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17/10/2017

Verslaafd aan architectuur

Een artikel over de discussie rond de Biertempel en haar betekenis voor de architectuurcultuur in België

05/10/2017

Wafels, bier en architectuur

Een artikel naar aanleiding van de herbestemming van de Beurs in Brussel tot biertempel naar ontwerp van Robbrecht & Daem Architecten.

18/09/2017

Creatio ex nihilo

Column #1 over de oorsprongsmythen van de architectuur

03/08/2017

Zorg dragen voor architectuur

Artikel over gebruik en postproductie in de architectuur naar aanleiding van het Jozef Plein in PC Cartias (Melle).

20/06/2017

Do Good architectuur

Artikel over de rol van ontwerp in zorgarchitectuur.

18/03/2017

Sprak er iemand over healing environment ?

Lees hier over de bijdrage van Charles Jencks en de postmoderne architectuur aan de ontmanteling van de kliniek.

22/02/2017

Pic Nic Architectuur

Een retroactief manifest voor Pic Nic the Streets als bijdrage aan de architectuurcultuur in België. Version Française

13/02/2017

Wraak op de commons

Een artikel over het nakende einde voor Agrocité en de toekomst voor architectuur onder zelfbeheer.

03/02/2017

Architectuur van de schaamteplek

Wie grip wil krijgen op de problemen van in psychiatrische ziekenhuizen, begint bij het ontwerp van de isolatiekamer.

22/12/2016

Van Utopia naar Wuustwezel

Er zijn weinig termen die zo’n beladen betekenis hebben in de architectuurgeschiedenis als utopie. Version Français

21/12/2016

Relational Architecture

Read about the production proces of the Kanunnik Petrus Jozef Triest Square in the Psychiatric Centre Caritas, Melle. Article in DutchEnglish / French

12/12/2016

Hoeveel samenwerking kan architectuur verdragen?

Artikel over de tentoonstelling 'Ensembles. Architectuur en Ambachtschap' in deSingel en Vlaams Architectuurinstituut.

15/10/2016

Bouwstenen voor het psychiatrisch centrum van de toekomst

Lees meer over de visieontwikkeling rond het psychiatrisch centrum van de toekomst gepubliceerd in Psyche.

03/10/2016

Eco-politiek in Brussel: Bas Smets en de Brussels Urban Landscape Biennial

Artikel over het nut en nadeel van landschapsarchitectuur als instrument voor regionale ontwikkeling in Brussel.

28/09/2016

Architectuur vol van verlangen

Artikel naar aanleiding van de opening van het Kanunnik Petrus Jozef Triest Plein in Melle.

26/09/2016

(Re)Politicize!

Proud to present the A+261 issue on architecture and politics - Dutch and French edition.

21/09/2016

Architectuur met schaduw

De 20ste eeuw baarde vele duivelspacten tussen architectuur en politiek. Opvallend genoeg wordt de architectuur van het Italiaanse fascisme tot op vandaag geprezen omwille van haar abstracte vormentaal. Dergelijke rehabilitatie is de architectuur van het Derde Rijk nooit te beurt gevallen. België heeft zo zijn eigen kleine trauma in de relatie met de politiek.

24/06/2016

Ingebedde architecten

Lees meer over de architectuur van oorlog en vrede

07/06/2016

Vakmannen aan het front

Een recensie over de bijdrage van Bravoure in de Architectuurbiennale van Venetie.

04/06/2016

Toiletemmers in Werelderfgoed

Er is iets curieus met de inrichting van de gevangenis van Merksplas, waar enkele weken geleden een opstand uitbrak. De geschiedenis van de site reflecteert een utopisch beeld van de gevangenis van de toekomst, de manier waarop omgegaan wordt met die geschiedenis symboliseert dan weer de gemiste kansen.

04/12/2015

FPC Gent: geen markt, geen gevangenis

De opening van het Forensisch Psychiatrisch Centrum in Gent zorgt na één jaar werking voor een grote opluchting - zelfs bij voormalige critici. De juiste vraag is niet of aanvankelijke bezorgheid terecht was, maar wel of de opluchting niet een beetje voorbarig is? 


28/10/2015

Het penitentiair verdriet van België

In de bouw van het gevangenisdorp Haren vormen de lokale en regionale overheid samen front met de actiegroepen tegen de federale overheid - of toch niet? Hoe kunnen we de knoop tussen activisme en politiek ontwarren?

23/10/2015

Een psychiatrisch centrum bouwen we samen

Ook architectuur heeft zijn plaats op de Vlaamse Hersteldagen. Doe mee op 18 november in de Vooruit.

01/09/2015

Eindelijk een kennisplatform voor humane gevangenisarchitectuur

De website www.prisongear.be presenteert het onderzoek naar een humane gevangenisarchitectuur.

