We Own The City: International Forum on Community Planning and Architecture

wotc open room

Moderator Tracy Metz

wotc tracy metz

Chief book editor and co-founder, managing director at CITIES, Francesca Miazzo, presenting Amsterdam cases

wotc francesca

Chief book editor Tris Kee of Hong Kong University presenting Hong Kong cases

wotc tris kee

Susan Chin of Design Trust for Public Space presenting New York City cases from NYC via Skype

wotc susan chin

Images during Jeroen Zuidgeest’s presentation of MVRDV’s Vertical Village project

wotc vertical village

Bart Reuser of NEXT Architects presenting Seoulutions


Zef Hemel, Dept. Director of the Urban Planning Department of the City of Amsterdam, during closing discussion with Tracy, Tris and Francesca

wotc zef hemel

Olamide Udoma of Future Lagos presenting her winning We Own The City Urban Blogger Competition article via Skype from Lagos, Nigeria

wotc blogger

An international crowd on stage, via Skype and in the audience joined together at CITIES book launch 27 May 2014 at Pakhuis de Zwijger to discuss We Own The City: Enabling Community Practice in Architecture and Urban Planning

Type of activity
Date of the activity

Location of the activity
Pakhuis de Zwijger
With big and many thanks to all who made the publication We Own The City possible, and to all who participated and attended the book launch in Amsterdam, we are happy to report on the evening and share snapshots for you to live or relive the proceedings.


Pakhuis de Zwijger’s Grand Hall was full of international minds ready to listen, discuss and learn from We Own The City’s research. Moderator Tracy Metz kicked off the evening with style and grace, welcoming Francesca Miazzo, Director of CITIES Foundation, on stage to present four case studies and the findings from Amsterdam. Following Amsterdam, we heard from Tris Kee of Hong Kong University, who presented case studies from Hong Kong. Next, live from New York City, we connected with Susan Chin of Design Trust for Public Space, who reported on New York City’s findings via Skype. With a tight schedule, stories from Moscow and Taipei were not able to be featured, but are equally interesting and can be enjoyed within the pages of the book.


The second part of the evening consisted of interviews with architects. Led by Tracy, the first conversation was with Carolyn Bos, Co-Founder and Principle Planner of UNStudio, who pitched the project Holiday Home. Holiday Home is a museum exhibit in Philadelphia, USA, which seeks to stimulate novel feelings and reactions to a built environment that removes one from the norms of the everyday. While the project itself was not a direct community initiative, Carolyn raised a nice question: how can architects create a sense of community?

Jeroen Zuidgeest, Project Manager and Architect at MVRDV, followed by discussing the project Vertical Village. Initially launching in Taipei, Vertical Village seeks to combat the ‘Block Attack’, where concrete ‘blocks’ were found to dominate Asian architecture and deplete community vibe. Challenging this trend, MVRDV designed the Vertical Village project to explore way in which space can be more community based, open and collaborative, which also brings more agency and connective resilience among neighbors.

NEXT Architect’s Bart Reuser was next on stage, presenting Seoulutions, which is also the title of Bart’s recent book. Spending time in smaller settlements of Seoul, Bart found an environment where community development and architecture presented novel opportunities that would not work in cities of the developed world. Here, he found opportunity and insight; he found communities creating their social and built fabric in unique ways; and he explored transferable ‘seoulutions’.


To bring the evening to a close, Zef Hemel, Dept. Director of the Urban Planning Department of the City of Amsterdam, joined Tracy, Tris and Francesca on stage for a discussion of the evening and a focus on the City of Amsterdam.

Zef highlighted the difference between public and private, noting that the public is made to keep values alive, and private made to keep business alive. If the two are not in balance, you have a corrupt state. In order to bridge the public and private in Amsterdam, the city is working on a program for civil servants.

Zef also commented that communication strategies of the past are fading as novel and nascent communication strategies are emerging, not yet definable. The ways in which these develop will have a great influence on who has influence in city making.


Just before the clock struck 22h00, we had a surprise, which Tracy had referred to earlier as ‘our dessert’. For dessert, we had a live Skype with Olamide Udoma of Future Lagos in Nigeria. Olamide won CITIES’ Global Urban Blogger Competition. Drawing entries also from Brussels, Port au Prince, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Madrid, Toronto, Vienna and Rennes, Olamide’s winning article featured a compelling story of WeCyclers, a Lagos-based local recycling initiative that has managed to bridge their bottom-up initiative with significant and long-term top-down support.


For too long different vocabularies and circles of communication create divided spheres of thought and action, with varied strategies and resources to meet needs and implement projects. In light of this concern, a key message learned from this event is that practitioners, professionals and communities need to establish new communication relationships. Intermediaries can serve as strategic communication bridges to begin connecting communities, local groups and people-driven initiatives with professionals. These intermediaries speak both languages and have ties in both sectors. They understand both parties and can help translate wants, needs and ideas to the right people in the right way. Through this process, new relationships can be formed between bottom-up and top-down entities as new urban processes manifest.

CITIES Foundation is an exemplary communicative bridge, strategically positioned to communicate with both the 'bottom' and the 'top' in order to establish a new playing field where the labels 'bottom' and 'top' are erased. In this scenario, collaboration is achieved and new possibilities emerge. We Own The City was an extensive project that taught us how to bridge these disparate boundaries and learn how to best engage and enable community practice in architecture and urban planning.

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