Re-dreaming the Street Symposium
Post by Jakko Kemper
On the 17th of November, Droog Design and the Sublime Imperfections team (with support from the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis) organised the ‘Re-dreaming the Street Symposium’ at Hotel Droog. This is one of a select number of events organised in relation to the Design + Desires project — a project called to life in order to look into more organic ways of linking citizen desires to urban planning: In ‘Re-dreaming the Street’, Slotervaart – an ethnically diverse, increasingly popular neighborhood near Amsterdam’s city center – serves as a case study to explore how society could look with less rules and regulations. What if Slotervaart's residents had more say? How would the realization of their dreams impact on the neighbourhood? Should we filter the imperfections that come from the desires of a diverse population or embrace these imperfections instead? The project addresses changing the image and spatial planning of municipality towards a more resident-centered approach. In order to ensure an optimal emphasis on the actual residents, the project team took to the streets: To discover what the citizen’s ideal environment looks like, the team interviews Slotervaart residents in a mobile Dream Palace ('het Droompaleis'). Designers Jan Konings and Tessa Geuze visualize their dreams during interviews. The lion’s share of the evening consisted of a talk given by Jan Konings, who presented the most pertinent results distilled from the interviews conducted in Slotervaart. This was supplemented with an introductory talk about the Sublime Imperfections project by professor Ellen Rutten and a brief presentation about the Design + Desires project by Droog co-founder and director Renny Ramakers. Crucial to our own project was, of course, the question of how the concept of imperfection was discursively and rhetorically framed during the presentations.
Over the course of the evening, the term ‘imperfection’ came up in a variety of contexts. This is both an indication of its pervasive affective potency as a concept and an indication of its insusceptibility to clear definition within a delineated framework. It is a term that moves swiftly between different levels and registers and as such is hard to pin down. There was, for example, talk of imperfection as an an important facet found in the dreams communicated by Slotervaart residents (accompanied by a rhetoric calling for more contingency and creativity in urban space). Imperfection was also presented as an aesthetically potent attribute that appeals to a sense of authenticity (illustrated through examples from a variety of disciplines in Ellen Rutten’s introductory talk). Imperfection, however, was also configured on a more psychological level — i.e. as something that should to some extent be embraced when it comes to the relationship between dreams and the actual effort to realise these dreams in a feasible fashion. That is to say: accepting that dreams and desires are not always capable of being actualised in the desired way (leading to an ‘imperfect’ rendition of the dream in question) was more than once described as a crucial attitude for residents, architects, urban planners and project developers alike. In this sense, acceptance of imperfection functions as a sort of moderating device (to borrow a term from imperfection scholar Virgil Nemoianu) that can alleviate tensions. While over the course of the evening the concept of imperfection was rarely engaged head-on, its particular logic and rhetoric could be discerned during many of the discussions. The overall sentiment seemed to indicate that allowing for a degree of imperfection — both on an aesthetic level (negating the monotony of urban design) and a psychological level (accepting some discrepancy between a dream and its realisation) — is something that could bring residents and urban planners closer together.
On a more critical note: while the venue itself exuded an ambiance marvellously fit for these types of event, the night was marked by a series of technical and logistic difficulties that proved to be detrimental to the focus and coherence of the narratives presented. Furthermore, there was something that felt a little uneasy about discussing one of Amsterdam’s less prosperous neighbourhoods in a street where many a house sells for well over one million euros. This was exacerbated by the fact that there were hardly any actual residents of the neighbourhood in question present for the symposium; the audience was overwhelmingly white and middle-aged. Taking into account the goals of the evening — formulating some concrete and actionable assessments on the basis of the dreams and desires of, and as communicated by, Slotervaart residents — I think that the event would have benefited from a set-up that felt a little more grounded in the actual everyday experience and vernacular of the people the project interrogates. Rather than interpreting the spatial and architectural implications of the residents’ dreams for them, the project might benefit more from continuing to forge inclusive and deliberative platforms. From what I’ve gathered, future events organised under the aegis of Design + Desires will take place in other neighbourhoods and with more participation of residents. This seems like the most productive way forward for this otherwise incisive and exciting project: to me, emphasising deliberation in favour of interpretation or regulation forms the core asset of the project.