Renny Ramakers: "Diversity as a design tool"

byRenny Ramakers

published on 20/5/2016

Diversity fuels modern city life, but makes it complex too. Diversity is a continuous balancing act between integration and exclusion. Total integration could lead to a loss of identity, whereas extensive autonomous diversification could lead to tribal tensions.

In 2012 Droog first touched upon the complex subject of diversity in a project in Tarwewijk, a Rotterdam neighborhood mainly populated by immigrants from all over the world. The goal of this project was to stimulate more economic activity in this poor area. But our team discovered that beneath the surface, there was a much bigger issue: the residents simply could not stand each other’s lifestyles, each other’s habits. The Moroccans and Turks, who had already been living in the area for quite some time, felt threatened by the new immigrants, such as the Polish people because “they take our jobs” and the Romanians, who “don’t know how to behave in public”.

What should be the solution in such a neighborhood? Ushering complete segregation? Reaching a compromise? Forcing residents to change their habits? The most obvious choice is to completely ignore the conflict. But it would be much better to ensure that the conflict cannot start in the first place, in other words to reformulate the conflict. We should consider a possible conflict as an opportunity instead of a problem by recognizing that conflicts can stimulate radical new approaches. Conflicts and disagreements can be fuel for innovation.

Take for example the initiative of the major of São Paulo. He wants to develop 800 km of bicycle lanes in the city. The majority of the residents is in favor of the plan which means that the plan is being executed. But as soon as you take a serious look at the motivations of the opponents of the plan, new opportunities present themselves. For instance, a lot of people in residential areas fear that their living environment will become less safe because of the bicycle lanes through their neighborhood. They also fear for the safety of the cyclists. Instead of just following the majority view, we could also see things from a different perspective. We could reformulate the concept of bicycle lanes in the context of urban mobility in general.

New bike lane in downtown Sao Paulo . Photo: Valerie Myers

The aim of Design+Desires is to design a city based on the diversity of dreams and desires of city dwellers. Our main quest is to design a city, which takes conflicting desires as catalyst in stead of simply following the rule of the majority. Could we design a city in such a way that neither income nor social status decides where people live, but common desires will be pivotal? For example, an immigrant who, despite his high qualifications in his native country, might now live in a poor neighborhood because of his low income job may have far more in common with a well-earning surgeon in an upmarket neighborhood in the same city, than with his fellow immigrants next door.

In our current network society citizens are connected to each other and to other people on a multitude of levels, online as well as offline. The consequence is an ever changing multi-layered diversity. To keep pace with this, the Design+Desires program initiated Social City, a virtual city to be created around the diversity of dreams and desires of city dwellers all over the world. By taking the poll on our platform everyone can become Social Citizen and can be part of a continuous dialogue with other people (experts and non-experts alike) on the design of a dream city. This dialogue will not only address bricks-and-mortar city life, but also the invisible city, the system of social structures. We want to involve our Social Citizens in everything we do, including the design of a model for a future city, which is the ultimate goal of our program. Designing Social City is participatory design. The feedback of Social Citizens is crucial to us. Social City is a city made by humans, not hindered by rules and regulations and historical ballast. We set aside our traditional way of thinking and think anew with the help of designers, architects and other experts – and the Social Citizens.

We are dreaming of a city where you can encounter all desired lifestyles, but also can retreat in your own cocoon, a city, which is fast and slow at the same time, which is wild and sophisticated. It will neither be a perfect city nor a finished city. In Social City we not only embrace diversity, but we also use it as a design tool. Social City is nowhere, but it could appear anywhere. It is just a matter of uncovering the city of dreams and desires, which is present everywhere but still hidden within our current cities.


Photo at top: Leon Rodrigues, Avenida Paulista, Sâo Paulo, Brasil.  


We welcome new Social Citizens! Click here to read more and take the Poll.

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