Large Housing Estates in the Netherlands

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Workshop 8: Public spaces on large housing estates

Richard Sendi, Manuel Aalbers, Ruža Boškič, Nina Goršič, Marcele Trigueiro

1 Introduction
Social scientists have often admitted the difficulty of defining clearly and adequately the notion of 'public space'. Burgers (2000) points out two main reasons for this. Firstly, public space and most of the events that take place there cannot be classified under one specific institutional category. Secondly, there is the problem of describing conduct in public space, which makes the very concept of public space hard to specify. Along similar lines, Atkinson (2003) argues that the idea of a single public itself is difficult to sustain since there are many publics whose legitimacy may as much be defined by the context of the place as by the social character of the individuals.

If public space is defined as space to ‘which normally people have unrestricted access and right of way’, Atkinson continues, it is difficult to make the argument that any space has ever held such a status. Public places indeed change, at different times, in their role for accommodating different social groups. For example, young children may use them after school; a social meeting of parents or an elderly group may occur in the early afternoon; and teenagers may use the space for evening social activities.

For the purposes of our discussion, we shall nonetheless adopt the definition that describes public space as “open, publicly accessible spaces where people go for group or individual activities” (Carr et al., 1992, p. 50). Irrespective of the different publics, be it with regard to socio-economic class, age, ethnic background, tradition or ways of conduct, public space exposes different urban residents to one another.

Contrary to the majority of the literature on the subject, the paper focuses on public space within large housing estates. One such rare study on public spaces in disadvantaged neighbourhoods was conducted recently in several European countries within the EC 5th Framework programme. In a paper presenting part of the results of the research, Madanipour (2004) calls these areas ‘marginal public spaces’ which are usually located in neighbourhoods where disadvantaged populations live. He makes a characteristic distinction between these particular spaces and the central, or major, public spaces of the city, which have always had citywide significance (city squares, boulevards, parks and the like). Marginal public spaces, he argues, rarely enjoy any of this significance. “They are not on the list of priorities of local authorities to deal with, whether in terms of political legitimacy, economic competitiveness and social cohesion of the city or its image and marketability” (Madanipour, 2004, p. 269).

Drawing on the research findings, Madanipour describes a rather grim situation regarding the use of public space in large housing estates. He describes the vulnerability of the residents due to social, political, cultural, economic, age, gender and ethnic differences. He points to their entrapment “within a limited space, bearing enormous pressures from within and without, and with limited capacity to connect to the outside world” (Madanipour, 2004, p. 271). The ensuing situation, he continues, leads to cracks that are visible in public spaces in the form of neglect and decline, as well as tensions along the lines of social fragmentation and stratification. “As there is competition for the limited resources available, public spaces become battlegrounds. While some tend to dominate the public spaces, others are intimidated, leading to a lack of safety and withdrawal from public areas and from engagement with others” (Madanipour, 2004, p. 271).

The situations described above may not be common to all large housing estates or, indeed, to all disadvantaged neighbourhoods. What cannot be disputed, however, is the fact that public space constitutes an essential element in determining the character and quality of the residential environment. Public space connotes the social-cultural values the inhabitants of a residential environment share. Traditions and shared memories are an important aspect of public space (Haider and Kaplan, 2004). Why and how people feel connected to, and take pride in, their immediate environment is important to the satisfaction and feeling of belonging of the inhabitants of the housing estate.

Against this background we, in the discussion that follows, describe the situation of public spaces in the housing estates covered by the RESTATE project. It is, however, important to point out that the findings presented in this paper are those that emerged from the surveys conducted on the general situation in the estates covered by the research. And since public spaces were not specifically and separately investigated, imbalances in the ensuing discussion may be unavoidable in some places, depending on the level of detail to which particular issues were addressed by the researchers from the different participating countries. It should also be noted that some public space issues are more relevant to certain countries and less, or totally irrelevant, to others (for example, the unresolved ownership rights over public space within the estates).

