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On November 9th in Rotterdam, one of the 14 DESIGNSCAPES cities, the Stadmakerscongres (i.e. City Making Congress) was organised for the 5th time in a row to discuss new ways to find innovative solutions to urban challenges in a collaborative context. The project Participatory City Making (PCM) was featured at the program as well; together with the Creative Industries Fund NL the project hosted a lunch workshop in Theater Rotterdam.

During the morning program, Ingrid Mulder, from the TU Delft team of DESIGNSCAPES participated in the opening panel discussion about ‘Citylabs and the Environmental Act’, organised by the Creative Industries Fund.   

The panel discussion featured interventions on the possible roles of Citylabs and City Makers in the broader context of the challenges that are being formulated in the national and local environmental vision (NOVI). An interesting mix of different researchers (Delft University of Technology and Maastricht University) and civil servants (Municipalities of Midden-Delfland and Maastricht and the Ministry of Internal Affairs) took part in the panel discussion. The audience was involved as well during the discussion, moderated by Edwin van Uum.

Ingrid Mulder introduces the Participatory City Making. Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn.

The Smart Urban Lab-kit for Learning in a Network (SMULLN) was presented by the Maastricht University. It is an interesting tool that will help municipalities and civil servants to ask the right questions when founding a Citylab.

During the conversation with the audience, an interesting discussion emerged about the decreasing liveability in many neighbourhoods, which is often the result of national policies. There has been a recent influx of more vulnerable groups in some neighbourhoods. Can Citylabs be of added value here? Or is it not really effective and do we need other (national) measures?

Lastly, the role that Citylabs can take in the national and local environmental vision was discussed. The audience suggested that the ‘rules of the game’ set by the municipality often aren’t clear to citizens when they have an idea or initiative. This can then result in disappointed citizens, because their ideas are not being executed as they would have expected. Transparency about expectations, budget and possibilities seems very important in City Making processes. Do Citylabs offer the opportunity set these rules together with the government? And what could be the role of the Creative Industry in this process? Can they help with the formulation of the rules, as a connector, facilitator or translator?

Then it was time to get to work for the PCM project. A lunch workshop was organised by Peter van Waart, Ingrid Mulder, Eva van Genuchten of Delft University of Technology together with the Creative Industries Fund. Cases brought in by the Municipality of Rotterdam and three Citylabs (Cool-Zuid, Dakpark and Maashaven) evoked a sparking discussion about how Citylabs can develop themselves in a sustainable (long-term) way. Each of the case owners brought a topic for discussion. The questions that were raised, were: How inclusive should a Citylab be? How can Citylabs sustain themselves (without depending on subsidies)? Which business models should then be used or developed? Which Citylabs are present in Rotterdam and how can they empower each other?

Case owners during the workshop

In four groups the participants worked on one of the cases. Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn.

Some useful insights and key take-aways were found. For example, it is very important for the Citylab to speak the language of the neighbourhood. Therefore, it is interesting to clarify the cultural DNA of the neighbourhood. Moreover, ideas were suggested about the possibilities of a Citylab as a commissioning party for services that the neighbourhood needs (like cleaning of the area). Also, the function of a Citylab shouldn’t be too broad. Thirdly, the role of the municipality was an important point of discussion. Ideas were raised on how to better secure successes of Citylabs in policy making. Lastly, Citylabs (in Rotterdam) have the ability to empower and learn from each other. The municipality could have a role in this, by creating a Citylab of Citylabs (Overlab), and in this way focus on the knowledge and capacities of the Citylabs.

Workshop insights