07/04/2015

Ontmanteling van de psychiatrische kliniek

Lees de gevalstudies over zorgarchitectuur in Vlaanderen gepubliceerd in Psyche

22/10/2014

Een sterke leefomgeving begint met ruimteregie

Wat deelt een onafgewerkte verkeersinfrastructuur in Godsheide, een vervallen vierkantshoeve in Grote Spouwen, een gesloten mijnkatedraal in de Eisdense Tuiwijk en een geplande gevangenis op Domein Riegersvliet?


21/08/2014

Wie is er bang van het Bouwmeestercollege?

Iedereen lijkt het roerend eens dat de Vlaamse architectuur zonder de Bouwmeester overgeleverd is aan de wetten van de markt en de willekeur van het politieke bedrijf. Lees de opinie 'De Bouwmeester en de onheilsprofeten'.

20/12/2013

A humane prison is coming to your neighbourhood

As part of the Conflict & Design Triennial the knowledge platform Prison Gear presents design studies that pave the way for a humane prison in Leopoldsburg, Belgium.

16/12/2013

Een humane gevangenis komt naar je toe

Als onderdeel van de Conflict & Design Triënnale presenteert Prison Gear twee visieontwerpen voor de toekomstige gevangenis op het militaire domein Reigersvliet in Leopoldsburg.

09/10/2013

Limburg City / Stad Limburg

Read the memorandum of the Limburg Europa Workshop / Lees de projectnota van Atelier Limburg Europa

15/09/2013

The dismantling of the psychiatric clinic

Read the case studies on care architecture in Flanders

21/08/2013

Wat is ontwerpend onderzoek?

Drie vragen over ontwerpend onderzoek, drie antwoorden vanuit de Noorderkempen.

10/04/2013

Heeft een gemeenplaats ook een gemene waarde ?

Commentaarstuk bij het Architectuurboek n° 10: Radicale Gemeenplaatsen - Europese architectuur uit Vlaanderen

03/02/2013

Is onzichtbare psychiatrische zorg mogelijk?

Review van de opstart Pilootprojecten Zorg door de Vlaams Bouwmeester

06/11/2012

Limburg heeft ambitie / Limburg has ambition

Presentatie van de Startnota Provinciaal Bouwmeester Limburg / Presentation Initial Memo Limburg Government Architect

12/10/2012

Hoeveel vernieuwing kan de gevangenis verdragen ?

Lees hoe de modernisatie van de gevangenisarchitectuur in handen van Stéphane Beel begon en eindige bij het Ducpétiaux-model.

12/07/2012

San Gimignano aan de Zenne

Lees de column naar aanleiding van de Keukentoren van XDGA

11/04/2012

Sociaal-realisme of zelfcensuur

Met Jonas Staal schreef BAVO een pleidooi voor een nieuw sociaal-realisme in de kunst. Sociaal-realisme is broodnodig in het tijdperk van de hysterische reproductie.

21/02/2012

Nu ook een schreeuw om architectuur!

Niet occupy-en, maar de gevestigde orde verleiden om in crisistijden te investeren in leuke projecten. Lees hier meer over de Studio for Unsollicited Architecture.

20/01/2012

Gesloten architectuur is ook humaan

Lees meer over Fleur Agema's gevangenismodel

21/11/2011

Waarom kunstenaars niet fascistisch genoeg zijn

Lees het artikel in het decembernummer van Rekto:Verso.

12/09/2011

De Culturele Elite

Lees de bijdrage.

29/08/2011

Artist Participation in South Africa

The international PR campaign to showcase Rotterdam's robust policy on artist participation is now also tapping into the emerging African art markets.

17/06/2011

Denkverbod op liberale kunst

Column over de stellingenoorlog naar aanleiding van de aangekondigde bezuinigingen in de cultuursector.

07/06/2011

Maak liberaal kunstbeleid liberaal

Lees BAVO's advies aan staatssecretaris Zijlstra met betrekking tot de noodgedwongen keuzen die de cultuursector in Nederland te wachten staat.

18/03/2011

International promotion campaign of the Office for Artist Participation kicks off

The City of Edinburgh will be the first to host an international promotion event of Rotterdam's innovative cultural policies for enforcing the participation of artists in heightening a city's competitiveness and securing social peace on the local level.

28/02/2011

Culture and Contestation

The essay 'Neo-Liberalism with Dutch Characteristics: The Big Fix-Up of the Netherlands and the Practice of Embedded Cultural Activism' is published in the book volume 'Culture and Contestation in the New Century'.

19/01/2011

Art and Activism

BAVO's essay 'Artists... one more effort to be really political!' is published in the volume 'Art and Activism in the age of Globalisation'.

20/10/2010

Boek verschenen: Too Active To Act

Het boek biedt een kritische analyse van de maatschappelijke betrokkenheid van culturele actoren in Nederland in de afgelopen tien jaar.

