Social participation is no longer a new concept. But there is still no answer to the question of how to create more space for informal care in the home environment. Or, more specifically, how to create a care-neutral neighbourhood where people care for one another instead of relying (solely) on professional care. Open Kaart developed a living concept which creates space for residents who want to live together in the same community, but whose wishes and financial means aren’t the same: ‘Living for Each Other’. This idea took shape in the Carnisse district in Rotterdam. What lessons can we take from that case to apply to the challenges facing the architecture and construction industry presently?
This article is published by de Architect (NL)
Combined housing needs
The result of this study shows that there is a niche market for people with “combined housing needs.” The neutral, simply arranged apartments, with a variety of financing methods, offer a chance for people who are not only concerned with their own living situation, but also with that of someone else. Where else can you, for example, live next to your aging mother with her affordable rent apartment while you have a mortgage on your own? Or the other way around. Put this way, Carnisse is no longer a disadvantaged neighbourhood, but a counter to spatial segregation. A haven for people in search of a mixed neighbourhood where they can build and maintain meaningful relationships.
This idea appears to have support. An enthusiastic group of residents, under the name ‘Stadsklooster’ (city cloister), took up the project. They buy or rent their own homes and share a former office building on the street, where activities, collective meals and improvement projects for the community take place.
Clearly, as designers, we can contribute to the fostering of these types of initiatives through formulating and visualising (spatial) options. And in so doing, also contribute to increase social cohesion and informal gathering in a vulnerable neighbourhood. Combined housing comes out of this process as a major priority. Living conditions are improved when the environment can be moulded to fit existing needs by combining, renovating, or expanding apartments.
What does this mean for the neighbourhoods and housing yet to be built? We examined the meaning of a care-neutral neighbourhood with Jos Huizinga. He coined the term after twenty years’ experience as a lawmaker because he missed something in the (development) plans: the people they were about. An energy-neutral neighbourhood removes non-committal “energy savings “and simultaneously invokes a feeling of freedom and cooperation; the same is true of a care-neutral neighbourhood. In a care-neutral neighbourhood, residents organise the necessary care, whatever that may be.
Such a neighbourhood can only be fashioned through co-creation: together with the (future) residents from the very beginning. You build up existing or expected care networks, collective or special housing forms, alternating with (in the Netherlands) commonplace row-houses and apartments based on the situations and preferences of the people. It should be expected of a designer that they know these combinations of housing needs – from duo’s to entire neighbourhoods – and can translate them into a vibrant living environments which invite gathering and resilience for generations to come. How this takes shape will vary per location. From “wonen voor elkaar” (living for each other) we have learned that rows and rows of resale houses may be successful financially, but they don’t necessarily answer the question of care in the neighbourhood.
While new zoning takes effect and reassesses its vision for living and decentralised responsibility, care- and housing corporations are getting their feet in the mud more and more. The question is if, under the pressure of the significant physical housing shortage, this social challenge can remain urgent and important for urban planning.
It has been calculated that the Netherlands would go bankrupt if all the informal caregivers and volunteers were to be counted. It is normal for governments to give large companies and organisations the reigns in the planning of our cities. That should be a reason in-and-of itself to also put people who maintain the informal-care network at the helm of urban planning. In short, we must work together on care-neutral neighbourhoods. Who’s with us?