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A City of Comings and Goings Wouter Vanstiphout & Michelle Provoost


A City of Comings and Goings

extremely mobile, with networks of relations that spread across the whole world that can be quickly mobilised for work or a place to stay.

Scrolling through the long list of victims of

However, within the jargon of Dutch immi-

Friday 13 November 2015 in Paris, we see a

gration policy, the victims of 13/11 would not

heart-rending portrait of a young cosmopolitan

be considered a single heterogeneous genera-

generation from very diverse backgrounds: from

tion but rather a series of highly distinct cat-

the banlieues to the world of international ar-

egories: migrant workers, expats, children of

chitecture. They are not only lucky students who

political refugees, and third-generation immi-

have seen the world on fellowships or foreign

grants. They would be subject to different poli-

tourists enjoying themselves in Paris’s concert

cies, views, investigations and political opinion.

venues and trendy bars. Some of the victims

However, their shared tragedy should force us to

were French citizens who had emigrated from

look more closely at what this generation has in

Chile as children; others have parents who emi-

common, and that is: migration. The ‘Généra-

grated from Algeria or Congo in the 1970s.

tion Bataclan’ inspires us to view migration

The victims represent an urban class that is

as a general and fundamental phenomenon in

Eagles Of Death Metal fans just moments before 89 of them were massacred by ISIS gunmen

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contemporary Europe instead of a series of

ers, standing lost at a bus stop in the rain; the hol-

problems which when viewed separately drive

iday camps miles from the nearest shop, and the

us apart and which, moreover, can never be ad-

monumental barracks filled with beds. A large ma-

equately solved.

jority of the current wave of asylum seekers will be granted the coveted refugee status, whereupon

Refugees

the COA will work together with local authorities to

The initial trigger to write this piece was not

find them permanent housing. This leads to fur-

the tragedy of the events that took place in

ther conflicts, for example with housing associa-

Paris on 13 November, but the refugee crisis

tions that have been told by housing minister Stef

that the Netherlands and many other Europe-

Blok that they should offer less social housing,

an countries have experienced over the past few

with the result that they now have no accommoda-

months. This crisis confronts us with the fragil-

tion to offer to refugees. Because, due to political

ity of how we define and manage our borders.

pressure, Minister Blok is unable to give refugees

While recent decades have shown that conflicts

priority, there is a resulting scramble for locations

on the periphery of Europe and beyond have re-

and buildings. This has led to some interesting

sulted in sudden peaks in numbers of asylum

conversion projects, such as the headquarters of

seekers, we were nonetheless ‘surprised’ by the

the Ministry of Social Affairs in The Hague, which

thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in our

is currently being converted into housing for im-

country, fleeing a conflict that has been going

migrants. Nonetheless, the dominant image is one

on for years. It necessitated the speedy fitting

of a government that has allowed itself to be over-

out of emergency shelters, the commandeering

run.

of empty holiday camps, and the erection of

tent villages. The hasty response sometimes led

cations where asylum seekers are initially housed

to heated confrontations with local communi-

onto a map showing those regions (mostly in the

ties. The acute urgency of the situation meant

Randstad) with the most job vacancies, we see lit-

that in most cases the COA (the Dutch central

tle overlap. This is remarkable given that we all

organisation for refugee intake) and the IND

want the accepted refugees to be integrated into

(Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service)

society as quickly as possible: we want their chil-

had to pay the highest price for locations and

dren to go to school, for them to learn Dutch, that

had to disregard local objections.

they get jobs and make a contribution to society.

