Introduction to Nest! Study

Marieke van Geldermalsen
Monika Jaeckel

Not the Chicken, not the Egg, but the Nest!  – A New Concept for Urban Planning

I.    Introduction
The Nest! Project is as much a simple idea as it is a complex concept. It relates to a wide range of issues and provides the missing link to key debates on urban planning, social exclusion and participation, migration and diversity as well as on the development of the welfare state. By creating an integrative approach between challenges and opportunities, a comprehensive view is developed of the potentials inherent in problems, including suggestions for problems that have not surfaced yet, but are likely to surface in the next years as well as for issues that are already on the political agenda. The basic idea is to create innovation by integrating the temporary into urban planning and urban construction.

The Nest! Project focuses on issues of social cohesion and community building as an integral part of urban planning and the construction of new neighborhoods. It bridges the gap between the social and the physical aspects of construction by introducing the concept of creating a temporary settlement in locations designated for city extension in the time gap when the land is not used anymore for agriculture, but building has not started yet.

By using problems of newly built neighborhoods to create (job-) opportunities, by offering space for innovative projects, for experimentation and expansion and by attracting highly motivated and resourceful pioneers, a focal point for community building is created before and during the time the actual settlement is being built. By creating a local economy system that has the capacity to integrate the talent reserves as well as blocked and hidden potential of socially excluded groups, pressure is taken off of problem neighborhoods, marginalised groups are integrated and new markets are developed.

The series of Sub-studies conducted in the Nest! Project will show ways how the temporary settlement can be economically as well as socially attractive to all target groups including developers and investors as well as being economically sustainable and linking economic development to social cohesion.

The temporary settlement offers ways of counteracting the problem of homogeneous “dormitory settlements”. It develops ways of creating complete neighborhoods that include all basic functions of settlements and of attracting and linking different forms of capital, social, economic, symbolic, and cultural.

1)    Links to Relevant Debates

Urban Planning
To make a neighborhood you must assure social development before laying bricks” (Arnhem Municipal Councilman)

What is often lacking in urban planning is an understanding of what creates socially and economically vibrant neighborhoods. Much creativity and know-how has been developed in increasing the quality of the physical dimension of urban construction. Often, however, beautifully designed and built new neighborhoods fail to come alive. What is lacking is the social component, communication between the residents, the claiming and participative use of public space in the neighborhood for social interaction. The way physical environments but also timetables are organised in modern societies often stands in the way of the development of a social fabric in neighborhoods and communities. The capacity to make contact  and to spend time in the neighborhood is decreasing. The development of social interaction and social cohesion in neighborhoods increasingly requires support structures and facilitation.

What neighborhoods need ro develop socially are places and opportunities to meet, to interact and do things together, to exchange their knowledge, talents and information and to develop social interest and responsibility towards each other. Merely designating indoor and outdoor space as community meeting places, as is often part of urban planning does not seem to do the trick. More often than not also these community meeting places are rather lifeless, green spaces remain anonymous or unpopulated and do not feel safe. What is required for communities to come alive is people who have time and the interest to spend their time in the neighborhood.

The Nest! Project provides the following elements for these conditions to be met:

  1. A temporary settlement that offers cheap acommodation, room for self-help and experimentation as well as opportunities for disadvantaged groups to build up a more promising future attracts pioneer energy and  people with time to Venix locations (migrants, artists, students, starter families). See Temporary Settlement and Pioneer Sub-studies.
  2. A local economy creates interfaces for interaction as well as monetary incentives for people to spend their time in the neighborhood.  See Sub-study Local Economy.
  3. Innovative Projects like a Mother Center, an International Garden and a Grassroots Academy create space for participation and resident involvement in shaping their environment and their community as well as the momentum to keep up the pioneer spirit as the settlement evolves into permanence. See respective Sub-studies on Mother Centers, the International Garden and the Grassroots Academy

Quotes from interviews with  Vinex Location Leidse Rijn residents
“ The problem here is that the local government had a plan, they had it all planned out what this neighborhood should look like. They made a building where people should meet. But the people don’t meet there. That building is empty most of the time. People have not time, they are double earners, they have two cars. In this neighborhood you have to come home from work early so that you find a parking space.
They want to do everything right, everyone should be happy, no problems, but then they make such mistakes, no shops, not enough parking spaces, no places for young people to meet, no place to go in the evenings, not even yoga classes. There is one supermarket. We miss the little shops.”

“People like to do things themselves, to contribute to their surroundings. In the beginning we were all pioneers. We were helping each other out with setting up our gardens, and furnishing our flats. That lasted for about 2 years. Now everybody focusses on their own lives. People have lost their pioneer feeling. You need new initiatives and projects in the settlement, places where people can come together again and do things.”

“Not being allowed to change anything in the house, even if you have bought it really hampers my sense of identification with where I live. “ (Resident of Vinex Location Leidsche Rijn)

“You really use your car for most things. To go to the central part, where all the services are located. There is really not much you can do on foot. So you have congestions and people get aggressive and there really is not much relaxed or enjoyable contact.”

“ Parasite Paradise was nice to look at, but had no effect whatsoever on the settlement and the community. It is very much an art thing. You don’t see any people walking there. People have other concerns. They don’t go to something they don’t understand, that is not close to their world, that they don’t know what to do with. Maybe they go once to look, but no interaction happens there.”

Citizen Participation
People identify with their neighborhoods to the extent that they can contribute to it. Participation in the shaping of the living environment supports a sense of ownership, pride and belonging. This applies to all groups in settlements, women, men, children, youth, elderly. Development takes place when people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. The more inhabitants invest in their neighborhood, the richer it becomes, in culture, social cohesion, local knowledge building and problem solving.

The current situation in city development is shaped by a a long tradition of welfare state mentality that defines people in regard to their needs and problems creating public services as answers to these needs. As a result residents begin to see themselves as people with needs that can only be met by outsiders. They become consumers of services with little incentive to be producers.