Last Thursday and Friday a handful of New Europeans attended the City Makers Pre-Summit at Pakhuis de Zwijger, enjoying dinner, lunch, drinks and dinner again, but most importantly having a whole host of inspiring representatives from across Europe discussing their efforts to make cities better. Andrea has already described her moment of galvanisation during the afternoon workshop and Charlien has shared her thoughts on the first lecture of the day. I thought I’d add a more broad reflection of the event.
I was fortunate enough to have the time to attend the whole thing, which meant exploiting the best thing that the summit had to offer: conversation with people from around Europe on the problems besetting their respective cities. Indeed, during the actual talks I was almost too excited by some of the things being said that I felt I wanted to get up and do something or talk directly to one of the contributors, rather than remain in my seat passively.
This feeling began with the first talk on the subject of Co-Creation, where we had Mellouki Cadat from bij Movisie and Sophie Kiesouw from Starters4Communities, both based in Amsterdam, Amalia Zepou Vice Mayor for Civil Society in Athens and Elena de Nictolis from LabGov in Bologna.
The most inspiring sections of this talk were at the beginning, when each speaker introduced us to their experiences with co-creation. Amalia Zepou talked about the extent to which co-creation had penetrated the actual processes of governance in Athens, where her role as Vice Mayor is to harness the pre-existing processes of city-making by mapping organisations and linking related organisations together to establish an economy of scale. In this way, her office attempts to increase the effectiveness of city-making activities by facilitating a link to local administration, so that small initiatives get the support and recognition they need in order to carry on.
A similar, though less institutionally-supported process was going on with LabGov’s initiation of co-design labs in Italy and the same level of development could also be seen in Cadat and Kiesouw’s work in Amsterdam. All in all, it showed that there were huge benefits to be had from mapping and linking together city-making activities and that this could and should be made a major part of the municipal governance process.
As the discussion between the speakers went on it began to get a little repetitive, until the audience began to intervene with their own examples. And this hints at a problem I found with the overall format of the summit. The summit didn’t seem to take on board some of the structural principles that it was trying to promote. There wasn’t enough space given over to the natural tendency for people to establish connections at these events. It happened, but it should have been allowed to happen even more. As a result of the format I found myself zoning out midway through the second talk because the focus on a few speakers was too one-dimensional.
I was told that the original structure was to be a series of workshops but due to the amount of interest, these workshops were upgraded to a series of talks with a single period of workshops on the Friday afternoon. So in a way, the whole event was a victim of its own appeal. But this is no excuse. Seeing the way that the Spanish Housing Activists PAH organize hugely productive, wholly participatory events on a regular basis is proof enough that the workshops should have remained (a process demonstrated in the documentary Si Se Puede, to be live streamed this evening on our screen at the Wall).
I often find that some of the most interesting voices are often those that are reluctant to speak in front of a large group of people, and effort should always be made to include these sorts of contributors. Mellouki Cadat actually made a similar point during the discussion, saying that he often found that people don’t meet in rooms. Instead they meet in the corridors. That is where you find the changemakers.
I should say in conclusion that the summit was, nonetheless, a remarkably well-attended event, full of enthusiasm and a brilliant opportunity to connect and feel part of a wider trend towards a more democratic city-making process. But as mentioned above, had the structure of the event replicated the principles of co-creation that formed such a big part of the topic of the conference, it would have been excellent.