The Kursaal Convention Centre in San Sebastian welcomed the INTA34 World Urban Development Congress, from 24 to 27 October. This event brought together a large range of international personalities from various fields in urban development. Under the title «Reinventing your urban region: urban infrastructure and services for smart growth», business leaders, politicians and technicians of high levels presented and discussed different projects in which they are involved.
The activities of the Congress were divided into four parts: opening and keynotes, in which the strategic lines of discussions to be developed during the Congress were clarified; plenary sessions, in which projects are described followed by questions and comments by the facilitators; 5 workshops, which structure and content varied considerably from one another, and finally, the social events, allowing to discuss and collect rewarding contacts. See the full programme here.
Here you can read the review by Jon Aguirre Such on this event.
What is a girl like you doing in a place like this?
By Jon Aguirre/ translation: Line Algoed
To participate in a congress of the magnitude and characteristics of INTA34 makes me think of the first lines of the song by Burning. Like it happens to the protagonist in this famous tune, there is something perverse about submerging into a sea of people dressed elegantly and disappearing in the incessant flow of business cards exchanged by people, who have one thing in common: enough power to drive real change in cities, regions and even entire countries.
This is INTA, a nonprofit network that brings together leading politicians, businessmen, academics and technicians in the international sphere around urban and regional issues. Their annual congress is an accurate thermometer of the present state and future evolution of cities and regions. This kind of conferences offers an excellent escape from the very different sensibilities, and most importantly, it provides an alternative to the events that we usually operate in: this is the first event related to urban(istic) issues that I have participated to in which architects are a minority.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest attractions of INTA and its activities is the ability to interact simultaneously and efficiently between the three standards (political, economic and technical) of urban development. The result is a spontaneous and balanced negotiation around the globe, which often, as seen in many of the presentations, degenerates into fantasy in their translation to the spanish territory.
Still, we should highlight the lack of protagonism given in this Congress to the fourth leg, and in our opinion the most important in the city building process: the citizens. While some projects that were presented gave a good account of participatory processes (the very interesting project «The Fair City» developed in the Chilean community of Maipú; the innovation and e-government plan in Cáceres or the platform of Arquitecturas Colectivas), as well as a workshop that was organized to study these issues, the representation of associations or groups that explicitly meet citizen demands, was missing. The Congress could have used the burning issue of the renovation of the port of Pasajes and the presence of representatives involved in it as a catalyst for deeper debate between them and the various civic associations who are offering alternatives to the master plan.
Image Pasaia remodeling masterplan, the project designed by the Dutch architectural firm KCAP and LKS
Even though this point is pending for future editions, the list of strengths was far larger than the weaknesses. In general, we witnessed a most stimulating programme. It is true that sometimes it missed some specificity in the proposals or, at least, a more obvious translation from theory to practice, but there was time for this aspect to be substantially reflected upon. In this regard, we should highlight the proposed regeneration of downtown Vancouver, which proposes a paradigm shift from the American city model posing a conversion of the financial center through the introduction of important residential and funding packages; the social policies promoted in Lisbon; or the benefit that Cape Town is taking from the World Cup. In a broader context we should emphasize Open City, a foundation chaired by Motoo Kusakabe, a Japanese researcher, working globally on sources of social exclusion. The interventions of the former Prime Minister of Peru, Yehude Simon, followed the same path, focused on the Peruvian reality.
View of Downtown Vancouver (source: members.virtualtourist.com)
Halfway between concepts and implementations, we find interventions of Bertrand Porquet (GDF Suez) and Martijn Kanters (Ecorys). The first presented three interesting urban strategies related to energy and waste management, talked about the mechanisms for optimizing the energy mix, explained a proposal for the use of calories from sewage and praised the benefits of pneumatic waste collectors, putting the emphasis on the exponential improvement that the maintenance and facilities has experienced. The second speaker was one of the only ones to put the focus on the user, presenting some examples of business initiatives based on the needs of citizens.
Schema of heat recovery of waste water (source: GDF Suez): «With a temperature changing throughout the year, between 10 and 20 °, wastewater contains large amounts of energy. These calories can be recovered by the introduction of a heat exchanger in the collection network. This system reduces pollution and provides an efficient energy balance».
At the theoretical level, we want to highlight the opening session which set the general trend of development of the congress, with a remarkable intervention of Clara Gaymard, stating the need to establish the citizen as the epicenter of urban development. Also enriching was the Master Class of Heinz Werner, which reflected on the duality between local / global, and its impact on urban and social development.
WORKSHOPS: Between the empowerment of citizen participation and the reconfiguration of production centres.
The workshops deserve a separate chapter. I stayed in W1 (Workspace Urbanism: Intensification of the urban environment through technology: new models of production space. Interactions between industry, logistics, urban services, innovation and territory).
Pedro Ortiz was of the opinion that W3 (Social Visions Urban Development: Identity, heritage, image and quality of life) was very intense, focused on wealth management models and strategies for the promotion of citizen participation. This workshop contained spokesmen for some of the most interesting proposals outlined in the Congress, such as Patricia Rodriguez Alomá, director of the Master Plan for the revitalization of Old Havana, Alberto Undurraga, Mayor of Maipú (Chile), Víctor Santiago Tabares (http://maltravieso.blogspot.com/), Councillor of innovation and e-government in Cáceres and Josemi Martínez Rico, a member of the Arquitecturas Colectivas.
