Article for Women and Environment

Monika Jaeckel and Marieke van Geldermalsen

Not the Chicken, not the Egg, but the Nest!

Both possible answers to the “who was first question are correct, or neither one. When not the world of poultry but human settlements are at stake the question reads: where do you start, with the producers (contractors and developers) with the product (physical structures) or with the community? With subsidies from the Dutch Ministry of Housing , Planning and Environment the Mother Center International Network for Empowerment (Mine) is currently conducting a study at the town-extension project Schuytgraaf in Arnhem, The Netherlands, on how to place social cohesion and community building in the center of urban planning. With this study we intend to provide a new framework of thinking on how to build cities, based on our experiences of grassroots women’s involvement in revitalizing local neighborhoods.

The study introduces the idea that the social structure of a neighborhood needs to precede the physical structure.
the concept of ‘pioneers’ and temporary settlements as a resource for urban planning.
In city planning a strong focus has developed on economic capital as main motor of development. Attracting more affluent people to a neighborhood (gentrification) has high priority. In our approach we suggest to focus more on inspiring urban renewal and development by stimulating breeding places where besides of economic also other types of capital (cultural, social symbolic) can be generated and invested.
A common criticism of newly built settlements like Vinex locations is that they are beautiful, but dead, that they lack “soul” and social contact, that they are mainly residential, that people have to cover large distances for services, thus making traffic a major issue. Residents of newly built settlements in Vinex locations often invest little more than their money in their surroundings. They tend to be double earners spending a lot of their time outside the neighborhood. They are often highly mobile,  their social and cultural networks extend far beyond their neighborhoods. What these neighborhoods often lack is time and presence (social capital). In order for neighbourhoods to be safe and lively (“gezellig” as said in Dutch), they depend on people who are able and willing to invest time, presence,  energy, creativity and their social networks locally.

Public life can only work if there are people around to meet in and inhabit public space.
When neighborhoods are not targeted towards only one group of people, but include a diverse range of life situations,  life phases and interests, the chances for presence and the investment of all forms of capital become higher.
A way to stimulate the balance of different forms of capital is to create ways of exchange between people with different sorts of capital to offer. Urban planning then focuses on creating structures and opportunities for exchange.
In the context of a newly built Vinex settlement the challenge is, how to introduce diversity in a narrow market range, and how to create urban breeding places from scratch, literally on a green field.

The solution we suggest in our general approach is the solution of introducing, promoting and integrating temporary settlements as part of urban planning. Temporary settlements require people that Irene Müller suggests looking at urban breeding places under the perspective of the kinds of capital they produce and what that can contribute to urban development. From the perspective of monetary value ‘living’ in houses and in neighborhoods is usually regarded as diminishing the capital value, as ‘using it up’. Like a product that is worth less when second hand, houses and neighborhoods are regarded to become of lower value over time. Irene Müller suggests turning this perspective around and looking at what inhabitants and residents contribute and invest in housing and neighborhoods. „Wherever you live, you invest what you have, if you have money, you invest money, if you have cultural or social capital, that is what you invest. Looking at inhabitants as investing instead of using value, changes the perspective on urban planning and urban development. Then the question is not so much, where does housing need to be demolished and rebuilt in order to restructure deteriorated neighborhoods, but the question becomes, how can the value and the different sorts of capital of the residents in any given neighborhood be mobilised towards the upgrading of the area.“

Economic capital: People with money can pay high prices for housing that brings high returns to the capital investment in housing and keeps the building industry going. Often these people invest little more than their money in their surroundings. They tend to be double earners spending a lot of their time outside the neighborhood. They are often highly mobile, their social and cultural networks extend far beyond their neighborhoods.

