“Above all: they should be linking the creative city to the city as an emancipation machine.” What is the future of cities? Why is it important to invest into cities? What changes should we make in our investment policies in cities? Twelve leading European thinkers about cities answer these three questions.

Reijndorp is surprised that cities work, that they don’t disintegrate. Despite all the talk about segregation, a lack of cohesion and a lack of integration, cities are still there. “New links, new networks are constantly being established. I believe that is the innovative quality of urban life.”

Arnold Reijndorp

Creative city

The question is to what extent networks are still linked to cities. The scale of the networks in which individual city dwellers live is becoming larger and larger. “Many older residents are unable to keep up,” says Reijndorp. “Indeed, their worlds tend to shrink. The city is less and less ‘their city’. Creative professionals and immigrants are stamping their seal more and more on the city, pushing out the original, poorly-educated residents.

“Another question is: how can you link the creative city to the city as emancipation machine? The creative city repeatedly succeeds in tapping in to new potential and finding creative, innovative and sustainable solutions to problems. Very little is known about the city as emancipation machine. How does it work as a ‘lift’, as an ‘escalator’? The challenge is to link different networks. That is where the creative class has a role to play. New links can create additional dynamism of an evolving kind.”

Middle class

The city is just like a continuous performance: people come into the city when they are poor, climb up the social ladder and leave. Reijndorp thinks it is logical for people to move.

“But if the entire lower middle class moves out, that represents a loss. That group provides the links needed to establish small companies, facilities, and so on. They are willing and able to invest in the city. When they leave, their social capital – what they know about access to education and the labour market – leaves with them. So continuity, understanding and expertise are lost. That’s a shame, because some of the middle class actually want to stay in the city! They are not all that concerned about ‘security’ or ‘social cohesion’. They want a lively city, with enough facilities and good schools.”

Residential city

To keep people in the city, Reijndorp thinks the quality of the city as a place to live needs to improve. “Cities have put a lot of effort into attracting large numbers of visitors and businesses. The attractive city, with culture, museums and festivals. They should concentrate more on the city as the residential city, where lots of groups come together. That is much more than housing alone. We need to address residential environments as a whole, with differentiation between lifestyles and facilities.”

Reijndorp thinks too much is now being invested in places where very few people go. “It is very important for cities to have a moderate mix. The residential neigbourhoods, with social housing only, have to change, and this shouldn’t be done with an injection of more expensive housing. Gold coasts are not enough; we need gold nuggets too. Specific interventions in carefully selected locations are preferable to a broad approach.”

Social dynamism as guiding principle

Reijndorp thinks a shift is needed at two levels in the Netherlands. “First of all, a much more strategic approach is needed to the question of where you build and what that results in. And then you need to think about exactly what your target groups want from a city. So restructuring projects shouldn’t start by, say, moving the hockey pitches when it is precisely the people who play hockey whom you want to attract and keep.” In addition, in the Netherlands, there is too much emphasis on “social cohesion”, “habitability” and “security”, claims Reijndorp. “We have to get away from the idea that ‘people must be involved with each other’. It’s much more a question of supporting people’s talents. Take social dynamism as the guiding principle and look for new forms of collaboration between housing corporations, schools, sports clubs, associations and educational institutions.”

A strategic approach to urban facilities

“Other countries are much less active in the fields of public housing and residential facilities; we have much more of a tradition in that respect,” continues Reijndorp. “In most cities, eighty per cent of housing is private property. In these circumstances, there is a natural inclination to focus much more on the strategy for urban public spaces, education, links between networks and culture. Other countries adopt a much more strategic approach to urban facilities. For example, the library in Antwerp was built very deliberately in a deprived area in order to give it a boost. So imagine what might happen if Amsterdam were to build its new central city library, not on the waterfront in the centre, but a little further away in the multiethnic Indonesia Neighbourhood. Wouldn’t the impact be much greater?”

“Urban planners hardly know what they’re doing,” thinks Reijndorp. “Whereas they used to focus on creating order from chaos, their guiding principle now is control. Dutch urban planning emerged from the community ideal, from collectivity. But cities are not about collectivity. Cities actually need to be based on conflict, adaptability and dynamism. You actually need to assume that the city changes and respond to that idea.”

The role of government

Reijndorp thinks government authorities certainly have a role to play in urban development. “They just need to think differently. In spatial terms, they don’t need to do much more than spread urban facilities. The main task facing cities is to reorganise education. The current system doesn’t help to transform the city into an emancipation machine. Cities should also think much more about the public arena. Which facilities and locations are interesting for the purposes of cultural exchange? This is a question of much more than neighbourhood facilities. You have to buck the trend and locate urban schools in deprived areas. I think the challenge facing national government is to get the policy areas of education, culture and sport to make a greater contribution to the emancipation of the city and its residents. Investments should only be made in urban regeneration if there is a commitment to education, culture and sport.”

Urban sociologist Arnold Reijndorp is an independent researcher at the cutting edge of urban planning and urban culture. From 1998 to 2000, he was Visiting Professor of Urban Planning and Urban Sociology at the Technical University of Berlin. At present, he works as Professor of Socio-Economic and Spatial Developments in Urban Areas at the Faculty of Social and Behaviour Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. Arnold Reijndorp has spent more than 15 years studying the relationship between urban planning and society. He is the author of leading publications such as ‘Buitenwijk’ and, together with Maarten Hajer, ‘Op zoek naar publiek domein’. He also advises about government policy as a member of the Council for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment.

This publication was enabled by ReUrbA2, Provincie Zuid-Holland and the Interreg IIIB programme of the European Union:

ReUrbA   Interreg IIIb Programme

This interview is part of a series of twelve, made by Mark Reede, Ellen Weerman, Simon Maas of ReUrbA and Hans Karssenberg of Stipo. They interviewed ten leading European thinkers avout cities to be able to write the Statement for Strong Cities, that was presented to the closing conference of ReUrbA and to Danuta Huebner, the EU commissioner for Regional Policy.
Downloads / links
> Inspiring Cities article on ReUrbA’s Statement for Strong Cities
> Download this interview as PDF
> View the compilation of quotes from the interviews on film.
> View EU commissioner Danuta Huebner’s welcoming response to the Statement for Strong Cities on film