What place is a border?

Last Wednesday, Dr. Vincent Pijnenburg, succesfully defended his PhD thesis, about collaborative borderscaping in the Dutch-German borderland. In his thesis he focuses on cross-border spatial planning practices, In relation to Placemaking, one of the issues at stake here, is that it is exactly the relation with the ‘other’ which creates the incentive for active Placemaking. Placemaking within an existing administrative realm, with the usual rather homogeneous normative targets, procedures and conditions, is a rather boring activity (think also of the PhD thesis of Anke Strüver from 2004 about the ‘Stories of the Boring Border’), with boring results. However, the heterogeneity of the border landscape and of the different administrative systems meeting each other at the border create an active and innovative setting for Placemaking for cross-border planning and maybe even for spatial planning as such. It is at the borders, where also the core is made. Placemaking is almost by definition a bordering activity, irrespective of the place where it takes place. It is in these situations where we meet the eye from elsewhere and as such learn about ourselves and about our ‘system’ of spatial planning. In these interactive settings borders are not just shaped but also changed and transgressed. Vincent specifically elaborated and experimented extensively with interactive Design Ateliers for this borderscaping, providing a taste for more…

Next to this innovative aspect, his thesis is also a very comprehensive overview of everything relevant written about border-studies, cross-border cooperation, and cross-border spatial planning, and as such a seminal piece of work.

Placemaking in Rome

On our annual trip to an interesting city, with our group of three ‘Placemaking experts’ enjoying live geography…, we visited Rome this year — the city where I once lived for a bit more than a year –, to get an impression of newest developments of ‘overtourism’ and ‘urban development’, but of course also to get a real ‘feeling’ of the city and of the typical Roman atmosphere, as expressed by a real Italian coffee, unbeatable in quality, speed in processing, and… in price.

Interesting enough all the highlights of Rome are nowadays highly securitised, because of terrorist threats. So if you go to a church to participate in the holy mess, you might need to pass heavily armed security personnel and have your day-packs checked. This is supposed to provide a feeling of safety, a rather ambivalent feeling in such a setting, and a topic for further research on Placemaking as our colleague Prof. Ben Anderson in his article on ‘Boredom, excitement and other security affects‘ from 2015 expresses. At the same time visitors do not seem to bother and except and undergo it as if it is everyday normality. However a personal experience I had many years ago in Münster, Germany proves that there are different normalities. Münster is a city of cyclists, like also many Dutch cities, but if you then experience that you can actually easily leave your rent-a-bike with a very cheap lock overnight in public space without it being stolen, you notice that that is total other kind of normality, which really provides you with a rather different feeling of trustful relaxation, something you would not be able to experience in a Dutch city. So there are many different affective states of ‘normality’, which shows that there is still a ‘place to win’.

While exploring Rome, we also visited the Museo nationale delle arti del XXI secolo. A fascinating place in itself, at a former manufacturing site, with an exhibition which Placemakers should not miss, with the title ‘The Street. Where the World is Made:
The street as a place of sharing and innovation, the principal laboratory for artists, architects and creatives‘. For placemaking experts, maybe not totally new, but the way it was put in artistic forms, really gave a fascinating impression of how this everyday Worldmaking, sounds, looks, feels and smells.

A final observation we once again made, is that notwithstanding Italy’s many new migrants, and its current populist right wing politics, the everyday life in the city seems multi-culturally very relaxed. At every corner there is a church, and you wonder how the Romans can upkeep this huge cultural heritage of more than 900 churches, and you would expect that they could easily rationalise and reduce the number of churches, to be able to serve the Roman population. On the other hand this large number and diversity of religious assemblage places, also seems to accommodate the great multiplicity of different communities. If you spontaneously walk into a church, it could very well be that the celebration is held in French, Arab, Greek, English, or in whatever language. As one of the first ‘world-cities’ in our world (Rome was the largest of the ancient cities. Historians estimate that the population of Rome may have reached up to 1 million people at its peak in the Roman empire). As such it of course also has a long tradition as a very diverse multi-cultural and cosmopolitan city. Indeed all roads led to Rome, and diversity was and is the lifeline of the city, and maybe of every city.