A Coach for Conversation

This event was part of the Mixed Classroom 2017 - 2018.

This winter the Urban Futures Studio organised the second edition of the Mixed Classroom ‘Techniques of Futuring’. This year’s theme: the Neighbourhood of the Future. Over two months, policymakers and students worked together in teams to develop ideas for alternative urban futures. With a range of experts they explored the meaning of the neighborhood in addressing wicked societal problems like the energy transition. What is more: with the help of designers, the teams turned their ideas into concrete spatial interventions in five Dutch neighbourhoods (Binckhorst, Pendrecht, Rijnsweer-Noord, Overvecht, Cartesius Driehoek). 

This course is based on the idea that an effective response to societal challenges requires the creation of tangible images of possible and desirable futures. Final presentations were not organised in a lecture room, but as a staged intervention in the five neighborhoods. The bus trip in between the stops in the neighbourhoods was used to discuss new insights in in-depth conversations with other passengers. Hence the name: A Coach for Conversation. 

Watch the video below made by filmmaker Marieke Wijnen

First stop: Binckhorst in The Hague. This industrial area close to the centre of The Hague is being redeveloped into a mixed-use neighbourhood since 2016. Team Binckhorst designed an office chair slash bed:  "We are the Köppla Design Factory. We believe that everybody is able to imagine a certain future. They just need to be triggered to do this. And we are here to give them a little bit of help…" read more here.

Stop 2: Pendrecht. A post-war neighbourhood in the South of Rotterdam with 12 thousand inhabitants on only 1.22 square kilometres of land. The neighbourhood is built in a green and spacious way, with much repetition in single-family residences and flat-buildings. Since young people started to leave the area because of low quality of residences, the neighbourhood has been problematic. As such a redevelopment plan has been designed in collaboration with local inhabitants. It is aimed at differentiating the housing supply and at creating a strong social mix of self-reliant and vulnerable residents. Team Pendrecht made a plan for Energy Works, a company looking to create future jobs, together with students, entrepreneurs and teachers from the Energy Dock. Read their blog about Energy Works here

The 3rd stop of the Coach for Conversation in Utrecht: Rijnsweerd-Noord. A low-density neighbourhood which is predominantly filled with office-buildings. It is being developed as an 'economic hotspot', because of which the municipality wants to focus big on the quality of public space and the accessibility of Rijnsweerd-Noord. This team created a platform to showcase work, explain methods, and to enable the sharing, learning and dissemination of information related to the Techniques of Futuring (ToF) done by the Reinsweirdo's Collective. Check out their website.

The 4th stop of the day, Overvecht in Utrecht. Because of its history as a neighbourhood with social problems, Overvecht was designated a “Krachtwijk”. This marked the start of many initiatives focusing on education, increasing self-reliance and social contact, and improving the quality of the public space. Team Overvecht responds to this with Koffiebar Energiek (Coffee bar Energetic). Find out what makes this coffee bar so special on their website.

Finally, the Coach for Conversation came to a halt at the Cartesius Triangle. There are plans for this outdated marshalling yard to be redeveloped into a sustainable neighbourhood in the coming years. The terrain only is enclosed by (rail)roads and houses primarily companies at the moment. The quality of the public space is low and there is little coherence between the different activities in the area. Moreover, there are barely any public facilities present. The Cartesius Triangle is, however, strategically located in the geographical center of the city, almost exactly between the city centre and the centre of the Leidsche Rijn. Below you find the blog post written by team Cartesius Triangle. 

The Mixed-Classroom does not allow its participants to sit back and enjoy the ride. Rather, they are invited to imagine, reflect and create. It proved useful for policymakers and students to work on something tangible. Through the focus on a place like post-war neighbourhoods the teams were forced to imagine how broader societal developments - like the energy transition - may play out in such a concrete setting. Teams developed richer ideas and deeper analyses as they started to think through all the social and practical implications of social and technical developments. In doing so, they were also triggered to think about what is possible and desirable in the future and how this creates new possibilities for an intervention.

For policymakers, this work opened up their thinking about how they built coalitions and deal with uncertainty and how they can do so in more imaginative and inclusive ways. For students, it was a great lesson to be confronted with the perils of practice, as well as to be invited to develop more precise ideas that can actually materialise. And not unimportant: how to get the ear of policy makers. By working with imagining what might be, could be or should be rather than studying the world as it is, students learned new ways to make their studies relevant for practitioners.