2 General characteristics of public space
Public spaces in large housing estates may be described as areas that play a variety of roles ranging from their various uses to design aspects that may impact on the image of the estate. In the case of external public spaces, these areas provide an intermediary link between the dwelling and the outer-world. Whether external or internal, they represent places of casual interaction between residents. As common facilities intended to provide practical advantages and a place for residents to become acquainted, they are normally planned to create a sense of community for their users.

As a reply to the densely populated neighbourhoods of the late 19th century, many cities planned new residential areas full of light, fresh air and space, according to the principles of the CIAM [Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne]. For the first time in the history of most cities, the ‘closed city’ was to make way for an open city. Instead of enclosed blocks of buildings, groups of flats were built in rows or sat at right angles to one another. The streets with their long uninterrupted rows of houses, which were the binding spatial element in the pre-war city, gave way to open spaces consisting of roads and green, interlinking squares. In a good CIAM-style these developments were and often, still are, typified by a separation of uses. There is hardly any industry or offices in the area, but plenty of houses and greenery.

The CIAM-inspired open and green space design is characteristic of almost all the RESTATE research housing estates. In the majority of the estates, the richness of open public green space within these neighbourhoods has been described as their most attractive feature. The BOW estate of Tower Hamlets in London is described as “an oasis of open space in an otherwise under-provided borough” (Hall et al., 2003, p. 39) and Marzahn in Berlin as “living in a landscape” (Knorr-Siedow and Droste, 2003, p. 99). In the Jósaváros housing estate in Nyíregyháza (Hungary) green space accounts for about 56 per cent of the total area of the estate, a proportion that “demonstrates the fact that the estate was originally well designed and built.” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 63). In one of the Bijlmer estates the residents mentioned the high share of green space as the most attractive factor in their housing environment (72 per cent) (Wassenberg, 2002). Cerisier in the Les Minguettes housing estate in Lyons “is essentially constituted by a green area and a very large public space. Lined up by trees at its edges, the only tree in the middle of the green area, a cherry tree (“cerisier”, in French), was used as source of inspiration for its name” (Trigueiro, 2005). The green surface is an empty area with no benches or children’s playgrounds. The absence of any architectural elements in the green area is greatly appreciated by the inhabitants. In the La Ville Nouvelle housing estate in Lyon, the public spaces of the districts of Les Semailles and La Velette have many similarities with regard to form, function and use. Between the large horizontal buildings and towers of residences, the public spaces, are mainly represented by large planted lawns and sometimes by sports grounds or playgrounds. “These spaces are characterized by irreproachable vegetation and good maintenance” (Trigueiro, 2005).

In addition to the green areas available within the boundaries of large housing estates, many of them enjoy the advantage of being located next to large expanses of natural vegetation and other attractive natural features. In the case of the Fužine housing estate in Ljubljana, the Ljubljanica river that borders the estate’s south and west edges “creates great spatial ambiance and offers a quality landscape and many opportunities for recreation and spare time activities” (Ploštajner et al. 2004, p. 27). The same applies to the Ursynow housing estate in Warsaw: “The natural environment of Northern Ursynów is exceptional. The built-up area is surrounded by a green belt. There is no industrial pollution in this area. The whole belt of housing estates is in close proximity to the green areas of forest, meadows and fields” (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 43). In Wrzeciono, the second Warsaw case study estate, large natural green areas were similarly described as the estate’s most positive aspect. The residents consider green areas the element that positively “distinguishes their estate from the rest of the city and for many of them this is a main feature of their estate, which makes it attractive to live” (Węcławowicz et al., 2005, p. 43).

In some estates, on the other hand, people are not satisfied with the green and other public spaces available. Respondents in the Žusterna-Semedela stated green spaces and children’s playgrounds as the most disliked aspect of their residential environment. Some estates do not even have much of any green space. The Märkische Viertel estate in Berlin, for example, is described as “blocks on a concrete parking lot” (Knorr-Siedow and Droste, 2003, p. 99). And despite being described above as “well designed and built” the Jósaváros housing estate was, at the same time found to contain several in-built problems: “On Ungvár Avenue, the main boulevard, there are many ‘transit gates’ for pedestrians walking under or beside the buildings. Garbage accumulates around these gates and the paths become smelly and unpleasant.

