Vlaardingen Commons, one year after

A lush green courtyard surrounded by houses, which provide an answer to the cracks that the current housing market is uncovering. A year after it was founded, the City in the Make enclave in Vlaardingen has a name: the Vlaardingen Commons (Vlaardinger Meent in Dutch). The first commons are here, the community has doubled. An update of this living research into new ways of living and living together.


In the living room of Cornelis Houtmanstraat 22, wood chips lie on the floor, with a path in between. Against the walls are bookcases with books on various subjects. From fermentation to the history of Eastern Europe, but also cheap romantic novels. Two lazy armchairs. And then suddenly there is the recognizable style of the urban nomads of Stad in de Maak, thanks to Studio C.A.R.E., who turned the communal living room of the latest project in Vlaardingen into an inn.

The Inn feeling

The rooms are furnished in a hostel style. After the lobby or reading room, in the next room – of course the doors have been removed everywhere – there is a dining table with all kinds of different chairs. A kitchen full of second to tenth chance cooking utensils and lockers complete the inn feeling.

Then the lodges. Upstairs there are a dozen bedrooms, intended for short-term stays at the inn. However, no one has been able to sleep yet. “The day before the opening, the building inspector of the municipality was at our door,” says Daan den Houter, who, in addition to his artistry, presents himself as the keeper of the commons. “Because a wall has broken through, safety cannot be guaranteed and no one is allowed to sleep.”

A downer for the inn model. And setbacks often don’t come alone. “One of the residents was getting married. There was a party that would last until 10pm. The music was already off, but at 10.30 pm the police were at the door because of a complaint from the downstairs residents.”

These are valuable lessons in research into living together and ‘tailoring the city’, for which the Vlaardingen Commons was founded. In these streets too, the residents decide and manage the whole sociocratically. “Here we are learning again what it is like when different people live together. Most problems are already solved by listening to each other,” he concludes. “And removing the fences, that also helps a lot.”


Growth and income

The Vlaardingen Commons, as the residents christened the two streets after almost a year of sociocratic consultation, is beginning to take shape. There are now 70 homes managed by Stad in de Maak, part of which consists of communal facilities and storage. About 55 houses are inhabited by one or more residents.

The rental income (300,= Euro / month / house) will be split into three pots: a third will go to Overhead and Research & Development of City in the Making, which will pay for instance for socio-geographic research into the past, present and future of the Neigborhood; a third to the management of the street, in addition to the regular maintenance costs of the houses, facilities such as the inn and the landscaping are paid for from this; and the rest flows back into the larger City in the Making community for common wishes and projects.
The same budget split-up is also done in other City in the Making projects. About one quarter of the available houses are free of rent and are used for common spaces and facilities, which is also a general City in the Making principle.


Commons

Think, for example, of the garden, where a greenhouse is now being built. Just like in the previous large project Pension Almonde in Rotterdam, there is also a space intended as a sauna. In the communal workshop everyone can borrow tools and work with machines. There is also a Wasbuur (Washing Neighbour, a space for shared washing machines and dryer), a blank space, an exchange wardrobe and two communal living rooms. .

“We have a lot of harvest from the garden and people are very enthusiastic about that,” says resident Laura, who does a lot in the garden. “For example, we distributed pesto to everyone.” Resident Romy uses a lot of the common spaces. “It’s nice to sit with a group of people in the space near the outdoor kitchen. We now use the kitchen in the inn for soup evenings. Last week the San Juan celebrated in the garden. That was an initiative of my half-Spanish neighbour. You see that there are more and more people who are taking up or organizing something.”

Now that the hostel cannot be slept in, the residents are brooding on new ideas. “It was a disappointment that this idea fell apart, but we immediately think of what we can still do with these spaces. You see that people immediately look at what is needed for the community and come up with new ideas,” says Romy. Laura: “We want to make it a soundproof space, so that musicians can record and small parties can be held.”

