City in the Making Association (Stichting Stad in de Maak) has since 2013 taken on the redevelopment of vacant properties in Rotterdam. Driven by hands-on communities we manage these building currently for a period of ten years. Five years on, we see our challenge beyond such “temporary vacancy management” and aim towards permanence in affordable housing and working spaces in collective ownership and management. And possibly even a step further: a long-term socially and economically sustainable life in the city, including our own baseline income.
The start of this initiative has been triggered by three conditions: the dramatic vacancy that has occurred at the Rotterdam housing corporations following the start of the financial crisis (2008/2009), the diminishing of the subsidised housing stock, and finally the desire to again give a place to urban production and economy in the street, neighbourhood and city. We find inspiration in the spirit of the historic housing cooperatives, but equally, draw on the recent emergence of open source maker communities and local circular (micro-)economies.
Meanwhile, City in the Making has opened up a handful of previously boarded-up or vacant buildings and restored them in a very “basic” way for living and working. Currently, there are eight premises in Rotterdam Noord. For a 10-year period, the property owner housing corporation Havensteder has transferred the managing of these buildings to City in the Making. Free of charge, but with taking on all responsibilities – also financially.
For each added building, City in the Making has been searching for a group of “enterprising” participants to embark on the intended use and program, but also with whom to identify and implement the required interventions on the premises. An essential aspect of each of these buildings is the combination of living and working. The upper floors are made suitable for living and/or working, while the ground floors are made available for production and collective use. A flow of finance from the rent of the upper floors is channelled to enable low-cost access to the ground floor facilities. These workshops and multi-use spaces create the link between the residents and users of the various buildings and the neighbourhood. They thus play an active and activating role in the city and (new) city communities.
City in the Making sees the current, temporary use of the buildings at hand as a “training condition” for what is yet to come. In order to achieve long-term affordable housing and working in a different way than the real-estate market is luring us into, the next step for City in the Making is to go beyond the temporary exploitation of the vacant properties that have been brought to our disposal as a consequence of the crisis. Since 2016, we have committed to putting this ambition firmly on the horizon – even if it presents a tough challenge.
Principles that we are aiming at are: no speculation with living and working spaces, low-threshold affordability, living space is part of a wider “infrastructure”, partial independence from large economical systems, collective way of organising with enough freedom for individual needs. And finally, we aim at communities that not only collectively manage building(s), but equally generate their income in these buildings and among their inhabitants.