Ószőlő Street, on the western border of the estate, is too narrow; cars parked there hinder traffic all day long. The street was originally planned to be broader, but in the absence of financial resources the road widening has not yet been carried out. The road on the other side of the western border has no pavement, so the inhabitants of the estate have to reach the bus stop by walking along the road” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 73).

In the Havanna housing estate in Budapest, the prefabricated monotonous panel construction is described as “high-rise apartment blocks with an artificial layout of greenery” (Erdősi et al., 2003, p. 78). The buildings are mostly large, often with hundreds of dwellings. As sociologists warned several times after these estates were constructed, the lack of intimate places and the image of a phalanstery cause alienation and results in resistance in the form of vandalism and violence.

As has already been stated the presence of green areas alone does not guarantee a good quality environment. Green areas that are inappropriately managed may become a safety problem, as is the case in the Wrzeciono housing estate in Poland. The estate is surrounded by large, natural, green areas with a park, recreational areas, playgrounds, and walking paths. However, this park has been neglected and many of the recreational facilities have been ruined. “The park is seen by the residents as a dangerous area (Węcławowicz et al., 2005, p. 60).

Inappropriate neighbourhood layout may also lead to an undesirable spatial organisation that is unpleasant and unattractive to the users. In Armstrong, the other part of the Les Minguettes estate, the green areas seem to have been designed to follow a functional hierarchy with simple lawns, with more or less trees surrounding the houses. However, this functionalist rigour failed to achieve the necessary legibility of these public spaces (Trigueiro, 2005). Legibility, according to Lynch (1960), refers to the ease with which the constituent elements or parts of a residential environment can be recognised as a consistent pattern. He describes the legible environment is well formed, distinct, remarkable, engaging the senses and inviting participation. In Armstrong, on the contrary, a great confusion can be perceived, due to unreadable urban forms and the lack of reference marks. There are no architectural elements that would create a hierarchy of spaces. The public spaces of Armstrong are uninviting and are currently unused by the population.

The Sant'Ambrogio housing estate in Milan is, likewise, characterised by poor neighbourhood design. “The distances between the apartment blocks are insufficient, the general layout presents a lack of structure and order, and there are no green areas or common spaces for the inhabitants to share” (Zajczyk et al., 2005).

Due to a lack of planning during its development, the Trinitat Nova housing estate in Barcelona is also described as “very chaotic as no urban plan formed the base for its development. Buildings were placed by chance, not taking into account the relation with existing buildings, future roads nor the need of public spaces. At the moment public space lacks structure and shows deterioration. Especially public spaces between blocks show a high level of deterioration” (Pareja Eastaway et al., 2003, p. 65).

The design and organisation of public space in a residential environment has great impact on the image that the neighbourhood projects to both its residents and those outside it. If not properly planned, managed and maintained, public spaces may be a cause of various negative characteristics within the residential neighbourhood. Well-planned, well-organised and well-maintained public spaces, on the other hand, play a vital role in the development of a good residential environment and may contribute greatly to the creation of a sense of neighbourhood or community cohesiveness for the residents. Bad design, high building density, chaotic parking conditions, poor maintenance, neglect and misuse are, on the contrary, some of the major reasons for dissatisfaction among estate residents.

3 Management, maintenance and improvement
The life or lifelessness of public spaces depends very much on the quality of the spaces and whether they are welcoming to likely users to walk, stay, sit or otherwise enjoy the spaces. Evidence points to the need for a more systematic and careful treatment of the public realm in order to secure good quality and to ensure spaces are welcoming to users (Gehl, 2004). According to Carmona (2001), the dwellings and their associated cartilages should be designed and maintained to provide a pleasant external environment for the residents, promote a sense of place and create attractive and secure home environments that are enjoyable to live in.