But more telling than the logistics prob-

Looking at how those seeking asylum are housed,

lems are the locations of the majority of shel-

we can only conclude that there is no urban strat-

ters: in the less-densely populated eastern and

egy enabling us to absorb them within the heart of

northern regions of the Netherlands. We are

our economy, our cities and our communities.

familiar with the images of the leafy villages

suddenly inundated with hundreds of foreign-

gee crisis as a temporary emergency situation

It would be too easy to brush off the refu-

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Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost A City of Comings and Goings

If we superimpose a map showing those lo-


Map showing the locations where asylum seekers are initially housed (left) and the job vacancies per region (right). Source: Adzuna and Volkskrant/COA

with its own unique set of problems. But that

EU migrant workers. There are currently some

we find it difficult to provide adequate shelter

400,000 migrant workers in the Netherlands,

for those that seek refuge in the Netherlands

many of whom have poor temporary accom-

is a symptom of a wider problem concerning

modation in holiday camps, small sublets, car-

the flexibility and absorption capacity of our

avans or at their places of work. And again the

cities. Furthermore by isolating the refugee cri-

problem is reduced to purely a housing issue.

sis we deny the fact that migration has become

What makes it so difficult to provide adequate

a fact of life and will only increase in decades

housing for this group is precisely the tempo-

to come. The only way to deal with the refugee

rary nature of their stay and the many different

crisis is to view it not as a separate issue but as

individual choices they make. Some of them

a broader phenomenon that concerns not only

work a few months in the Netherlands each year

those fleeing war or poverty but also well-paid

but keep their main residence in Poland; others

expats, migrant workers, nomadic students, ar-

decide to live here and start a family; others live

chitects who travel from city to city and even

here for a few years with their family and then

Dutch workers whose existence has been ren-

move back to Poland.

dered unpredictable by a more flexible labour

market.

buying houses, between hotels and apartments,

The experience of asylum seekers is not

between social housing and the private housing

dissimilar to that of seasonal workers in the as-

sector, and the absence of short-term rental

paragus harvest, Polish workers and so-called

contracts make our housing system unsuited

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The gap that exists between renting and


to coping with fluctuations in the demand for migrant workers, whether that concerns the Slovenian asparagus picker or the Canadian expat who works for the International Court of Justice.

It seems strange to compare the lot of an

asylum seeker fleeing terrorist violence in Syria, waiting in a barracks in Drenthe, with the situation of a Romanian plasterer who sleeps in a caravan in Limburg or a well-educated but

Polish migrant workers in a vacation park in Udel. Source: wereldjournalisten

average-earning expat looking for a furnished rental apartment. But all three confront us with an inadequate relationship between city and countryside based upon stability and definitive settlement in a world that, at all scales, is increasingly about flexibility and migration.

Looking at the world around us, there is

no reason to think that the influx of migrants into Europe and the Netherlands will remain at the same level or even decrease. The combination of the effects of climate change with those

Refugees housed in a vacation park in Zeeland. Source: omroepzeeland

of extreme population growth in Africa, where according to the United Nations Populations Division the population will increase fourfold from 1.1 billion to more than 4 billion, creates almost unimaginable projections for migration. In 2014 alone, according to the UN, 60 million people were forced to leave their homes due to

ous NGOs estimate that that figure will increase to between 150 and 200 million by 2050. Like war refugees, the majority of climate refugees

Temporary student housing in Delft. Soucre: unknown

and the hundred million new Africans who move to cities will do so within their own region. But if even one per cent of the new Africans move to Europe that will mean some 30 million people, page 5

Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost A City of Comings and Goings

the effects of climate change. The UN and vari-


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The Chinese city of Shenzhen could be seen as the ultimate migrant city with millions of people migrating in and out of the city every year


whereas according to the IOM (International

globalisation with direct visibility at the level of

Organization for Migration) there are currently

the street and the neighbourhood.

around 5 million Africans in the EU.

