Carve: Small interventions often evoke bigger changes. Local involvement in a design for a street in the city of Amsterdam became the stage for public participation. Potgieterstraat is situated in inner Amsterdam, in a context of 19th century buildings dating back to the first big enlargement of Amsterdam. The block typology of that time appears to the disadvantage of today’s public life, since the inner courtyards of these blocks are not open to public use and the streets were never designed for today’s traffic. In general there is a lack of public squares and public green. Streets here are dominated by cars and recently introduced bike lanes are a traffic solution, unfortunately claiming the available space from adjacent side walks. The district as a whole was up to a refreshing new strategy for children and pedestrians to strengthen and vitalize the public realm. Local inhabitants were asked in a political enquiry to agree upon and formulate new guidelines and were also involved in the selection of an architect.
Carve suggested to close down one of the streets entirely for car traffic in order to rededicate that street space to citizen utilization. The rededicated former street and parking area given to Carve to design, has a total site surface of 1,500 m2. The site’s functional program was changed from traffic and parking into an urban program of meeting and pausing places, a playground for children, an upgrading of the green quality and overall, a positive urban beacon for the district.
Carve’s intervention was firstly to rethink the street into a play street, accessible only to bikes and pedestrians. All surface materials were removed, the existing trees however were kept and new ones added. Into that clearance, Carve designed a mogul landscape with play objects integrated, materialized in abstract black rubber. The play objects vary from interactive elements to water sprayers. The rubber can be used as a drawing surface, invites to jump, run, fall thanks to its soft feel while reducing noise levels.
However, the true benefit of this design is not obvious on a first glimpse. It is rather the reclaiming of local urban realm by its community. Parents but also citizens without children interact and relax here on wooden benches and around a little kiosk. The location becomes an anchor for neighborhood interaction and interlocks as well its surrounding blocks as well as helping to get together people of different backgrounds and ages.
Whereas participation is seen as a process with all stakeholders positively involved this wasn’t the situation at all in this particular case. The participative processes could be more characterized by conflict than by cooperation. Conflicts with the city council with an ambitious demand that by written survey 70% of all residents in the housing blocks should agree on the plan, conflicts with residents that didn’t want their acclaimed public parking places to be moved around the corner, the appointment of a new political administration changing plans already agreed on between the residents and the former administration. Conflicts with retailers located on the street, the financial coupling of this small project to a bigger project. Lack of cooperation between the different city departments and the delay of the project in general. All these conflicts resulted in a process where the social bonding was actually already established before the realization of the plans because residents showed perseverance. Therefore the basis of the success of this public domain was a side-product of this design. Whereas the main attraction is surely an exciting, unique playground, it succeeds in attracting a large percentage of locals, helping the neighborhood to lose its anonymity by stimulating neighborhood chats.
Residents organise for instance little outdoor dinners and drinks here. Literally whenever the weather allows, one can witness children and adults claiming this street. The newly planted trees combined with the already existing ones have upgraded the pleasantness of this space. However, the intervention is not that of pleasant greenery to look at, but rather an urban implementation of a lively program to interact with: an urban stage.
Landscape Architecture: Carve
Team: Elger Blitz, Mark van der Eng, Renet Korthals Altes, Jasper van der Schaaf, Lucas Beukers, Stef van Campen
Project name: Potgieterstraat
Completion date: 2010
Project location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Site area: 1500m2