THE UNCREATIVE CITY

The Murder of Creativity in Rotterdam: From Total Creative Environments to Gentripunctural Injections

project: THE UNCREATIVE CITY

date: 20/06/2007

author: BAVO

source: MyCreativity Reader

status: article

This essay deals with Rotterdam’s recent attempts to win the title of ‘Creative Capital of the Netherlands’. (1) In particular, it focuses on two recent housing developments in Rotterdam in which the ‘creative class’ features as a central referent: the Lloyd Quarter development in Delfshaven and The Poetic Freedom housing project in Spangen. The main argument of this essay is that if creativity is as bad off as it is often claimed today – instrumentalised as it is through perverted schemes by city-managers – the only option left for creative forces is to perform a similar act as the Greek mythological figure Medea: to stop what is most dear to her, her children, from being the object of a cruel manipulation by her unfaithful husband, Jason; instead of trying to protect them at all costs, she killed them out of love. In a similar vein, we plead for creative agents to tactically act uncreatively in the face of the aggressive usurpation of creativity by government and market forces.

 


Rotterdam: The Next Creative Capital of the Netherlands?

 

It was always going to be tough for Rotterdam to market itself as a creative city. In the first place, it uffers the geographical proximity of Amsterdam, a city considered by many as ‘creative by nature’. In Rotterdam, there can be no debate without ‘big neighbour’ Amsterdam serving as a shining example and/or being put forward as Rotterdam’s foremost competitor. This underdog sentiment is additionally produced by the story Rotterdam ‘tells about itself’, about where it comes from, and how it wants to be seen by others. Here, we are referring to the popular image of Rotterdam as a ‘no-nonsense working class city’, the latter having enabled it to arise from its ashes after the destruction of the Second World War, and to build a strong and thriving harbour economy. This narrative was sublimely depicted in a series of collages by Crimson Architectural Historians, in which the Nazi bombardments of WWII that wiped out the entire centre of Rotterdam were not depicted as a traumatic event, but were, on the contrary, historicised and rationalised as a sublime chance to do ‘it’ all over again. Think of the simulated dialogue underneath one of the collages depicting the devastating post-war cityscape of Rotterdam:

“One utterly destroyed town. Two men. Man 1: We are witnessing the death of our great city. Man 2: Absolutely not! We are witnessing its glory. The bombs and fires were followed by five years of flattening and cleaning until the debris had yielded a perfect act plane. It took another ten years to conquer the emptiness with a collection of perfectly new objects. White was never whiter, concrete was never as mousegrey than that of the buildings parachuted on the emptiness created by the destruction of Rotterdam.” (2)

 

However, it is this sturdy, resilient attitude depicted by Crimson that today appears to be Rotterdam’s Achilles’ heel in the rat race to become the Netherlands number one creative capital. On the one hand, this no-nonsense mentality to ‘get to work’ no matter how bad the circumstances is undoubtedly an asset in today’s era of entrepreneurial capitalism. On the other hand, however, it is the main reason for Rotterdam’s historic backlog in the construction of a bohemian climate – the sine qua non for a creative city. It was Richard Florida, after all, who posited a ‘negative correlation’ between the working class nature of a city and the presence of a bohemian climate. (3) And indeed, if in the creative city literature, homosexuals players increasingly use methods of soft and hard intervention to engineer creativity in the ruthless struggle for obtaining a prime position as a creative city.


From Total Creative Environments (the Lloyd Quarter)...

 

Exemplary in this regard is ‘the Lloyd Quarter’ development. This is an Urban Development Project (UDP) of the former docklands of Delfshaven – the old harbour of Rotterdam – through which the local government and its privileged partners already anticipate the arrival of ‘the creative class’. Indeed, the makeover of the old harbour quarter is exceptional in its provision of an all-inclusive ‘working, living, dining and shopping’ environment tailormade for the needs and desires of the creative industries (including the anticipation of an audiovisual, film and ICT industry). The Lloyd Quarter is, consequently, not just another so-called ‘breeding place’ where creative people can cooperate, inspire and stimulate each other, create synergies, etc. In general, the majority of these districts are organised in old, abandoned industrial warehouses (such as ‘Design Factory Van Nelle’ based in the former coffee, tea and tobacco factory of Van Nelle or more ‘bottom-up’, less formally organised and market-oriented breeding places in Rotterdam, such as the creative hub in warehouse 357 in Marconistraat). Authentic or not, these marketed locales for creatives have one thing in common: they function more or less as a regular office block leaving untouched the ‘private’ life of these creative workers.

