“What can I do in MY city to get successful freezones?”
This was the second of four Inspiring Cities’s City and Culture Salons at the closing conference of ReUrbA, The Hague on 16 November 2006. For the second Salon, Freezones, chaired by Marco Redeman, manager of Urban Development in Utrecht we invited:
- Gijs Broos, from the planning department of Rotterdam and former project manager of StudentCity and Creative Economy programme;
- Annet Ritsema, architect of Bureau Ritsema, housed in the ‘Puddingfabriek’ in Groningen;
- Irene Kunst, independent visual artist from Amsterdam and member of the network for ‘Broedplaatsen’.
The introduction to the whole Inspiring Cities event at the ReUrbA Conference, and the overall key words and conclusions.
The other three Salons that we organised:
1. Temporary Use
3. CityPoems & CityPoets
4. Soul of the City
At first sight it might be odd to let Gijs Broos, from the Rotterdam planning department, a city with a strong planning tradition, speak about Freezones. However, he’s got a message for us: “Stop planning!!!” The dogmas of city planning – zero tolerance safety policy, city profiling by fancy projects aimed at the elite and the ‘creative class/creative industries hype’ fuelled by Richard Florida – are all highbrow and “killing the very essence that makes a city unique!” Because cities are melting pots of encounter, dissidents are able to gather and come up with new, adventurous ways of thinking. Cities enable the fermenting of creativity; they are a refuge for ‘luck and asylum seekers’ and offer a place for the ‘untouchables’. That is why cities need Freezones – here, urban culture originates, this is where renewal comes from!
Brussels is an example of a city where real Freezones exist – due to the lack of planning and directing. Rotterdam, on the contrary, is economically focused. The so-called Freezones in Rotterdam are no real Freezones; they are institutionally created opportunities to start up new businesses. Real Freezones are a problematic concept for urban planners, since they have nothing to do with planning. Planners have to acknowledge that a creative environment does not spring from top-down policy; freezones do not offer foothold for policy measures; networks are more important than actual places; and restrictive policy does not work.
Gijs states: “Real innovation comes from bottom-up”
Annet Ritsema is an architect who has her office at the ‘Puddingfabriek’ in Groningen. The Puddingfabriek is an old pudding factory where small companies/entrepreneurs in the field of new media are located. Maybe, Annet says, it is not so much a Freezone as it is a ‘Broedplaats’ (‘Breeding Ground’).
The initiative came forward from a more small-scale collective of young entrepreneurs/artists who sought support of the municipality in finding a professional working place. In cooperation with the municipality and a non-profit real-estate owner, the Puddingfabriek was renovated in such a way that the tenants could complete their own working space themselves. The rents are 30-40% lower than normal offices and the contracts are much more flexible. In return, the municipality demanded that for the first 5 years, at least 70% of the activities had to be media-related. According to Annet, the Puddingfabriek is all about “cooperation, creativity and flexibility”. It’s more than a freezone. The multi-functionality of the project generates publicity and the industrial heritage inspires the people who work there.
Annet’s question: “What role should authorities play in developing freezones? Should this be a bottom-up of top-down development?”
Forty experimental projects
Irene Kunst, from the Amsterdam ‘Broedplaatsen’ (breeding place) network is an advocate of governmental support, preferably in subsidizing low rents in order to facilitate (experimental) art initiatives. In turn, she says, these initiatives generate an impulse for the creative industries in Amsterdam. The project Broedplaatsen started bottom-up at the end of the nineties, when an artist collective asked support from the Amsterdam municipality for a place to live and work. The initiative became official policy and has expanded ever since. By now, there are about 40 projects running. Independent of the project, a network of these Broedplaatsen has been set up to support exchange, acquaintance and to create a platform to profile them.
Freezone NDSM wharf Amsterdam
Irene asks a question that is currently a hot item within the network: “Are Broedplaatsen being used by politics and municipality to promote Amsterdam as more attractive for creative industries?”
How free should Freezones be?
Freezones appears to be a term for different types. There are different shapes, different ideologies, different organisations. From political autonomous freezone, to freezones that function as a building for creative businesses. Buildings that generate added value because like-minded businesses use each others knowledge and networks, such as the well known buildings for new media. All of these freezones share their bottom up initiatives and the feeling of shared collectivism. They can be a facilitated entity, complete with demands about the use, like the Puddingfabriek; a subsidized place for (experimental) art, like Amsterdam offers in the form of Broedplaatsen; or a space where like-minded people gather who would not even consider governmental support, as Gijs says.
It seems that during the discussion, most people tend to agree with Gijs’ view of Freezones. Of course, Broedplaatsen and like-minded initiatives flourish well in Amsterdam and other cities, but at the end of the day these are pragmatic institutions focusing on economic development – be it more in attracting/giving impulses to creative industries or rather in enabling business start-ups. In any case, these are not ideologically and politically organized zones.
The question whether a Freezone can be created appears to be difficult to answer. Although there is consensus about the fact that all initiatives have to be bottom-up, there is hardly consensus about the level of desired governmental interference. At the end of the day, it appears there has to be room for both forms – subsidized as well as unorganized ‘real’ Freezones.
Somebody says: “It is not about the place itself, it is about the people in the place. You need a group of people that has a plan for the space. That is why a competition works well: let people organise themselves and make the best plan”.
Marco Redeman (chair)
Jeroen Laven (organis.)