Leesfragment: Open City

20 september 2009 , door Tim Rieniets

De vierde Internationale Architectuur Biënnale Rotterdam heeft als thema Open City: Designing Coexistence. De 'open stad', een term van Jane Jacobs, staat voor een stad waarin wonen, werken en verkeer door elkaar heen lopen, mensen elkaar ontmoeten, leven, ontdekkingen en innovatie mogelijk is. In het kader van De eeuw van de stad, bijvoorbeeld in Buitenhof gaat de VPRO op de materie in, maar de Biënnale was aanleiding voor nieuwe boekuitgaven, zoals Open City, een onderzoek onder redactie van Kees Christiaanse, Tim Rieniets en Jennifer Sigler. Het boek komt eind deze maand uit, wij mogen al een van de bijdragen, een programmatische inleiding van Tim Rieniets, publiceren.

Cities are full of obstacles. They are expensive, unhealthy, and dangerous; they are not easily accessible for disabled people, the elderly, or children; they are congested, anonymous, and hectic. Probably all city dwellers share these and other obstructions to daily urban life. Those labeled as strangers or outsiders can face even greater challenges-discrimination, xenophobia, and exclusion from social and urban life. Members of the poorest groups, living at the bottom of the social ladder, may lack access to even the most basic resources such as employment, education, social care, or simply shelter.

But against all odds, cities still hold the promise of providing inexhaustible provisions of goods, services and activities, attracting millions of migrants every year who are moving to urban areas in order to have a share in the resources cities can offer. It is not just the abundance of these resources that is remarkable; it is their totality and proximity that open up so many possibilities. Cities enable social encounter, collaboration, and solidarity. They are vast pools of knowledge, ideas, and information; they offer perspectives of personal and collective visions and they can offer the freedom needed for emancipation and personal fulfillment. If there were a city devoid of the obstacles that are impeding the urban livelihood of so many, a city that could provide all of its inhabitants access to the concentrated multitude of opportunities they have at their disposal, it could be called an Open City.

Taking a closer look at recent urban developments, however, this Open City seems to be a distant prospect. Especially in those regions of the Global South where cities are growing the fastest as people migrate from rural areas in search of better working and living conditions, this search ends for many in one of the countless unplanned and underserviced urban areas that are growing in and around many larger cities. According to the United Nations housing program, UN-HABITAT, the number of city dwellers living in poor conditions has now reached the one billion mark-more than 30 percent of the global urban population-and that figure is projected to increase to approximately two billion in the next 30 years if no concrete action is taken.

Poverty and inequality will become increasingly urban problems and will be concentrated in cities of the Global South. But unequal access to urban resources is by no means restricted to developing countries. The long-held image of advanced western societies that inherited statuses such as social class, ethnicity, or race, are increasingly irrelevant for access to valued social locations and the attendant bundle of life's opportunities has not proven to be true. In past decades a creeping resurgence of multifarious inequalities has entered the cities of many developed countries. Moreover, the recent global financial crisis that, within months, has forced millions into unemployment, social decline, and even homelessness has further limited the economic resources of many cities for years to come.

These developments are confronting us with a seemingly paradoxical process: more and more people will live in cities that, in turn, are expected to drive much of the world's economic, social, and cultural development. Yet, at the same time, urban resources and opportunities are becoming scarce and unequally distributed. As a result, struggles for resources, wealth, and power among different groups and individuals may increase, and threaten the capacity of cities to be home to the majority of the world's population and to work as powerhouses for progress. Against this prospect, the Open City is not an abstract urban concept, but an increasingly urgent, interdisciplinary, and highly concrete demand. This Open City has to provide equal access-spatial as well as non-spatial-to all the urban resources and opportunities available; and, consequently, it has to facilitate coexistence of the diverse groups and individuals sharing it.

Tim Rieniets is docent en onderzoeker aan de vakgroep 'Architecture and Urban Design', ETH Zürich, en initiatiefnemer van de Urban Research Studio. Hij was mederedacteur van de Atlas of Shrinking Cities. Hij is co-curator van de 4de Internationale Architectuur Biënnale Rotterdam.

Michelle Wilderom maakte de foto van Tim Rieniets.

Eind oktober verschijnt de vertaling van Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Dat boek, en andere publicaties over Jacobs, zal bij Athenaeum Boekhandel besproken worden.

Uitgeverij Sun Architecture

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