Debate: WIJkonomie Tarwewijk at the NAi

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On Wednesday February 22nd Droog held a debate, in collaboration with Jan Konings, Kosmopolis Rotterdam, and the Netherlands Architecture Institute, which in many ways mirrored many of the themes discussed in the latest issue of Volume. The debate was held primarily to discuss WIJkonomie Tarwewijk ­– a project currently taking place in the Tarwewijk neighborhood of Rotterdam. The project explores how one can make visible and build on existing social and economic networks as a method of economic and social development. Although Tarwewijk is one of the poorest areas in the city, it has a hidden network of homeworkers, from hairdressers to car repairmen to radio broadcasters. Is there a way this network can be improved on to strengthen the economic and social vitality of the neighborhood?

The evening opened however not with a discussion about Tarwewijk, but with Levittown, one of the first tract suburban developments in North America. Charles Renfro from Diller Scofidio + Renfro presented his project Open House, made in collaboration with Droog, which looked at inventing new service economies in the suburbs. Designers were paired with homeowners to temporarily transform suburban homes into a service-sector business. One elderly couple sold their attention for a small fee – clients would choose from a list of attentive services (hugs, active listening, confessions, advice) and the transaction would take place at their kitchen table. Another couple transformed their house into a museum, creating a spectacle out of the banality of a typical suburban home. One man simply sold signs, to support the new service-sector economy that had temporarily emerged.

Jan Konings than presented the work currently taking place in Tarwewijk including design proposals and interventions by TD Architects, Thomas Lommée, Crimson with Maxwan, Doepel Strijkers Architects, and Jan Konings himself. Again the question was put forward: how can local entrepreneurship strengthen both the economic and social vitality of a neighborhood? And how can design interventions and strategies be more valuable in the long-term? The most compelling proposal was put forward by Wouter Vanstiphout of Crimson, who argued for a special economic block. While vacancy rates remain relatively high in the neighborhood, there is the possibility of offering residents larger units, and freeing up an entire city block in the process for a special intervention. The intervention would to be to provide a space for entrepreneurial activity, stripped of cumbersome regulations – a ‘special economic block’ as an embedded neighborhood-scaled ‘special economic zone’ . The block is cut up into lots and offered to entrepreneurs who offer a convincing business plan and an agreement to invest money into the renovation of the block itself. In return they are given a space liberated from administrative barriers in which to run their business. As Vanstiphout says a “thick sediment of paternalistic policies are the biggest problem of Rotterdam South”, so a clear strategy around this is to clear away some of this so-called paternalistic sediment.

These themes are in line with much of the content featured in Volume 30’s Privatize issue. For example, freeing up administrative barriers is a major focus of Oscar Gential’s profile of the BIMBY project in France, where new land for housing is proposed for development in the backyards of others; new forms of exchange are discussed in Chris Lee’s piece on alternative currencies; and informal economies are the backbone of Orhan Esen’s discussion on the historic development of Istanbul.

For more information about the current issue click here.

From more information about the work currently taking place in Tarwewijk click here.