Human Cities Festival in Brussels

Last Friday, May 7, I went to Brussels to participate in a symposium called Human Cities, on both researching and designing public spaces. The event, held in the Bozar art & media center, was at the same time an opening of the first festival with the same name, Human Cities: Celebrating Public Spaces. The festival is a large event, which will be hosted by the city for ten days, from May 6 till 16, and include multiple performances, urban installations, art exhibitions etc, etc.

The symposium gathered a very interesting crowd of practitioners – designers, social scientists, artists – who shared their ideas and projects related to ‘public spaces’. What is a public space today? Can any non-private space in the city de defined as ‘public’? Or it should have certain embedded characteristics to claim such a status? And who’s defining those?

Tim Fendley from London-based AIG, Applied Information Group, presented a new way-finding system they developed for London. This was based on a very careful analysis of the existing (messy) of city navigation, confusing millions of the guests and dwellers alike. The new system affords a more efficient and less stressful navigation through the city, and also takes into account different ‘modes’, or motivations people may have while moving across the city.

Bas Raijmakers, a founder of a recently opened research and design practices STBY, told about a very interesting project they’ve done in England. The goal was to find a ‘new future’ for the old abandoned industrial complex in East England, which is an interesting and noble goal itself etc. But what’s interesting is how they’ve approached it: I knew before that Bas & Co are very keen on video-ethnography, and always heavily ground their design on in-depth contextual research. But this time Bas also told about their people-involvement strategies, including involving people in co-designing and eventually co-creating possible futures, and and the range of interesting tools STBY uses for these purposes. We agreed to catch-up in the future to discuss possible collaboration.

There were many more interesting presentation, and I placed a large set of pictures I took to my set at Flickr (Human Cities Symposium, Brussels 2010); some of the presentations can be easily reconstructed from these images (such as the one by Miodrag Mitrasinovich, from Parsons School of Design.

The one I took less pictures of was a talk by Ezio Manzinin, from Milano Politecnico, who talked about – not even design, but rather social construction of public spaces, using creative communities (his hobby-horse for years) as a vehicle.

But I tool less pictures only because I made more videos – in fact, I recorded a larger chunk of his talk, and managed to place it to my Vimeo (except the last part, which is yet to be uploaded there).

The very first image is of the book published in conjunction with this symposium; it is in fact both a theoretical work, redefining the very concept of public spaces and the way they should be created (or rather co-created), and a very rich collection of the cases, various projects and initiatives related to public spaces, including the new tools and methods. A great addition to any library, and a delicious food for thought.