Caceres Creative Initiative
Based on the summary of the workshop W3that Pedro provided, I would like to highlight some interventions, particularly those based on participatory processes as a basis for urban regeneration. Michel Hek from Ecorys mentioned the need to address the social interest of regeneration interventions and the integration of the new use of the building within the urban and social structure of the area. Ewa Kipta from the City of Lublin emphasized the concept that public participation is not simply to give public approval to a bill already drafted, but to involve the community in developing the project from the beginning so that all the procedures and objectives of public participation are focused on that. This is the way to retrieve a real role, as well as social respect for the professionals involved. In the same line of argument Patricia Rodriguez Aloma, from La Havana, sees the people as the main objective of the urban regeneration process. Finally, Arquitecturas Colectivas noted through several examples that the alternative of creativity should be based on citizen participation.
Image Arquitecturas Colectivas Meeting, Pasaia July 2010 (source: http://estonoesunsolar.wordpress.com/)
Workshop 1 was focused on different strategies for the integration of production centers (mainly softwood industry) in city centers. Although the overall bias of the interventions was rather theoretical, there were several interventions that outlined enlightening projects. If asked to mention some, I opt for the projects for the rehabilitation of the garages and repair shops in the Paris metro, the One North project in Singapore or Hamburg’s HafenCity. Although this choice might raise some suspicions, it should be noted that all these projects are founded on a new design of production and work facilities as spaces of activity, exchange and socio-cultural encounter. In short, urban scenarios that are diametrically opposed to the fashion of «Corporate Cities” that begin to proliferate, for example, in the outskirts of Madrid (Banco Santander, Telefónica, BBVA …) and they were raised as urban revitalizers cleverly integrated into the city and not autistic parts anchored to large road infrastructures.
Aerial view of the project to HafenCity (source: skyscrapercity.com)
At the theoretical level, there were also fascinating contributions. Most of them addressed the ability of architecture to absorb the multitude of uses through its flexible nature. In particular John Worthington, Co-founder of DEGW and director of the Academy of Urbanism in London, raised the tone of these reflections by stating that «architecture must be able to respond in real time, allowing changes almost every minute».
There was also time for metaphysical reflections such as the reaction from the architect Fernando Navarro Bidegain , raising new measure units for architecture: «Why not measure architecture in light meter or circular meters rather than in square meters?». Beyond the literal sense of these issues, is the need to subvert the basic principles of architecture and urban planning (reflected in its rigid rules), so that it is able to respond effectively to the needs of a changing society.
It was to these changes in social behaviour that Arkaitz Fullaondo referred during the debate. The urban sociologist has worked on social dynamics that occur in the industrial and production centers (you can read an interesting article he published on the blog of Ecosistema Urbano), and from this perspective he argued to turn around what had been said until then. That is, instead of bringing industry influence to the inner city, why not take the city to the production facilities by adding tertiary facilities and uses to these areas? No doubt this approach was much more encouraging and plausible than those previously encountered. Furthermore, as Arkaitz indicated, social dynamics are already ahead of these reflections as many people start to use these production centers as meeting places and entertainment.
External image of the «Transparent Factory» of Volkswagen located in Dresden (Germany). Project that exemplifies the new production models.
From this and other interventions, we can conclude that these new models of production, to which the title of the workshop is referring, are conditioned mainly by the level of technological sophistication of industries and their incorporation into city centers (an area of which no one defined the scale or the limits) must be accompanied by strategies that qualitatively affect the socio-cultural aspects of the persistent tissues in which they are inserted. We can no longer think of mono-functional production models but we must begin to develop new types of labor and production organization that is able to respond comprehensively and encourage some protocols in the constantly changing human relations.
These are just a few touches of everything that happened during the INTA34 Congress. You can add comments on the other workshops, plenary sessions and master classes across the various posts that are published over the week. These posts would not have been possible without the collaboration of the many students from the School of Architecture in San Sebastian (ETSASS), who reported on each of the activities.
I would also like to remind the readers that all this material was part of an on-line debate parallel to the Congress encouraged by Paisaje Transversal. Among other initiatives, a live broadcast via Twitter (hashtag # INTA34) produced interesting interactions, such as the ones by Igor Calzada (http://www.igorcalzada.com/), sociologist and professor at the University of Mondragón, with whom I was tweeting during the workshop W1 … in the same room! We hope to develop this type of initiatives further with the aim to promote new and more dynamic models exceeding physical limits of these congresses.
Finally, I don’t want to end this review without a deserved recognition and thanks to those who accompanied, supported and assisted me throughout this experience: Luis and Line for betting on Paisaje Transversal and to support us so strongly before higher ranks; Lola, Nerea, Ainhoa, Liliana and Maranke for all the facilities and amenities that were given to us; Miguel and Iñigo for the fantastic videos; the students of ETSASS (Jonathan, Victor, Adour, Ivan, Lander, Eva, Antton and Hodei) for sharing their reports with us; Hodei for joining me in this adventure and INTA for inviting us to attend the Congress.
Thank you all!