This blog is part of a four-part series from the Renaturing Cities:…
During the 4th Informed Cities Forum in Rotterdam, we all had the opportunity to visit different parts of the city that are under transition. My choice was Carnisse, the quarter with an average income that is the second lowest in the city. We went there to find out what initiatives are helping locals to face economic and social difficulties.
Rotterdam’s southern part is different in economic, social and cultural meanings than the one situated on the northern side of the Maas River. Rotterdam-Zuid is considered being a ‘deprived area’ in many levels and Carnisse is a quarter where many people tell you not to go. But if you go, don’t lock your bike on the streets.
So I went there and locked my bike on the streets and waited for my group’s rented bus to arrive.
And yes, the difference was visible. No hipsters were consuming overpriced raw food and special coffees on terraces built from upcycled materials and far less businessmen were riding elegant bikes with brand new iPhones on their ears. The area was ethnically more diverse than in the North but lacked all the architectural and designer fantasy that makes Rotterdam what it is. But still, the conditions looked far better than what I’m used to when I go to ‘poor’ neighbourhoods in Budapest or anywhere in Hungary.
This area was originally inhabited by workers and then it became an affordable place for migrants. Local minority groups differ between Turkish, Asian, Arab or African communities and in the last decade a big number of Bulgarians and Romanians found their home in this area.
Don’t import your ideas, we have our own!
I learned that Carnisse is under a ‘transition management project’ since 2011 that involves the sub- municipality of Charlois, which Carnisse is part of. The influence of the economic crisis, government budget cuts, lack of welfare organisations and public facilities were the key problems that had to be tackled.
Our trip’s main focus was on how locals can help locals overcome some basic problems they are facing their daily lives. The projects were intentionally based on local activities driven by locals, because they wanted to avoid resistance between locals against an ‘imported development’ or the effects of gentrification that are visible in the harbour.
As parts of local resilience initiatives, a community garden and a community centre stand out. Both initiatives are run by NGOs, based on volunteer work and both were born on the waves of the economic crisis in the recent years. They show good examples on how commitment and courage can form into action.
The community garden we visited was quite big compared to the ones I saw before. The land they use once belonged to a company that after its bankruptcy handed it over to the municipality. Now an NGO is running the site with small funds from the municipality and with the work of volunteers mostly.
The downside of using municipality land temporary means a constant threat of losing the territory in case of selling it to an investor which may not be interested in free vegetables anymore.
The community garden is open for locals and is so popular that it has a waiting list. We’d witnessed a scene when two local men rode in on their bikes to do some work but they were rejected due to the lack of empty places on the list in that time.
The garden a staff of one person who’s job is to maintain and organise the place’s daily life. ‘Carnissetuin’ has its own green house, there are areas reserved for vegetables, flowers and for bigger plantations too. He said that there are small parcels that people can rent. There is also a former tennis court next door where they teach students some basic horticulture.
Gardeners have to sign up and they are paid with food according to the amount and type of work they’ve done. Alan, the garden’s staff told us that sometimes they have so much vegetables and fruits that they are giving it out to local nursing homes or schools. But its not only food that the garden gives the neighbourhood. Its community-building, bringing people together in an area which lacks social facilities.
Although the community garden looks like a successful initiative that may help locals in many ways, their situation is not stable. They can lose their land any time, as they’ve lost part of it, when the school on the neighbouring plot wanted to expand.
But the garden’s only one paid employee is optimistic.
Even if we lose this land, there are so many vacant plots where we can start again
– He says.
Not every initiative can move on this easily
In about a 5 minutes’ walk from the garden there’s a colourful and inviting building located between rows of two or three-storey houses. It is a community centre which once belonged to a state-fund welfare organisation that closed its doors a couple of years ago. In a vision called ‘Blossoming Carnisse’, that was built up by the transition project this community centre plays an important role but it’s also under the threat of losing its home.
The centre aims to bring together locals and helping them to form their future together. Entering the centre we first found ourselves in a gym with basketball backboards. On the first floor children with different cultural backgrounds were cooking together. Their menu is changing every week, this time they were making Turkish food. In the other room a class was studying and we also saw a group of kids learning how to play the piano or how to sew.
Our group was sat down in a colourful room with one wall having a huge window on a kitchen and with the leaders of the centre proudly showing us the place. They were two middle-aged women, both full of passion and commitment. One of them works as a teacher; she comes to work in the centre every day after school is finished.
What we learned from them was uplifting on the one hand and sad on the other. Uplifting was the story they told us about the community’s renovating and rebuilding the centre and the times and work people spend there to help others. All of them are volunteers. The sad part of the story was the same what the garden had to face: the constant impossibility of seeing a long-term future. The day when we visited the municipality of Rotterdam voted yes on extending the foundation’s right to use the building for 6 more months. Until that morning’s vote it was unsure that the centre’s programmes can continue on the next day.
With no significant incomes except some donations and rental revenues, the centres has no such opportunities to move on as the garden had, if it comes to an end at that place.
(Photos: Aron Halasz, Juila Leuterer)