The pressures that force people to come

nomic migrants and asylum seekers on our

to our region from elsewhere in the world are

borders and the conflicts in our neighbouring

expressed in the dramatic images of hundreds

regions will undoubtedly lead to political de-

of thousands of people crossing the Mediterra-

bates and probably to drastic changes in how

nean Sea in boats and the residents of the now

we deal with migration, the precise nature of

almost permanent ‘Calais jungle’. But we also

which we cannot predict. But we can be sure

see it in the outskirts of London where African

that migrants in all their diverse guises will

entrepreneurs breathe new life into abandoned

become ever more present and that ‘the sys-

shopping centres with wholesale outlets and on-

tem’ will be forced to change. The distinction

line supermarkets for products from Somalia,

between the migrant and non-migrant will be

Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. Alongside the grim

blurred and the common ground between the

images of the confrontation between migrants

refugee, the asylum seeker, the immigrant, the

and ‘Fort Europe’ there are also the informal

migrant worker, the research fellow, the student,

networks in which illegal immigrants, asylum

the guest professor, the intern, the au pair and

seekers and those refused asylum mix with

the pied-à-terre owner will become increasingly

those with refugee status and the Dutchmen,

clear. And that common ground is that they lead

Englishmen, Frenchmen or Germans with Afri-

a flexible and uncertain existence in which their

can roots who have an entire economy of their

adaptability and mobility is crucial to achieving

own.

the happiness they seek.

If the future unfolds as outlined above our

Netherlands is funnelled back to their country

cities will increasingly be characterised by a

of origin. The African Studies Centre in Leiden

coming and going of people, population growth

reported in 2011 on investments by Amster-

and contraction, the emergence and disappear-

dam-based Ghanaians in housing in Accra, while

ance of amenities and enterprises, and a con-

the architect Bernd Upmeyer recently published

stantly changing racial profile.

a fascinating study entitled Binational Urban-

ism, which documents people of Turkish origin

Comings and Goings mean in concrete terms?

who live in and invest in property in both Kreuz-

We might begin with the acute problem of asy-

berg in Berlin and in cities in Antalya Province.

lum seekers and refugees who are now leading a

These transnational or binational spaces consti-

difficult existence on the margins of the Nether-

tute an important economic exchange between

lands with children that have no access to nor-

these countries that is entirely separate from in-

mal levels of care and education. The question

ternational trade or diplomacy. It is bottom-up

is: where do we want these people to rebuild

What does designing and planning a City of

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Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost A City of Comings and Goings

A portion of the money people earn in the

The increasing pressure of so-called eco-


Aslan Bulduk and his wife (both born in Turkey) in their self-build house in Almere. Source: Volkskrant Magazine

their lives? Where do we want them to ‘make

such as Zoetermeer, Capelle, Purmerend and

a contribution to society’? Instead of isolating

Spijkenisse are well connected with the infra-

them in marginal parts of the Netherlands, we

structure, amenities and jobs of the Randstad

could welcome them in those regions where

and they also have space for transformation

there are jobs and where the scale and diversi-

and growth. New shops, work places and, above

ty of welfare and education provision is better

all, new generations of students and custom-

equipped to deal with population surges; in oth-

ers would breathe new life into these old growth

er words: in the urbanised landscape of North

centres. A benefit of the older new towns, such

Holland, South Holland, Utrecht and North Bra-

as Almere, is that they are already very popular

bant.

with the immigrant middle classes, who buy or

It is not only the social and economic op-

build houses here, for example in the Homer-

portunities that are greater in the Randstad. In

uskwartier. These existing networks of earlier

the more densely populated western part of the

immigrants can ease the process of social and

Netherlands there are areas where the arrival of

economic integration for their newly arrived

new residents can have a positive influence, for

compatriots. For example, there are many mu-

example in cities with an ageing population and

nicipalities, including Vathorst, Lansingerland

declining amenities.

and Leidsche Rijn, with incomplete Vinex lo-

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Former centres of

urban development

cations, for which the land purchases have al-


Many Vinex locations are still uncompleted like here in Lansingerland. Source Unknown

ready been made but the project development

locations. They are unpopular places among es-

in line with the Vinex model has not yet begun.

tablished residents and businesses but as de-

Here too there is a need for a new generation

velopment locations may well offer potential for

of residents and a new impulse for thinning

internationally oriented newcomers.

