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.
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.”