Blog by Kristina Kasumović
How do we create public spaces that function well for the people using it? How do we achieve better quality of public spaces? In the course Get in touch with the neighbourhood students from TU Delft research four different neighbourhoods in the South of Rotterdam. During ten weeks, students use a variety of fieldwork methods like observations and interviews, to understand the behaviour of people in relation to their environment. They connect topics like mobility, health, well-being and safety to the quality of spaces.
As part of my Master program in Environment and Society Studies at the Radboud University I am doing a five-month internship at Veldacademie. During this period, I am following the study process of the students of the MSc2 Elective ‘Get in touch with the neighbourhood’ at the faculty of Architecture, TU Delft. Students from the Master in Architecture, Management in the Built Environment and the AMS MADE Institute are taking part in the course. This quarter, each group is assigned a place of meaning in the South of Rotterdam to perform their research. The places are chosen in partnership with De Zwarte Hond that is working on a vision for the South of Rotterdam, in which existing city structures play a major role. Neighbourhood boundaries and zip codes are not part of their vision because people who live there may see these boundaries differently. Perhaps, when we think of our own neighbourhood we think what divides the borders are places of meaning like a big road passing through or a park. What makes the Elective even more interesting is that the four chosen areas (Beijerlandselaan, Slinge, Zuiderpark and Dordtselaan) have different historical, urban and social circumstances that can affect current residents' needs. It is important to realise these circumstances to develop a higher valued public space.
On a sunny Tuesday morning, the students arrive at our studio to present their findings. The morning starts with an introductory speech by the hosts and a representative Kjai Tjokrokoesoemo from De Zwarte Hond. The introduction is followed by each group, that presents their data gathered so far and their plan for the following five weeks. Depending on the history of the streets, initial observations and news from the media, each group decides to focus on a specific topic of their interest, in their given area. The transdisciplinary educational and personal backgrounds of the students that are involved, helps them focus on various perspectives and bring different knowledge together.
Each group asks themselves: How do we create a space that is diverse and inclusive for everyone? What stimulates people to meet each other? What factors influence a community feeling in a neighbourhood? One group decides to look more in depth on the safety of the streets and how this is perceived by the residents. This information can then be connected to different interventions done by local actions. Through interviews with the residents they like to find out if the area is used more after the changes were completed. Some groups are curious about the current use of space and activity of the residents in the area. They ask themselves what is health to find out how it transcends in the current neighbourhood. The group researching the Dordtselaan area has a hypothesis that youth is not welcomed in the parks created for children so they like to interview young residents starting from the age of 12. Another group encounters a spontaneous opportunity in their area that appears through one of their group members Polish language abilities. They will use this connection to find out more about the Polish community integrated in this area.
What are the next steps?
Groups will spend the next few weeks talking to the residents in a form of interviews, surveys and observations. Through this method, they will try to find evidence to support and test their hypothesis. They will return to our studio in a few weeks to present their conclusive findings and results. The end product of the students' projects will be used as a structured feedback on their data collected for the stakeholders involved in the redevelopment of the Rotterdam South area.