 

The newly built Lloyd Quarter, however, takes this specific step further by integrating formerly unexploited aspects of creative people’s daily lives. The Lloyd Quarter presents itself as a ‘total formula’ for the creative class, supplying it not only with exclusive office and living space – a variation of shiny hypermodern objects, maritime-like buildings and reconverted warehouses – but also bars, restaurants, sporting and fitness facilities, and so on. A slogan on a promotion brochure for one of the developments could not have expressed the desired attitude of the ideal inhabitant better: ‘This is not a warehouse, this is your life’. (4) In order to capitalise on the full potential of the creative class, the Lloyd Quarter has been conceived of as a hedonistic ‘special zone’ for the creative class, an exclusive playground fully catered to the needs and desires of its extravagant target group. (5) That said, it should be obvious that the Lloyd Quarter has little to do with providing affordable working space for creative people such as designers, artists and/or musicians – as in the Design Factory Van Nelle and Warehouse 357 mentioned above. In the Lloyd Quarter, creativity is no longer the exclusive right of cultural workers and artistic geniuses. Instead, it has become elevated to a lifestyle and is broadened to include all kinds of people that know how to enjoy a certain urban extravaganza and/or identify themselves, rightly or wrongly, with a bohemian way of life (managers, yuppies, CEO’s). Creativity is, therefore, turned into a logo, a mark of authenticity or distinction, for top of the range urban developments that are implemented in good-old top-down fashion.

 

Of course, one would be blind not to see the problematic nature of these integral working and living’ projects. We will only mention two. First, although one of the official goals of the Rotterdam Development Company in developing the Lloyd Quarter was to empower a rather depressed part of the city by attracting creative industries and entrepreneurs to the area – whose presence and ‘good practices’ were supposed to encourage local people to start developing and ‘tapping’ their own creativity – it is unlikely that this will ever materialise. It is clear from its structure and layout that the Lloyd Quarter functions as a quasi-gated community and that, in this sense, it simply mirrors the isolation of the adjacent depressed neighbourhood Schiemond. Since no integration of these two worlds at two extremes of the socio-economic spectrum is being attempted, the sustained improvement of the area is destined to remain a case of statistics (with the high income bracket and employment rate of the newcomers raising the overall average).

 

A second problem is the expectation by the Rotterdam Development Company that the Lloyd Quarter in particular, and the creative class in general, will provide the city with a solid local economy that can serve as a complement to the harbour activities that strongly depend on the fluctuations of international market. It is, however, naive – not to say ridiculous – to put the Lloyd Quarter development forward as an example of Rotterdam using its own specific qualities as a way of avoiding an increasing dependency on global processes. Not only is Rotterdam importing the Quarter’s future creative entrepreneurs from outside, the urban gadgets that are supposed to seduce them to re-locate are ‘copy-pasted’ from other wannabe creative cities that are equally tormented by the big question of how to bind creative forces to their region. Which contemporary city today does not provide in an all-inclusive ‘working and living’-oasis reserved for creative entrepreneurs – preferably on the site of former docklands? (6) In other words, Rotterdam’s great ‘creative’ leap forward does not so much disconnect the city from the global marketplace, but rather subjects it even more deeply to the latter’s laws of competition. And, as more and more cities around the globe are entering into the creative era, one can only expect a further intensification of inter-urban competition. (7)

 

…To Gentripuncture (The Poetic Freedom)

 

However, in order to discuss the instrumentalisation of creativity in Rotterdam’s attempts to remake itself as a creative capital, it would be wrong to focus exclusively on grandiose new developments like the Lloyd Quarter. For starters, all but the most uncritical adepts of the new creative city religion will readily agree that both the motives and outcomes of such projects are highly questionable. Although there is nothing wrong with this position, there is nevertheless something pathological about the many lamentations surrounding big urban developments misuse of creativity for profits or votes. These commentaries are often an inverted way of asserting there is nothing wrong with the creative discourse as such. It is this benevolent stance that should be ruthlessly questioned. To put it bluntly: if the concept of the creative city is easily appropriated and commodified in large UDPs such as the Lloyd Quarter (and many other similar projects around the globe), then we should also scrutinise its ‘use and advantages’ in less obvious, seemingly more authentic cases. The problem, in other words, is that it remains difficult to criticise the corporate misuse of creativity – however justified – and posit one’s own creative initiatives as more authentic and radical. Ultimately, it prevents any serious discussion about how outwardly progressive, honest or ‘real’ creative initiatives are tightly bound up, and complicit with neo-liberal processes of the same sort. In light of our analysis of the Lloyd Quarter, it is revealing that the Rotterdam Development Company is also active in supposedly more authentic creative city projects. The most striking example is the experimental housing project ‘The Poetic Freedom’ in Spangen, one of the most notorious social neighbourhoods of the Netherlands (a district that even featured as the setting of a nationally broadcasted crime series simply called ‘Spangen’). Up to 75% of Spangen’s inhabitants are immigrants and the area is threatened by the usual plague of unemployment, drug abuse and street violence. The Poetic Freedom was established by the local government and some respected partners within a broader urban renewal effort to change the negative image of the area. The concept was to offer practically for free a dilapidated housing block to a group of people who were looking for a place to buy, and have them renovate and restructure the block through a collective design and production process into high quality housing units. Although the public campaign to recruit possible candidates was open to all, the conditions were such that it cannot be seen as merely coincidental that the majority of the participants were part of the creative middle class. For instance, the most important condition was that the future homeowners would have to invest a lot of their time and energy in the collective renovation of the block, as well as invest a considerate sum of money within the first year after the purchase. Another noteworthy condition was that the participants were not allowed to sell the house, at least for the first couple of years. Also, it was expected that participants would actively engage with the impoverished local community through neighbourhood activities in order to become integrated within existing social networks. Finally, the renovations of the housing units had to conform to the high standards of the so-called ‘new building norm’.