Cultural capital: People with knowledge, competence and education, people from other cultures, artists and creative people, people with specialised skills, all have cultural capital. The more this capital is invested in the living area, the richer the neighborhood is in culture, stimulation and inspiration
Social capital: People with little money often develop more social capital to compensate for the lack of monetary resources. Having a large social network and friends, substitutes for the lack of buying power of services. Since people with little money tend to have less choices and be less mobile, they therefore tend to invest their time and their social and cultural capital in their neighborhood.
Neighborhoods depend on such residents investing their time, presence, social and creative capital there in order to be safe, lively and ‘gezellig’. Social capital is also invested with small local businesses, that often can only survive economically by drawing on the support and time investment of family and kin networks.
Symbolic capital: Symbolic capital is generated by stories and legends. The image and symbolic value of a neighborhood often depends on such legends. Pioneers, innovators, the avant-garde, and often people on the fringes of society (squatters, outlaws) have a high degree of symbolic capital to contribute to their surroundings

The process of ‘gentrification’ focuses mainly on physically up-grading neighborhoods and attracting residents with economic capital. However, when demolishing and rebuilding neighborhoods, a lot of social, cultural and symbolic capital is also destroyed. To preserve, attract and mobilise these other kinds of capital, a different, less physical, kind of urban development is needed. This involves a less state driven and paternalistic approach and more room for self help, self-governance and the involvement, investment and the exchange of different forms of capital locally.
A way to stimulate the balance of different forms of capital is to create ways of exchange between people with different sorts of capital to offer. Different kinds of people in different phases of their lives have different things to offer each other. Creating opportunities for people to mix on the basis of what they have to offer is a more sustainable approach to diversity than a normative approach. Urban planning then focuses on creating structures and opportunities for exchange.
The basic question we are dealing with in the Nest! Project is how to stimulate the described processes in a new neighborhood. How can the time and space slots created in the development of new settlements be used to create temporary settlements, to bring in inhabitants with a wide scope of capital, time, presence and energy to invest in the neighborhood, to create breeding places for social, cultural and symbolic development

What the temporary settlement has to offer is presence and flexibility. It has high amounts of social cultural and symbolic capital to offer for exchange. Gaps in the planning and in the delivery of services can be filled in on the spot by the temporary settlement. For such flexible action you need people with other kinds of capital, with time, with social capital and networks to communicate needs and locate resources, with creativity and ideas to design unusual solutions, with ambition and energy to invest in their surroundings. The temporary settlement intends to attract such people.

What the Nest! Project is trying to do, is to create conditions for different forms of capital of different groups of the population that under current social structures do not enter society, to be mobilised and find channels of expression and investment. The project also looks at ways, that the different forms of capital, economic, cultural, social and symbolic can be further developed, stimulated and enhanced through the creation of local structures of exchange. Specifically the fact that the temporary settlers will differ from the population moving to Schuytgraaf in the kinds of capital they have, could create positive conditions for an exchange of different forms of capital.

People who normally have no access to the labor-market despite the fact that they have many competencies and capabilities, get openings to expand their entrepreneurial skills in a semi-protected environment.
The combination of a LETS-system with Euro-economy will ensure that labor-intensive services can be made available in an affordable way.
By creating an economic system that links elements of barter and in-kind trade to market value, economic empowerment and asset building will be part of a “new welfare mix” piloted in the Nest! project.
The Nest! Project we are doing is a feasability study financed by the Ministry of Housing (VROM). We are looking at the possibilities of creatively using the time and space slots available when new settlements are developed, when the land is not used anymore, but the building has not started yet. We are developing this approach as a case study to the Vinex location Schuytgraaf and  are studying the possibilities of temporary settlements in these time and space slots as a way to mobilise pioneer energy of students, artists, refugees and also starter families to add social, cultural and symbolic capital of inhabitants to the process of developing a new settlement in a Vinex location. neighbourhoods are defined both by their quality of housing, design and physical infrastructure, as well as by the quality of social relations, interaction and exchange of the people that live there. The temporary settlement is a way of creating a kind of social warming up of the new neighborhood, creating community life before and during the development process of the neighborhood , so that people find and can connect to a community when they settle there.
At the August High Tea and Talk we explored the different forms of capital that inhabitants contribute to settlements and neighborhoods. One of the challenges coming out of this perspective in regard to urban planning and development is how to  link the different forms of capital coming from different players in the field,  how to create conditions for what one could call   “bridging capital” or “linking knowledge” to develop. This is one of the main issues we are addressing in the Nest! Project.
Creating a temporary settlement in the time and space slots available during the development process  of a new settlement is an approach of stimulating the exchange of different forms of capital as a way of enriching the quality of new neighborhoods.
Neighbourhoods are defined both by the quality of housing, design and physical infrastructure, as well as by the quality of the social relations, interaction and exchange of the people that live there.
Creating cheap accomodation and experimental space in locations where agricultural use has ended, but  building has not yet started in the form of a temporary settlement is a way to attract and mobilise the pioneer energy of students, artists, refugees and also starter families to add social, cultural and symbolic capital  to the process of developing  a Vinex location. The temporary settlement is a kind of social warming up of new neighborhoods, creating community life before and during the development process of the neighborhood , so that people find and can connect to a community when they settle there.
This is a new approach to urban planning. It´s success depends on the realisation of interaction and exchange between the inhabitants of the temporary and the long term settlement.
In the previous August High Tea and Talk we concluded that by creating a location with opportunities for cheap space, for building up a future, for creativity and for recognition, people will spend their social, cultural and symbolic capital there. In the September High Tea and Talk we wanted to take a closer look at what conditions are needed for this investment and exchange to happen. Existing experiences and examples were examined under this respect.