“Although the question remains how to properly organize a community,” says Romy. “People are integrating, people are leaving. There are tasks that are popular and often vacancies that are not always filled.” The outdoor kitchen, for example, which should initially be the heart of the street, is deserted and a bit run down. “So you see that you can sometimes think of things, but that the reality is often different. We learn from that.”


Doubling the number of residents

The community grew steadily home after home, until about 25 modern urban nomads lived there. They made contacts in the street. With each other, but also with the incumbent residents who lived in the other houses in the street with a temporary contract from social housing corporation De Samenwerking.

When they received the message last year that they had to leave, they got in touch with City in the Making. Daan: “Why would you look for a new home, if you know that there is another organization in your street that also temporarily rents out homes? Did we suddenly want to add 30 people who would otherwise end up on the street? It wasn’t really a question. It was strange for us to kick them out, as an organization that wants to make the housing market more accessible for people that fall in between the cracks, such as these people.”

“Your fence is going down”

So the old residents of the street were incorporated into the whole. There was one condition: your fence must go down and you contribute to the community. The new, old residents also became part of the sociocracy. Suddenly the meetings that were always in English because of the international mix of ‘our’ urban nomads had to be translated into Dutch.

Daan: “The needs turn out to be different. Roughly speaking: one part prefers to eat only home-grown food and lives as sustainably as possible. Then it takes some getting used to when your neighbour that rather sits in the courtyard with a frying pan of bitterballs (famous Dutch fried bar-snack) and a case of beer.”

It was exciting for a while, Romy thought. “There was some unrest in the air. That is why we as Housing & Residence Circle approached everyone personally. We introduced ourselves and told that we should do it together. You belong too. After a while, the tension ebbed away and people were more in their comfort zone. Last week we had a meeting with City in the Making and you saw that people who were definitely not going to come before, were now there.”

An enduring legacy for urban nomads

What rubs against convention can just be a breeding ground. “Ultimately, with this project we are investigating how you can make your living environment suitable for life off the beaten track. How you cohabit, share, work, live and how a home is a multifunctional source that enriches your life,” concludes Daan. “We want to adapt the standard concept of living to a new way of living that suits the needs of the urban nomad.” The idea is to leave something lasting behind in the neighbourhood, based on this research with the Vlaardingen Commons, after we have left. “That could be a guest house, or just a street sign that reminds of what once was here, but also much more.”

Farewell Pension Almonde, welcome Vlaardingen Commons

City in the Making has been active in Vlaardingen since this spring. A quiet residential area with 1920s homes, fifteen minutes by metro from the center of Rotterdam, is the location of the next experiment with temporary management. Welcome to the Vlaardinger Meent / Vlaardingen Commons, our latetst project and the successor to Pension Almonde. A little quieter and a little greener this time, but with the same basic principles: alternative forms of cohabitation, sharing facilities as much as possible and engagement with the residents of the neighborhood.

Cornelis Houtmanstraat

Goodbye Almondestraat
The predecessor of the Vlaardingen Commons, Pension Almonde (Almonde Boarding House), was a street with 52 former social housing units. From the end of 2019 to April 2021, the entire Almondestraat in Rotterdam was managed by City in the Making as an experiment to keep the city accessible. Modern urban nomads lived there; people who fall between two stools on the housing market. Commons and low-threshold neighborhood initiatives were given a chance. Physically there is nothing left of Pension Almonde. Just an empty street with colored walls and security cameras from the new owner.
Fortunately, there is still the impact: the research that was done, both as an art project and academically. The attention that came to the urban nomads and the impulse this gave to the political and social debate. There was also, of course, the Slopera, that, as part of the Opera Days, made a statement against speculation and the housing market. Moreover, people lived there, networks were created. Even in corona time, because of the emergency aid and the shared space and neighborhood facilities in the plinth. We had to continue this in a new place, didn’t we? If only to answer the question: Can the Pension itself become nomadic and move from place to place?

