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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.”