The temporary settlement offers opportunities for unused potential to enter and contribute to society. The labor market blocks energy for all those who don’t get into the labor market, who are excluded, because the labor market is seen as the primary way to access money and to apply yourself with work. The mainstream qualification system blocks energy for anybody who did not make it through school, or whose certificate is not recognized in the host country. Businesses want a monopoly, no green groceries around a super market, economic interest groups organise and set up standards and regulations that block competition, the ones that are in organise and keep the others out. If people  cannot contribute their talents and energies inside the recognised channels of the labor market and the certified  qualification system, their potential is blocked from society. The temporary settlement can create ways to unblock these energies, to link the energy, talents and resources of  people who are outside the formal channels  to back into society
For exchange to happen there needs to be a system that creates visibility, acknowledgement  and valorization of different forms of capital as well as ways to trade them on an equal basis. One of the challenges in the planned temporary settlement at Schuytgraaf will be how to set up a trade and exchange system in the local economy of Schuytgraaf that both makes the temporary settlement economically sustainable as well as adds to the social cohesion of the neighborhood.
Several examples were described:
The experiment offers neighborhood based solutions that contribute to lightening  the burden of task combiners in the Vinex-neighborhood Schuytgraaf. The solutions are being offered by a ‘time bank’ filled with the ‘social capital’ of people with a lot of time on their hands who are living in the surrounding neighborhoods. In the farm house ‘de Schuytgraaf’, situated in the centre of the neighborhood, a mother center will be staretd. This creates an inviting spot for people from surrounding neighborhoods to invest their time (through subsidized voluntary work) in the time bank of the neighborhood, offering small scale care services. The time generator offers time saving services like child care, domestic services (laundry, ironing, shopping service) or other needs (gardening, elder care, repairs…)

  • Building a time fund aimed at giving the neighborhood a fair start
  • Offering a broad offer of time saving services to the first residents of Schuytgraaf
  • Offering services which save time, offer better care and a higher quality of life, resulting in the kind of living environment Schuytgraaf aspires. (See slogan woon, wens, wijk: Live, wish, work neighborhood)
  • Offering access to the people in the surrounding neighborhoods De Laar and Elderveld as well as the village Driel, who have time on their hands and want to invest this time in Schuytgraaf for it’s busy residents
  • Offering pioneers the possibility to exchange their time for contacts, experience, integration and money
  • Making sure that especially in the beginning a lot of time will be spent in Schuytgraaf.

Planned activities
Over a one year period creating a space in the neighborhood where time saving services and activities will be generated that simplify and make the hectic life of task combiners better balanced
The minimum output is an investment of 15.000 hours of time in the neighborhood. On a qualitative level the output can be described as a process which will create ‘presence’ in the neighborhood. The result of the project is social capital, built up on the location itself, that on the one hand offers solutions for task combining inhabitants and on the other hand brings life and liveliness into the Vinex neighborhood.