Outside Kitchen, Studio C.A.R.E.

Welcome Vlaardingen-East
At least in part it can. Some of the residents of Pension Almonde moved to two streets in Vlaardingen: Cornelis Houtmanstraat and Nieuwe Kerkstraat. Where Pension Almonde encompassed one street, these are even two streets, of which the homes of housing corporation De Samen werking are slowly coming under the management of City in the Making until demolition, which is planned in 2023. After the loss of Pension Almonde, there is one condition: Stad in de Maak leaves something lasting behind this time, so that the memory of this new ‘pension’ will remain in the neighborhood after its demolition. Initially, we were to take over the empty houses, but after the start of the project it turned out that the sitting residents who would have to move, now also want to be part of the project. This fall there will be meetings, in Dutch and English, to inform the residents about sociocracy and the ideas behind the project.

22-year-old Noëmi finds life in the Cornelis Houtmanstraat an enrichment. In corona time she lived alone. In retrospect, that was quite lonely. She dreamed about a community. Now that she is involved in the start in Vlaardingen, she can finally live her ideals. “A crisis shows more than ever that we need each other and that we have to live as sustainably as possible.” She comes from Romania and follows her entire master education in the Netherlands. As a student of Transformative Social Innovation, living in the project is living research for her.|
Together with roommate and friend Romy, she was one of the first residents. They were assigned the oldest house, which they refurbished with second-hand furniture and art from friends on the walls. Although they live upstairs, the residents share all the gardens. The balcony is full of cuttings, which are ready to go into the ground.

Noëmi

Cuttings

Across the street, in the Nieuwe Kerkstraat, Laura has the same. There are plants everywhere that need a place. Just moved in and before they – Laura identifies as non-binary – has everything in place inside, they immediately started working on the garden. First there was a fig tree, which the community thought was a great asset. “Unfortunately, the previous resident picked it up this week. However, I was able to save the berry bushes from the neighbor’s garden and plant them here.” Laura first lived in an eco-village in the Achterhoek, but through Noëmi she ended up in Vlaardingen.

A few houses away, David unloads his car. Half of the moving stuff is still there. He is moving into a house for his own for the first time in years, after his plan to sail around the world was shattered by corona. “ We are happy to contribute to social change in this way. The housing market is closed and so we are investigating an alternative. I am also very curious about the idea of ​​sociocracy. So we’re going to find out what it’s like to invest in something, even if it’s temporary of course.”

Olaf and Paul

Pancakes and drinks with the neighbors
In the house next to Noëmi’s, Clara bakes pancakes while her friend Rif packs her backpack. A lot goes into it, because without a permanent place of residence or abode, it is possible to live out of it. She is going to France today and how long she will stay where she does not know yet. Housemate Eden is sitting on a chair drinking coffee. He has to hurry to get to work, but hopes to get another pancake.
Clara from Germany cheerfully tells about her move from the lively pension Almonde, in the middle of the city, to the somewhat quieter Vlaardingen. “Here you are close to the Broekpolder, nice in a natural environment. And if I want to see friends, I can be in town in fifteen minutes. We also have a lot of fun here. There is fresh energy. We can shape the community together. Pension Almonde was a standing concept, which I came to live in after it had been running for a year.” Here, too, there are jars with cuttings on the table. In addition, there are pieces of homemade soap. “From the neighbor, Linda, who has lived here for years. We keep getting in touch. She wants to know what we think.”

All in all, the newest guest house is a mix of different types of residents. The urban nomads who are not attached to a permanent place of residence because of their philosophy form an interesting combination with the old residents of the streets, who want to stay because they do attach great importance to a permanent place of residence. In addition, there is little contact with the residents of the other blocks, which are managed by a housing provider for Eastern European labor migrants.
Somehow it is strange, says Noemi: “City in the Making is taking over these streets and we are forming a community. But there is already a community of people who have lived here for years.