 

At first sight, The Poetic Freedom is certainly more modest than projects like the Lloyd Quarter. While the latter is an enclave for creative elites ruthlessly implemented in a top-down fashion, the former represents a moderate ‘gentripunctural’ operation that aims at embedding creative workers in Spangen’s socio-urban tissue. To a certain extent, the development is more radical, since it demands courage and initiative from the new inhabitants to develop in an area put aside by many as hopelessly depressed. It additionally requires a lot of time and self-sacrifice to engage in collective decision-making processes, not to mention the financial risk of investing in a neighbourhood denied any serious investment by both the local government and the major housing corporations for decades.

 

What is striking with The Poetic Freedom, however, is that immediately next to this block the same Rotterdam Development Company and its partners demolished huge chunks of social housing and replaced them with generic commercial condominiums. This begs the question as to why it chose to develop one block in such an experimental, ‘non-commercial’ fashion. This extreme juxtaposition of opposite approaches can additionally be found in the organisational structure of The Poetic Freedom known as ‘collective particular commissionership’. The idea behind this formula is that the new owners are not simply consumers of a product, but play an active role in the production of their own house. And further, that this involvement takes place through the self-organisation of participants as a collective body that decides on all possible design issues, divides the renovation work among the participants, and only engages with market-oriented companies for specific jobs that cannot be completed independently. The fact remains, however, that all people involved remain ‘private homeowners’. The main goal of the collective cooperation is to obtain a private house, to which the collective organisation stands in an instrumental relationship.

 

Most importantly, other than with matters directly concerning the production process, no clear formal commitments were made regarding the organisation of neighbourhood activities for which the new homeowners were officially recruited; that is, the necessary contribution of the project to bring about a new dynamic within the depressed neighbourhood. For this reason, there is little guarantee that The Poetic Freedom will not operate as an isolated oasis like the Lloyd Quarter – albeit on a different scale. That the participants in The Poetic Freedom act and behave like a highly exclusive ‘club of like-minded people’ (as they themselves call it) is the first indication of such an ‘island mentality’ emerging. Indeed, this club-formation was not only one of the main reasons mentioned by the participants for joining the project, it was also considered as its condition of possibility. For instance, the notion of engaging other income groups to join the ‘club’ – particularly people for whom home-ownership is not an option, or who do not possess a certain amount of technical know-how – is seen by all involved parties as unworkable. The unlikelihood, or at least, uncertainty of a substantial contribution to the impoverished environment is all the more reprehensible if one considers the massive support of all kinds The Poetic Freedom received from government agencies. First of all, the City of Rotterdam used its full monopoly power, as well as its budget for urban renewal, to buy out the former homeowners or landlords of the block. Secondly, The Poetic Freedom was facilitated with all the necessary organisational infrastructure and expertise for structural renovation by the Rotterdam Support Services for Housing – a former municipal service for social housing that now focuses on the development of ‘thematic’ housing projects. This direct link to local government was additionally used to circumvent the obligatory transfer payments the participants owed to the tax authorities. This was done, again with the help of the Rotterdam Support Services for Housing, by organising the new homeowners in a so-called Neighbourhood Development Company (Wijkontwikkelingsmaatschappij) that allowed the block to be labelled as ‘newly built’. The construction even needed special approval by the Netherlands Ministry of Spatial Planning. And is this not the deeper meaning of ‘The Poetic Freedom’? Just as a poet is granted the freedom to say and do things that are forbidden to mere mortals, here, all manner of exceptional measures are taken to accommodate a privileged group of creative people in realising the house of their dreams. (8)

 

All these various forms of governmental and non-governmental interference not only seriously undermine the spontaneous ‘bottom-up’ character of The Poetic Freedom, they additionally demonstrate how this seemingly progressive housing development represents its exact opposite: it encapsulates the integration of the creative sector as ‘voluntary imprisonment’ within Rotterdam’s ambitious project to become the creative capital of the Netherlands. The example illustrates how the privileges ascribed to creative forces in receiving a new ‘working and living’-oasis ‘for free’ is not so much poor compensation for their notorious precarious working conditions: worse than that, this ‘gift’ itself reflects those precarious conditions. As a point of contrast, in Barcelona, the radical creative movement rebelled against the real estate market by demanded a decent living wage with slogans that already anticipated the reactionary answer of the local government: ‘You will never own a house in your whole fucking life’. (9) The mechanisms of The Poetic Freedom, however, represent the exact opposite. Here, the local government anticipated the demand for decent working and living space by saying: ‘take this fucking free house, you creative idiot’.