provisions. Despite the fact that anti-immigra-

tion parties such as the PVV enjoy a relatively

City describes neighbourhoods or entire cities

high level of popularity in the growth centres

where new immigrants are received, from Slo-

and Vinex neighbourhoods, these are also areas

tervaart and Thamesmead to Shenzhen and

with a strong middle-class, immigrant presence

North Mumbai. Can we actively build such ‘ar-

and therefore a breeding ground for further in-

rival cities’ in the Netherlands? Can we design

ternationalisation. And a dynamic economy fed

these places so that they offer the freedom and

by immigration will eventually reverse the so-

networks for new groups to integrate into the

cio-economic stagnation that leads to votes for

Dutch economy? If so, what requirements would

xenophobic and racist parties such as the PVV.

such developments have to meet? We would

Finally we can also include the many pe-

need to review our property market and housing

ripheral office locations and industrial estates,

policy to create flexibility and dynamism rather

which are largely empty, especially in growth

than obstacles. We would need to look at how

centres, among the category of well-connected

the construction industry functions and the legpage 9

Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost A City of Comings and Goings

Journalist Doug Saunders’s book Arrival


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The student hotel in Amsterdam - a new concept for short-term student housing ‘Hotel Style’


islation relating to zoning and the environment.

owes it to its reputation to embrace migration

We would need to subject the new National En-

as an enormous impulse for the development

vironmental Vision currently being formulated

of the cities and neighbourhoods of the future.

by the State to a critical review in terms of the

Design-driven research is important to visualise

flexibility, temporary housing, enterprise and

and simulate scenarios and innovative combi-

networks. We would need to look simultaneous-

nations. But concrete projects are also needed

ly at the environmental policies of local author-

to create ‘facts on the ground’ and to gain real

ities and how they can actively offer space to

experience.

the economic and social dynamic of migration.

We would need to consult with social welfare or-

citizens who require mobility and flexibility can

ganisations, local authorities and businesses to

come together, whether they be young native en-

examine how we can employ public amenities

trepreneurs with a large international network,

as fixed beacons for neighbourhoods typified by

students who want to live inexpensively in a dy-

change. We must try to understand what role

namic neighbourhood for three or four years,

public spaces in general can play as sites for

the newly arrived refugee who wants to build

encounters and exchanges between the nomad-

a new life, or the migrant worker who needs a

ic citizens of the twenty-first century. Nonethe-

Dutch base for his transnational existence. Can

less, to bring together all these issues and to

the Netherlands, with its institutionalised plan-

make visible the consequences and possibilities

ning and design, create such places that will

of a City of Comings and Goings the urban

connect us with the world? Can we create a City

planning design is of crucial importance and

of Comings and Goings, one that does justice

must even be the starting point. Making the

to the diversity and energy of the Génération

combined significance of the various implica-

Bataclan?

After all, we need real places where those

cities visible and concrete is indispensable for

A city of Comings and Goings is a research project initiated by

their integral development and also for a social

Crimson Architectural Historians and executed in collaboration

debate. Using urban planning images we can

with the chair of Design as Politics and The Berlage Center

visualise the broad significance of migration for

for advanced studies in architecture and urban design at TU

our cities and escape the simplistic dichotomy

Delft. A Dutch version of this text was originally published

of the expat or the refugee, the migrant worker

in the Blauwe Kamer Jaarboek Landschapsarchitectuur en

or the international student. We need images

stedenbouw 2015.

and models of a city or a street in which migration is a phenomenon that citizens share rather

Wouter Vanstiphout is Professor at the TU Delft Chair of Design

than driving them apart.

as Politics and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians.

Michelle Provoost is director of the International New Town

Given the urgency of the refugee crisis,

Dutch design (and the Netherlands as a design)

Institute and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians. page 11

Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost A City of Comings and Goings

tions of immigrant-rich neighbourhoods and


Profile for Design as Politics

A City of Comings and Goings  

By Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost.

A City of Comings and Goings  

By Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost.

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