Sociocratic Meeting @ De Stokerij

Sociocracy
The residents are divided into four sociocratic circles that govern the community: program, research, administration and maintenance. The latter has two sub-circles: gardening and the new people circle, for the selection process of new residents. The basis of the system is that the circles are about a subject and suggest ideas, but that decisions can only be made on the basis of consent: the consent of every group member.
The latter has two sub-circles: gardening and the new people circle, for the selection process of new residents. The basis of the system is that the circles are about a topic and suggest ideas, but that decisions can only be made on the basis of consent: the consent of every group member. Read more about this decision model of the city in the making.”
“We also need to talk a lot more about the structure of living together”, says Noemi. Her proposal to also organize a meeting about this once every two weeks received sufficient support. “How do you ensure that we live together as a community, while everyone retains their freedom? That we retain everyone’s commitment when many more homes and residents become part of the community? These are questions that you can read and discuss endlessly, but what I especially want is to actually do this in practice.”


Slopera , the (short) Movie

At the end of September 2020, between two Corona lockdowns, the street opera ‘Slopera, tragedy of a demolition street’ was performed in the Almondestraat. A selection of Rotterdam actors and singers, a choir from Codarts and of course the old and new residents themselves brought to life the joy and sorrow from two years of departing residents and in-moving urban nomads, from shared suffering and shared joy, and from the players and victims of the urban housing allocation system. With a summary video impression we look back at one of the cultural highlights of the Pension Almonde project.


See also the Pension Almonde website www.pension-almonde.nl

‘Shapeshifting; ‘ City in the Making as a ‘producer of common space.’

On Januari 29th, in the middle of a Covid-lockdown, Louis Volont (Department of Sociology & Culture Commons Quest Office, University of Antwerp) defended his doctoral thesisShapeshifting: The Cultural Production of Common Space’. City in the Making in general, and Pension Almonde specifically, was one of the three main cases Louis used as ‘witnesses for the defense’. The other two being The Public Land Grab (London) and  Montana Verde (Antwerp). The full thesis can be read online, but here is a foretaste.

In his introduction Louis states his basic ‘empirical’ research question thus: “This enquiry puts the concept of common space to the test. My guiding question, is this one: how is common space’ produced within the current conditions of urban development? Put differently: through which tactics do urban activists give a spatial expression to the concept of the commons?”

The study main ‘guide’ is Lefebvre’s ‘triad’ (from ‘The Production of Space’ and ‘Critique of Everyday Life’); ‘lived’ space (representational space), conceived space (representations of space), and perceived space (spatial practice). But Louis renames/redefines this Lefebvrean triad because of: “Lefebvre’s ‘woolly’ formulation of the triad’s three spheres. Representations of space as well as spaces of representation seem to figure in the triad as things, namely as visual, verbal or written projections in the context of the former, and as spaces endowed with a sense of multiple meaning in the context of the latter. Spatial practice, then, emerges not as a ‘thing’, but as a ‘process’: a process of putting space to use, be it for survival, societal reproduction or capitalist growth.”
Instead, the triad is reformulated as “the expressions of representation (formerly known as representations of space), configuration (formerly known as spatial practice), and signification (formerly known as spaces of representation): altogether the three ‘force fields’ of the triad. These three force fields leave behind any distinction between ‘thing and process’ but imply merely ‘a mode of doing’.
This is a linguistic, pragmatic operation in order to be able to point, without much confusion, to each of the three elements under consideration. Hence: within the field of representation, I ask: how do commoners ‘think’ common space? Within the field of configuration, I ask: how do commoners ‘build’ common space? And in the field of signification, I ask: how do commoners ‘live’ common space?”

Continue reading “‘Shapeshifting; ‘ City in the Making as a ‘producer of common space.’”

City in the Making in times of Corona

It has been quiet on our website for a while. Not because we have been paralyzed by the Coronavirus – on the contrary, things are happening in rapid succession, and then it is vital to take the most necessary action first. But now there is some time for an update.

