Renny Ramakers: "How dreams, passions and needs of city dwellers can shape a city"

byRenny Ramakers

published on 7/10/2015

The city is in a continuous state of flux. Digital technology and globalization have drastically changed city life. New forms of connection other than family, neighbourhood, education and occupation are entering the urban scene. Private and public are coinciding. The ‘space of flows’ is becoming equally important as the ‘space of places’.

The modern urbanite lives in a fragmented society, one that shows a differentiated picture of virtual and real relationships and contacts, performing globally and locally alike in a transnational environment. Behavioural patterns are no longer solely defined by age, gender, location, income and family status.

Yet, to a large extent the city is still conceived as a solid unit in which citizens are seen as abstractions. Cities are usually conceived as a top-down planned system based on general data of demographic, sociological and economic macro-level developments.

But the tide is turning. All over the world urban planners and architects have become interested in bottom-up development. It is a real trend. Bottom-up, urban commons, DIY, those are some of the keywords circulating on conferences and in publications on architecture and urbanism. It is all based on the same premises: a society in which citizens are pro-active and creative individuals. It is all happening on a local level and in single projects: autonomous neighbourhoods, urban farming, local networks, games that involve the neighbourhood in urban planning, city authorities who experiment with more input by citizens.

The question is how we can take the bottom-up approach to the next level, to a bigger scale, to a whole city. How can we create a city, which is not an accumulation of local projects? How can we go deeper and tackle the roots? And how do we deal with the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’, the fact that individuals are inclined to act according their self-interest rather than the benefit of the whole? How can we create cities in which the dreams and desires of a diversity of citizens can be realized without creating ghettos?

In my thinking we should start with the small (which is not necessary the local!), with the diversity of human needs and desires and to move from there on to the bigger scale, with the use of technology and a will to think outside the box. Technology can help us to treat citizens as the individuals they are and trace their desires, to escape locality and to create new solutions. With an open mind, not hindered by rules and regulations, prevailing social and economic stratification and historical ballast, we could reframe the city, based on the desires of citizens in all their dimensions, variations and contradictions.

Key is a holistic approach. We should not focus on spatial solutions only, but we should include all city life whether it is work and leisure or economy and governance. The melting pot that city life nowadays is, offers a range of problems but many more possibilities and opportunities. 


Top image: Flickr / Roman Kruglov.


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by duco stadig19/11/2015

Are cities collections of buildings and roads, or collections of people, doing things?
I think they are both.
Cities need structures to prevent chaos.
But these structures, fysical and legal, should be flexible: they should allow people to do their things and let city life flourish. The structures themselves will change then too, but gradually. That's how cities work. Or should work.