Upgrading old neighbourhoods usually attracts new capital, but that is also one of the causes that makes it too expensive for the original inhabitants to keep living there. It is a phenomenon visible in big cities all over the world, even – although to a small extent – in Eindhoven: gentrification. It is a double process: updating a city district socially, culturally and economically, attracting wealthy new inhabitants but also the attendant expulsion of the lower classes from that neighbourhood.

Marc Glaudemans
Marc Glaudemans

“In the Netherlands, we generally have a fairly good policy framework to counteract these unwanted effects, but gentrification is also happening in our cities”, says Marc Glaudemans, urban strategies lecturer at Fontys. “In Eindhoven you’ve surely seen this phenomenon around De Bergen and now in districts such as Strijp-S. Especially in cities with a very high pressure on the housing market or because of an external factor such as tourism – or a combination of both, like in Amsterdam, London, New York, Barcelona – situations arise in which people with a normal income can no longer live in the city.”

Glaudemans and his Stadslab-team have just completed a big research on this phenomenon in Lisbon and they are already about to do the same thing in Tbilisi (Georgia) and Darling (South Africa). Fontys Stadslab (City Lab) European Urban Design Laboratory was founded 10 years ago as a post-university design lab for urban matters, aimed at periodic training of architects and urbanists, as well as concrete results for the cities that are being worked with. Ever since, Stadslab organises one or two Master classes a year in European cities and sometimes outside of Europe. Since 2011 Master students from Fontys are also being involved.

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    In October there was once again this Master class, this time in Lisbon. Glaudemans: “Key questions for us: how does a city like Lisbon cope with the sometimes inconvenient effects of mass tourism? And with speculation in real estate investments? An interesting case for Stadslab. “A short half-year preparation resulted in a Master class, a book and a movie.

    Glaudemans: “Lisbon traditionally has a poor and rather dilapidated city centre. The rise of urban tourism – partly due to budget airlines and Airbnb – and the attractiveness of the city for foreign investors has led to a strong dichotomy in the city in a very short time. Aside from de economical advantages, many inhabitants are experiencing nuisance from tourism and they’re seeing daily downtown facilities disappear in favour of tourist shops and hotels.

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    Tourism in Mouraria is still limited, “but these kind of multicultural neighbourhoods with many cheap homes and close to the city centre, seem to be particularly attractive for young tourists, artists, students and investors.” Glaudemans mentions the examples from the Meatpacking District in New York or the district de Pijp in Amsterdam. “Traditionally typical working class districts, but now extremely expensive and full of trendy coffee houses. This process results in heated debates about who actually owns the city and about the disappearing of the lower and mid class from the city centres.

    “The case in Lisbon was a perfect challenge to not come up with top-down but bottom-up strategies that should guarantee the liveability and affordability of the district. Through methods of ‘design thinking’ methodology we came up with suggestions and operations that will result in a balanced urban development, without property speculation and socioeconomic segregation.

    Screen Shot 2016-11-13 at 22.38.51The final presentation was viewed by more than 75 inhabitants, two councillors and professors from two universities that supported the Master class. One recommendation has already led to a concrete further study: “We proposed to use the common TukTuks in Lisbon not only for tourist transport, but also to make them accessible for the local and often older inhabitants, who can get a good use out of them in the steep and narrow streets of Mouraria for their daily groceries or transport from and to the centre.”

    Filmmaker Fabio Petrolinni has made a documentaire out of this common ‘city creating’. The results have also been laid down in the book ‘Stadslab Master Class Lisbon 2016’.

    On December 8th Glaudemans from the lecturers who perform in a theatre programme about inequality will be in Tilburg. He will tell more about the international experiences and reflect on what is also happening in Dutch cities.

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    Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.