 

Of course, it is crucial not to be blinded by this gift in order to perceive how the benefits of the transaction are disproportionately on the side of the government, and especially the housing corporations who own most of the housing stock in Spangen and profit most from its gentrification (after which prices are expected to rise from €1100 to €1800 per square meter). In this sense, the government and corporations are getting a bargain: while they do not pay the full price of creativity and its fundamental role in the gentrification of Spangen, they secure a group of new homeowners that have a ‘heart’ for multicultural neighbourhoods – a passionate attachment, moreover, that is strategically exploited by the Development Company Rotterdam in helping the new owners to ‘customise their house around themselves’. This is a high price the creative class pays for a free house and its ‘poetic freedom’. Receiving a free residency would be a nice gift to the creative sector if it was not wrapped in a smart ‘deal’: the city of Rotterdam’s secures for itself a docile and enthusiastic creative labour force by providing them with cheap accommodation, while the new homeowners are forced to invest their time, energy and savings and share the risks amongst each other.

 

All this makes The Poetic Freedom even more symptomatic of Rotterdam’s ‘creative turn’ than the Lloyd Quarter. Or to be more precise, while the Lloyd Quarter embodies the excesses of neoliberalism, The Poetic Freedom represents its symptom: it affirms the neoliberal city in the sign of its opposite as a low-scale, bottom-up, cooperative, alternative, genuinely creative project. In other words, if there is any difference between the Lloyd Quarter and The Poetic Freedom, it is that the latter is covered by a mark of authenticity that prevents any criticism of it being an exclusive ‘working and living’-oasis for the creative class.

 

The High Cost of Poetic Freedom

 

In order to fully recognise the high cost of the ‘poetic freedom’ granted to the creative class, it is useful to refer to the well-known role of the family under capitalism: on the one hand, the family is expected to deliver disciplined and productive subjects to society for free (by providing education, by teaching a certain set of social norms and values, good manners, etc.). On the other hand, the family functions as a safety net when individual productivity declines, for instance, due to physical or psychological problems. The parents are then supposed to provide emotional escort. However well insured the family might be, in the final instance, it always carries the risks for the dysfunctionality of its offspring. (The most recent addition to this risk-taking are proposals to make parents pay when their child ends up as a young criminal.)

 

In short, the family is caught in a double exploitation scheme where it has to carry the costs for services that society and the market are clearly not willing to pay for, although they clearly benefit from them, even depend on them for their existence. The point, of course, is that capitalism cannot pay for these services – even if it would want to out of a sense of ethics and justice. Or to put it better, capitalism cannot pay these costs and maintain the profits needed to keep the system running. Thus, it was not by accident that when Margaret Thatcher famously declared ‘there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women’, she quickly added, ‘and their families’. (10) In order to maximize profits, capitalism is condemned to maintain a ruthless market system as the ‘only game in town’ and propagate the dream of a liberal utopia of free individuals, while at the same time sustaining nonmarket, social values such as family ties, community solidarity, informal networks, etc. (11)

 

If we transpose Margaret Thatcher’s dictum to the situation today she would have certainly replaced ‘and their families’ with ‘and their loose creative networks’. In today’s capitalism, creative networks function in much the same way as the family did in its previous form. In the first place, creative networks are supposed to deliver disciplined creative subjects which – as we all know – means the exact opposite: creative workers are pioneers, always on the outlook for something new and alternative, constantly questioning the present state of affairs, and so on. In short, creative networks are production plants for the true urban pioneers that by their presence alone are said to dynamise an urban economy and create a permanent revolution in the city’s culture. At the same time, creative networks function as a social safety net. Today’s creative workers – just like the rising amount of ‘flex-workers’ – are increasingly dependent on a close and well-maintained network of friends and co-creative workers for possible commissions. They also strongly depend on their extended family for their social security and health (especially in the case of many international students working for Rotterdam’s ‘top’ architectural offices under deplorable, 19th century-style working and living conditions.) (12)

 

In this light, we can see The Poetic Freedom as a subsidised way of installing and organising a solidarity network among its creative participants through a collective and cooperative housing project. Of course, it is obvious from the self-description of the group as a ‘club of like-minded people’ that this ‘community-based’ project will never be truly inclusive, since social solidarity will never extend to a real ‘Other’, such as a traditional Turkish family or an Eastern European immigrant (unless they are already themselves successful in the creative sector). In this sense, the solidarity of The Poetic Freedom is strictly limited to the creative class and remains a clear case of the ‘middle class helping the middle class’.


