News of faculty

20 Jun 2012

«Moscow is Amsterdam 20 years ago»

The city is a complex live organism that attracts people and changes their lifestyle and their outlook. Yet it is the people who define the character of the city and the pace of it's development. Armed with an idea of a new economy and desire to domesticate the additional city space, the modern city manager can breath a whole new life into the old and obsolete historical buildings, factories and other non-functioning industrial facilities. That is precisely the area of expertise for the internationally renowned Dutch urbanist Evert Verhagen, who gave a lecture titled «The second life of buildings: creative models» to the students of «Art-management and gallery business» RMA program.

Evert Verhagen is the founder of the Creative Cities agency, and the Reuse BV company, that is dedicated to the search for the renewed usage of the industrial zones and facilities.

The Westergasfabriek park in Amsterdam

I think everyone here knows that Amsterdam is a very green city. But when I first moved in there, I was living in the so called "district of the future" named Bijlmermeer, which was comprised entirely of the concrete-panel buildings. I often found myself thinking: «Who on green earth had come up with an idea to build THIS?!». Luckily, that neighborhood did not stay the same for too long, almost immediately after the construction was over, the neighborhood was partially deconstructed and eventually renovated.

While living in Amsterdam, I've finished my education in the area of hydrology, and then proceeded working on the management of the city space. And I would like to tell you that the problems that the city of Amsterdam had to deal with 20 years ago, are the exact same problems that face Moscow today. The key problem with with most of the cities is that around their historic centers there is often an industrial sprawl effectively surrounding the city. And around 19th century, many cities have undergone a rapid growth, during which they have engulfed these industrial areas leaving many of them these days in desolation.

One of such sites was the natural gas factory of 1890, the duty for reconstruction of which I had assumed. This was the place with a very difficult history: it was abandoned for almost 30 years, the soil around the facility was contaminated. The city authority wanted to turn this area into a full fledged park, however that task required quite a hefty sum of money which wasn't exactly available. It is then, when I understood one simple idea: whenever there is a project that costs too much money, and at the same time there is a group of people who are genuinely interested in having this project brought to fruition, it becomes sufficient to simply offer to complete the project for merely 10% of it's assessed costs - and the project becomes instantly yours.

We have decided to make the roof gardens instead, and cut the costs of excavating and relocating the contaminated soil, by instead shielding the affected land with the layer of plastic and adding one meter tall layer of clean soil right on top of it, thus protecting the trees from contamination. The project turned out to be quite a long term one, but I'm still very pleased with what came out of it. We have effectively given a new life to the place where no one thought it would be possible. We came up with many different project that relied on the temporary usage of the existing structures. As a result, a new popular space was created, where people could get together and spend time around - and such place, I believe, should be present in every city and town.

The new economy, talents and the ideal city

According to various estimates, by the year 2050 - 75% of the world population will be living in the urban areas. The city - is a very complex interconnected organism that can not be atomized, which attracts masses of people. In a way, the city - is a peculiar emancipation machine.

All large cities, have at some point lived through their own "golden era", which is distinguished by three specific characteristics: respect to it's history, qualitatively better infrastructure, and attraction of the talents that would engineer the new methods of approaching the economy and space.

The modern day urbanists have long been talking about the new «creative economy», that is rapidly developing these days around the world. And the essential question that is being posed along this process is - exactly who will be paying us? Until this question receives it's answered, we will continue to move from one place to another in search of the new opportunities. One conclusion can be made with certainty: if the city wants to be successful, it absolutely has to attract young and creative people, by giving them the opportunity to express their potential in all, including the most unexpected spheres.

According to the current statistics, most city planners and developers are working with the target audience between 40 and 80 years of age, which is considered the most stable demographic segment that rarely changes it's residency location. However, in a way it is a dead-end approach, since the problems need to be discussed and addressed with the young generation first of all. Only those cities that manage to establish this dialog with the young creative class, will see the bright future. It is absolutely necessary to create the new opportunities that would allow people to take an active participation in the city's life.

We must continue our search for the new ways of creating the ideal cities of the future, where we could combine these three factors: preservation of the tradition, presence of the productive sector and active and creative lifestyle. To accomplish that, it is absolutely vital to create the specialized comfortable public spaces - where people could get together, the kind of places that will be equally well suited for all the segments of the society, helping to form the new diverse economic interconnection that will continuously generate new business opportunities for it's residents.

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