First of all, all of us (the community of about 80 people) are doing well so far. Especially in Almondestraat, the residents of Pension Almonde have quickly switched to the ‘new normal’:

– Online communication via various channels (WhatsApp, radio, Facebook, video-meeting tools such as Zoom, etc.) has quickly been taken. Meetings and gatherings also continue as usual. We all learn that physical presence is not always necessary.
– Communication from the balconies automatically maintains the correct social distance.
– There has been singing and dancing on the balconies, online raves have been organized, online yoga is practised and social-distance sports activities are held in the park.
– There is a great deal of solidarity and a special Care group has been created that checks whether everyone is doing well by direct telephone contact.
– The outreach to the neighbourhood has also started. After Keju Kitchen (a commons catering company in the street) first changed the weekly soup day to a  takeaway soup-counter and started cooking for the street, the service has now expanded – with financial support from the municipality – to free food provision for the elderly and deprived persons in the neighbourhood.

And: the first corona-era baby in our community entered the world yesterday. Mother and child are doing well. A second is in the planning for this week.

The daily developments can be followed through various channels:

– the News button on the website of pension Almonde ;
– the Facebook page of pension Almonde ;
– and the daily radio channel Good Times, Bad times can be followed via the internet (sometimes) with laid-back conversations and music.

Besides, ‘the media’ have been visiting in recent days. First, a short item in an ARTE / ZDf (German television) episode of Metropolis about Rotterdam culture, in which Melle Smets takes you to Almondestraat from minute 10. The recordings were actually 4 weeks ago; another world. 

After a pre-corona episode of WijkTV about Almonde guest house in general, an Open Rotterdam report about food distribution followed. The regional channel RTVRijnmond also came along.

Also a nice article in national newspaper De Volkskrant: Soep en yoga: hoe een Rotterdams huizenblok ondanks alles contact houdt

We are pleasantly surprised by the resilience and adaptability of our City in the Making community. It creates hope for a better future and shows that such close-knit communities are vital not only in the days of crisis but especially afterwards when hopefully another world emerges from the current misery.

Art Party Everywhere at Almondestraat

From Thursday February 6th until Sunday 9th Rotterdam was under the spell of Rotterdam Art Week / Art Rotterdam. Almonde Boardinghouse took the opportunity to lift the roof in many of the houses and spaces in Almondestraat. During the day, the apartments of our street were transformed into the Not For Profit Art Party exhibition space (in collaboration with WORM). At night the ‘Party Everywhere’-party took over and many of the living spaces of our urban nomads were transformed into informal bars, pizza-places and meditation rooms. And , of course, at night visitors could sleep in one of the many rooms that were enhanced by the artists.

The Not For Profit Art Party showed work form about 50 different artists in many of the apartments of the boarding house. Representatives of several Rotterdam art institutions, like Bcademie and Printroom, as well as from national institutions and of course our in-house artists had their work on show. National newspaper de Volkskrant and online art magazine Jegens & Tevens gave us rave reviews (in Dutch only). For our boarding-house guests and fort he visiting art lovers a new reception lobby was officially opened. With their key guest were provided with essentials like a coffee mug, a tooth brush, banana body lotion and (on request) condoms. The spaces of Keju kitchen were transformed into a breakfast room / Karaoke Bar. Boarding-house host Flip also ran a bookshop. From now on the reception lobby and our nightclub Xbar will be a permanent part of our facilities.

On Saturday night, the cellar of our reception lobby, the Xbar (both by Studio C.A.R.E.), was the venue for local punk-blues band Sociale Onrust as well a few DJ’s. That night may doors opened for self-organized bars and meeting spaces in the living rooms; a ginger bar / monkey-cage, a pizza and tattoo parlour (real pizza’s, real tattoos), Silent Disco in a Bedouin tent, poetry from the balcony, a tea ceremony at midnight an much more. It was the place to be in Rotterdam (as it will be for the coming months.)