Conclusion: To Be Uncreative

 

So, if The Poetic Freedom project illustrates anything, it is the cynical result brought about by the attempt of creative forces to safeguard at all costs their most precious capacity: their creativity. When creativity is affirmed as an autonomous value that needs to be nurtured and maintained, it stands in a direct instrumental relation to the current regime. The acquisition of poetic freedom by creative agents is achieved through the agent’s voluntary acceptance of the inscription of creativity in the economic process, where it gets put into service as something that cannot be established by capital alone: i.e. in the case of The Poetic Freedom to market the specific ‘radical’ niche of a neighbourhood like Spangen. Moreover, the creative actors involved are supposed to allow this ‘tapping’ of their creative energies without financial compensation by the involved partners, since an essential cost of their reproduction – a space for work and living – is subsidised through an exceptional housing scheme. In other words, what is announced as the final liberation of creativity is the exact opposite: the localisation of creativity at a specific site in the city and its subsequent unrestrained exploitation.

 

When thinking of ways to undermine this deeply cynical situation, the main problem one is confronted with is the remarkable subjectivity of the creative worker. We all remember the days when the cultural sector was active in the education, organisation and emancipation of the working class. Its central mandate was to convince the deprived and dissatisfied masses of its revolutionary role in history, to raise consciousness among these people about the fact that although they are largely responsible for the well-being of the Dutch economy, they are not fully enjoying the benefits of their daily sacrifice. Their emancipation was seen as the conditio sine qua non to fulfil the dream of the Netherlands to become truly ‘one’, to establish solid, socially cohesive communities and a stable economy. However, through Rotterdam’s attempt to become the next creative capital of the Netherlands, this traditional role is turned upside-down. Once baptised as the ‘creative’ sector, cultural workers eagerly take upon themselves the role of revolutionary subject and, along the way, redefine the struggle of Dutch society as one towards dynamism, innovation and competitiveness. Moreover, the ‘education of the needy’ is no longer on the agenda: creative agents now fully embrace their privileged position as connoisseurs and exploit it for maximum profit. Within this mentality, the old working class appears in creative circles as an annoying obstacle to the realisation of Rotterdam’s creative dream. If anything, workers in Rotterdam – and its popular masses in general – are said to excel in capriciousness: while recognising the need for a strong economy to secure their current living conditions, they frustrate creative developments through their envy towards creative newcomers in the city. (13)

 

It is at this very point that we are able to identify the subversive core of creative networks today. If social engagement and political activism still means anything today for the cultural sector, it should take an unusual task upon itself: one should learn to be not creative. (14) It is only by a friendly, organised refusal of its manipulated role as creative avant-garde that the cultural sector can safeguard its most precious asset – its creativity – from becoming the object of perverse politico-economical games. The paradoxical situation today is that only by acting as an uncreative subject – strategically conservative if necessary – can the creative/cultural sector create that crucial gap where the necessity of a real alternative to today’s challenges can emerge and begin to take shape.

