marco, one of the initiators: “For Havensteder these buildings are a trouble. For us, they are a resource.” The people behind City in the Making look after the buildings for 10 years, redevelop them and turn them into a community space.

“If you want a strong community, you need more than just spaces to live.”

In their first property, the Pieter de Raadtstraat, there is a small neighbourhood brewery and a laundrette for the neighbours. They had no plan, but were curious: “Let’s see if we can do it differently.” One of the most important characteristics of their way of redevelopment is the fact that the community within the property has to decide upon what is going to happen. They are now in the process of actually buying a property. If the community is able to become a real estate owner in the area this will change the role they have in the redevelopment. Using the Dutch mode of transportation to get around Rotterdam. © Rosa de Jong In another small neighbourhood, Hoogkwartier, Marco Stout worked together with local entrepreneurs to improve the area. In 2010 he researched the neighbourhood to understand its identity and qualities better. Together with the local entrepreneurs Marco tried to connect these qualities is different ways. You can now find benches in the neighbourhood to make sure the street becomes a place to stay and local markets where you can swap clothes.

Changing the European mindset

How can we bridge the gap between these bottom-up initiatives and top-down institutions? Encouraging words came from Markku Markkula. “It is not about City Makers doing everything they said beforehand, but it is about the impact they make in the end. Don’t stick to the plan.”

A recurring theme of the day was that European, national and regional institutions are perceived as being inflexible. This can inhibit the development of bottom-up initiatives. Markkula acknowledged this fact, and stated that “we need to strongly focus on changing the mindset of Europe.” This can be achieved by simplifying the process of funding. “The EU indeed needs to be flexible.”

Of course, financial issues were also discussed by the City Makers. The City Makers fill a void by providing a service that otherwise would have been carried out by the municipality. Should this mean that the tax money for these services goes directly to the City Makers, or should they get tax benefits? Because societal value is hard to measure, it is difficult to translate this into financial benefits.

One step towards determining financial benefits is the skills that City Makers need to pitch their ideas to others than their peers. Trust, bureaucracy and differences in language are often barriers for City Makers to get what they want from other parties. This was also discussed in a lecture at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR). Politicians or funders want to hear a certain jargon so they can understand the project in a meaningful way. It is not about adapting, but it is about getting closer to each others ways of working.

Last but not least, how can we spread the word of City Makers and re:Kreators? Markkula: “Things should become more mainstream and not be seen as an experiment.” Moreover, knowledge needs to be shared, and we should be able to learn from each other. Some re:Kreators were thinking about the re:Kreators becoming a regular knowledge exchanger and even establishing an academy.

Partnerships of trust

The answer to the question how these types of partnerships can be strengthened, is collaboration and getting closer to each other. It starts by learning to speak each others language so that policy makers and city makers can get on the same page. Then a partnership can be built that is based on trust. This can lead toward building relations that are about horizontal equality and not about vertical hierarchy.

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