Fortunately Frank Hanswijks excellent photos remain!
And a special thanks to:WORM Rotterdam, Stichting VHDG, EXTRAPOOL, XPUB, – Piet Zwart Institute,Bcademie.nl, Printroom, Expoplu, Tetem, Keju Kitchen, Slopera, Nieuwe Vide Artspace, KIOSK, C.A.R.E. Stad in de Maak – City in the Making

Almonde Open

Almonde Open, At least as as nice as in the old days

Almonde Open Day

Saturday June 22 from 14:00 en 19:00 Almonde Boarding house (Pension Almonde) will present its first open house party: Almonde Open .
The first batch of new users of our ground floor commons at Almondestraat will present themselves to the neighborhood and the city. Every newcomer will organize its own mini festival from their own location; a bit inside, a bit outside on the street.

With among others: Pension Almonde – MotherDock – Al KHEMA, WoodstoneKugelblitz – Voici la femme – Food and other Stories – Copy Shop – Wasbuur – Stad in de Maak – Mini EKWC – Biobulkbende –
Workshops – Presentations – Tours – Expositions – Soup – Performances – Chilling
Where? Anywhere between house numbers 141 and 235.

Almonde Boarding House is a project of Stad in de Maak / City in the Making and takes place until at least the summer of 2020, in 52 apartments of the former social, to be redeveloped, houses at Almondestraat in Rotterdam.
Almonde offers a temporary home for neighborhood initiatives, urban nomads and misfits. By combining the need for flexible and affordable places to live and work with social and cultural activities, degradation of the street is stopped and new places to meet are created. The neighborhood is host to newcomers and vice versa the newcomers are the guests and clients of the neighborhood activities.

Boarding House “Almonde” makes its start

Since January 2019, City in the Making has been given access to 52 apartments in Rotterdam’s Almondestraat for a period of at least 18 months. This section of the street gets temporally transformed into Boarding House Almonde (Pension Almonde), a home to urban nomads, including social and cultural facilities – commons – on its ground floor. The current tenants are gradually leaving their premises, and new, temporary residents are moving in. Ultimately, the apartments will get demolished.

Almondestraat

Boarding House Almonde offers temporary residence to neighborhood initiatives and urban nomads in these former social-rental-sector apartments in the Almondestraat. By combining the demand for temporal and flexible housing space with the functionality of a community center, a new type of living-meeting space gets created. The neighborhood is host to the guests of the boarding house, and vice-versa are these newcomers customers of the neighborhood initiatives. The starting point of all of this is to create a living room / community space which next to offering practical facilities also enables to develop networks that enhance the social structure of the neighborhood.

Boarding house Almonde is situated in the ZoHo district, an urban redevelopment area on a stone’s throw from downtown Rotterdam. In 2018, a tender was launched calling project developers to bring this urban renewal operation into effect. In 2018 the social-rental-sector apartments of the Almondestraat have been included in this redevelopment effort due to issues with the structural integrity of their foundations. City in the Making has been asked by property owner (and social-rental operator) Havensteder to take on the vacancy management up to the moment of demolition to pay tribute to their origins and maintain the livability in the street.

Over a period of a year, the current tenants will move into their next apartments, possibly in the neighborhood, but more likely further removed from their current street. Some of the households are living for over half a century in the Almondestraat and are at home in this district like no other. Their stories are the first building blocks of the boarding house project. Artists, writers, researchers and journalists open up these stories to the broader world, to lend them a voice in the discussion around urban renewal. During a year, the boarding house will expand to its full capacity of 52 apartments, which takes up nearly the entire street. The transformation process of arrival and departure gets documented and performed in a ‘Scrapera’ (a street opera celebrating former life in the street) – the final chord of this phase of urban renewal.
The boarding house itself may become nomadic and temporally move on to another urban renewal street, and another, thus achieving a permanent status.