References

1. The essay is a reworked version of a presentation delivered at the conference MyCreativity: Convention on International Creative Industries Research, Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster and the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 16-18 November, 2006, http://www.networkcultures.org/MyCreativity/.
2. Crimson Architectural Historians 1994-2001, Too Blessed to Be Depressed, Rotterdam: 010 Uitgeverij, 2002.
3. Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, New York: Basic Books, 2002.
4. We refer to the sales brochure of BAM Real Estate for the redeveloped Sint Jobsveem warehouse at the Lloyds Quarter, Rotterdam.
5. In their essay ‘Pervercity’, Bülent Diken and Carsten Bagge Laustsen describe the rise of the ‘zones of exception’ in the contemporary urban landscape, see BAVO (ed.) Urban Politics Now: Re-Imagining Democracy in the Neoliberal City, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2007.
6. Think of the curious multiplication of water front developments all over Europe: from the Dublin Docklands to Amsterdam’s ‘IJ-oevers’, Antwerp’s ‘Eilandje’, and so on.
7. This inter-urban competition, however, goes hand in hand with an intra-urban competition. This made us speak of a new urban class struggle in our article ‘De creatieve stad. Stadsontwikkeling is politiek’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 16 February, 2007. The latter is, of course, anathema today. We can think of the vehement response of Ries van der Wouden (‘De harde competitie der steden’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 23 February, 2006) in which he disqualifies our use of the term class struggle as an anachronism, a remnant of a long superseded Marxist orthodoxy. He suggests that the term ‘struggle between cities’ is more appropriate in denoting the current situation.
His emphasis on a struggle between cities, however, completely leaves out of picture the internal struggle between different groups in the city – immigrant worker versus high-educated professional, working poor versus managerial groups, etc. – with which the former is waged.
8. Given the fact that the poet traditionally expresses the inconvenient or obscene truth of a certain situation, and the fact that this ‘obscene underside’ has now become fully part of Rotterdam’s official planning policy, we can rightly say that the latter now perfectly matches what Jacques Lacan called ‘the discourse of the capitalist’ (Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, trans. Russell Grigg, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007). According to Lacan, the superiority and cunning of this discourse is precisely that it is extremely critical of its own approach and, inversely, that it is extremely open towards alternative, non-conventional solutions coming from the bottom-up (like The Poetic Freedom). Of course, the critical point is that, once fully incorporated within the capitalist discourse, such alternatives are deprived of their subversive sting and made instrumental to the ambitions and values of the status-quo; see BAVO, ‘Always Choose the Worst option’, in BAVO (ed.) Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Overidentification, Rotterdam: Episode Publishers, 2007. Any critique of the creative developments in Rotterdam should thus take into account all the reversals and complications caused by the capitalist nature – in the precise sense of Lacan – of planning discourse.
9. We owe this example to Matteo Pasquinelli’s presentation of the Barcelona case at the MyCreativity convention. See Pasquinelli’s ‘Immaterial Civil War’, this volume.
10. Cited in David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
11. The point is that capitalism cannot but present itself in an enlightened mode (i.e. caring for family ethics, environmental responsibilities and/or social values). It does so not only for ‘strategic’ ideological considerations, but structural reasons; see our essay ‘The Freedom Not to Have a Wal-Mart’, in Benda Hofmeyr (ed.) The Wal-Mart Phenomenon, Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Publishers, 2008.
12. Architectural firm OMA/AMO even cynically presented the inconvenient truth underlying the world-famous Dutch architecture: i.e. the precarious labour of international trainees, as the sine qua non for OMA’s triumph of realisation. See OMA/AMO, Rem Koolhaas et al., Content, Köln: Taschen, 2004.
13. Richard Florida’s ‘negative correlation’ between the working class nature of a city and the presence of a bohemian climate returns not only in the official propaganda of Rotterdam’s development company and its priviledged partners; most of all, it manifests itself where one would least expect it: in progressive cultural initiatives. Take those organised under the banner of WiMBY! in Hoogvliet (Rotterdam), for instance, an initiative of Crimson Architectural Historians and former Leftist politician Felix Rottenberg. Being an acronym for ‘Welcome in My Backyard!’, WiMBY! clearly addressed the negative, recalcitrant attitude of the Rotterdam working class towards the new – i.e. the ‘not in my backyard’ attitude or ‘NiMBY!’ – as the most important obstacle for the great leap forward of the troubled neighbourhood. A similar logic was staged in Slotervaart (Amsterdam) in the project ‘Face your World’ by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk – somebody who can hardly be accused of being unloyal to the fate of everyday man. For a critique of these art practices, see our essay ‘Let Art Save Democracy!’, Regimes of Representation: Art & Politics Beyond the House of the People (2006), http://www.museumofconflict.eu/singletext.php?id=32
14. With this strategy, we are influenced by Jacques Rancière, who conceptualised the essence of a political gesture as ‘the long protocol of disagreement over an argument in which everyone agrees’, giving a twist to the common-sense interpretation of a concept and thereby alienating the powers that be from their own discourse. See Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

References

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

BAVO (Gideon Boie and Matthias Pauwels). ‘Let Art Save Democracy!’, Regimes of Representation:

Art & Politics Beyond the House of the People (2006),

http://www.museumofconflict.eu/singletext.php?id=32.

—. ‘Always Choose the Worst Option’, in BAVO (ed.) Cultural Activism Today: The Art of

Overidentification, Rotterdam: Episode Publishers, 2007.

—. ‘De creatieve stad. Stadsontwikkeling is politiek’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 16 February, 2007.

—. ‘The Freedom Not to Have a Wal-Mart’, in Benda Hofmeyr (ed.) The Wal-Mart Phenomenon,

Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Publishers, forthcoming.

Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, trans.

Russell Grigg, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Crimson Architectural Historians 1994-2001. Too Blessed to Be Depressed, Rotterdam: 010

Uitgeverij, 2002.

Diken, Bülent and Laustsen, Carsten Bagge. ‘Pervercity’, in BAVO (ed.) Urban Politics Now: Re-

Imagining Democracy in the Neoliberal City, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2007.

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure,

Community and Everyday Life, New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose Minneapolis: University

of Minnesota Press, 1999.

OMA/AMO; Koolhaas, Rem et al. Content, Köln: Taschen, 2004.

van der Wouden, Ries. ‘De harde competitie der steden’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 23 February,

2006.



Essay published in Geert Lovink et al. (eds.), MyCreativity Reader. A Critique of Creative Industries, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007.