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Cool Crossovers Innovations in Sustainability
VOL 24 (7)
IA&B - MAR 2011 18
Making a Liveable City In discussion with Sarita Vijayan, Editor and Brand Director, IA&B, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam â€“ a city progressing to be a sustainable habitat, shares his views on architecture, governance and a necessity for an idea of co-creation. Photograph: courtesy Studio X, Mayor of Rotterdam
let’s partner Ahmed Aboutaleb is a Dutch-Moroccan politician and has been the Mayor of Rotterdam since January 5, 2009. He has served as Director of the FORUM Institute for Multicultural Development and in 2002 he was appointed Director of the Social, Economic and Cultural Development Sector of the Amsterdam City Council. He was in Mumbai recently for Studio X, a Colombia University initiative for design laboratories in major metropolitan centres world over.
SV. Being the first immigrant Mayor of Rotterdam and a dual citizen of Morocco and The Netherlands, do you think our cities are becoming more accepting and cosmopolitan, in terms of culture and ethnicities? AA. We, in our age, live in a global village. From where you are in India, you can reach Europe within ten hours and United States within sixteen. We have the tools and means to have that kind of global exposure. We have established a world economy which means not only that capital moves from one place to another but which essentially means that people move. We have 174 nationalities and people from all the religions in the world in Rotterdam and I am talking about a city of six million people. You, in India have cities of ten times that size and sprawl and in demography with multiplicity in cultures, religions and what not. I think it should be a prime responsibility of the governments at national and regional levels to keep this fabric intact. There should be a constitutional provision to protect diversity.
come down and say that this is what I want and you have to accept it. It is not an attitude that can work long term and contribute to an idea of a self-sustaining, liveable city.
SV. As a Mayor of a city under constant change, do you think that the urban developments in your city are moving in the right direction? AA. Rotterdam is changing continuously. Post-World War, since 1945, the city has changed drastically. The influence of immigrants is also dominant. When it comes to urban architecture, the city of Rotterdam is one of the most advanced and forward in The Netherlands in terms of experimental architecture. Rotterdam is a spacious city, but it is my endeavour to make Rotterdam a ‘liveable’ city; a city of bicycles and pedestrians and trams and children playing and safe places for all. We are trying to have a sustainable, liveable environment; a city where it is quiet if necessary but there are enough dynamics to create a better city environment – a progressive attitude with a self-sustaining base. It is for people to judge after 25 years from now, the gravity of decisions we make.
SV. Do you see architects, urban planners and design professionals contributing enough in the way cities develop? AA. I cannot speak for all the cities in general but I will speak for Rotterdam. I chair a commission that, once a year, gives the ‘Maskand Prize’ to commemorate one of the most prolific Dutch architects. I, as a part of this commission, have had an opportunity to interact with some of the well-known Dutch architects and through this introduction, I know that architects contribute significantly towards making Rotterdam pleasant, green and sustainable. I think that architects have an obligation to understand what people want beyond shaping the city into something they want. We encourage a system of co-creation between architects and the people wherein the architect, the citizen and the government are significant contributors to the dialogue on our cities.
SV. Do you believe that effective policy-making can alter or change the physical and experiential fabric of the city to make it more sustainable, more pleasant and perhaps more ‘liveable’? AA. I firmly believe that spatial planning in a city should never be top-down. It should always be bottom-up to establish a good base of cooperation with your citizens. I believe in a system of co-creation which involves the citizens in a process to create the city they desire. It is imperative to stop building things which are not linked to what people want. Put more energy in listening to people, talking to people and designing for people. Project planners, architects and developers are instrumental in bringing quantum change but I do not like that you
SV. Mumbai and Rotterdam are two culturally diverse cities. Do you see any significant parallels between the way Indian cities function and the way Indian cities are as compared to Dutch cities? AA. They are different but a lot similar. To elaborate, I would say that the differences lie in the fact that in India, cities are huge. As a matter of fact, average Indian metropolises have roughly the population of my entire country. But we are similar in the sense that we have a multicultural society. We have people from all major religions and just like the Indian cities, our cities are magnets that attract people and keep expanding. How they expand and with what sensitivity, that is a matter of concern.
Studio-X, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s global network of laboratories launched its Mumbai centre to the public on February 10, 2011 with the opening of ‘Architecture of Consequence’ – the Netherlands Architecture Institute’s (NAi) international travelling exhibition about the role of architecture in social innovation and sustainability. Studio-X Mumbai is GSAPP’s newest global design centre that will explore the future of cities through research, public dialogue, arts and culture. It will also be joining an existing network of Studio-X labs in New York City, Beijing, and Amman to engage in cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and cross-continental exchange of knowledge and information.