As buildings require appropriate maintenance, so do public spaces. The desired pleasant environment can be guaranteed only through the proper management and maintenance of public space or indeed through the introduction of changes and improvements where deficiencies exist. Public space management systems vary from country to country according, primarily, to ownership structure. While the East and Central European countries may more problems in this respect, there have been significant changes in the attitudes and approaches to public space management and maintenance in Western European countries as well. These changes are not only related to the perception of ‘open space’ or ‘safety problems’, but also to the chance in maintenance of public space.

It has been observed in some of these countries that residents feel less responsible for the public space in or near their estate. While litter and dirt on the streets were previously not perceived as a big problem in Swedish housing estates they are now discussed as an increasing problem “due to cutbacks in the public sector, and reduced ambitions by some housing companies” (Andersson et al., 2005, p. 46). An example from the Kanaleneiland estate in Utrecht provides an interesting illustration of the changing responsibilities towards public space: “In the 1960s and 1970s, Kanaleneiland was also known as ‘Island of Roses’. The green and open living environment made the area attractive for households with children. Although the upkeep of most public spaces was in the hands of both the local government and the housing associations, initially the residents felt responsible for the environment as well and kept parts of the semi-public gardens clean. Nowadays however, these feelings of responsibility seemed to have disappeared and the environment has been confronted with pollution and vandalism. The environment, once being an attractive element of the area, nowadays causes problems and becomes even scantier. Several playgrounds have already been closed; the fact that high-rise complexes surrounded them hindered proper supervision and caused vandalism (Gemeente Utrecht, 1990). As a consequence of financial problems, the roses were replaced by grass and brushwood, which were easier in maintenance. When the financial crises was over, the public space still was not taken care of properly; even nowadays, things like mowing the lawn, clipping hedges and trees and sweeping the pavements are considered to get too little attention” (Aalbers et al., 2003).
In the case of the Bijlmer estate, those involved in renewal programme discovered that the management of public space seemed to be the weak link in the renewal operation. As a result, the so-called management groups have been established in order to keep an area liveable (both before, during and after restructuring interventions).

In recent years a new approach has been implemented in the Bijlmer that consists of extra intensive management during the (physical) renewal period and efficient management when the renewal is completed. Keywords are ‘do more’, ‘organise (better)’ and ‘involve residents more’. More concrete, this involves the following activities (Aalbers et al., 2004, p. 57). Nowadays, the maintenance of public space in the Bijlmer is better taken care of, e.g. in some areas garbage is collected even on Sundays. It is important to note that the ‘renewed’ areas show fewer problems concerning the involvement with semi-public spaces (apparently because they show a stronger border between public and private places) than the non-renovated high-rise estates.

It is also important to note that maintenance problems tend to increase with the presence of semi-public spaces in housing estates. As there is often more that one actor in this case “each actor has their own interests and demands and as budgets are under pressure, cooperation seems to become even harder (e.g. who is responsible for mowing the lawn?). When this leads to the situation that the lawn is not mown at all, residents start to feel less responsible for the environment as well. This process is affected and maybe even strengthened by the indistinct difference between public and private green (Aalbers et al., 2003, p. 116).

This type of denial of responsibility is common in other estates. Care for and the maintenance of the public spaces seem to be problematic also in the two Spanish housing estates. The problem lies in the uncertainty regarding the responsibility for the up keeping. For instance, some parts of Simancas (Madrid) experience problems, concerning the responsibility of the public spaces within the estate. According to the local government, public spaces that are used only by the inhabitants of the surrounding blocks are the responsibility of the inhabitants. The inhabitants, on the other hand, argue that the squares are public and therefore a government responsibility (Pareja Eastaway et al., 2003, p. 52).

Also in San Roc (Barcelona) inhabitants are unsatisfied with the maintenance of public spaces as they are in a much deteriorated condition. The deterioration of the neighbourhood is not only the result of structural social exclusion of the local government, but also a result of the management problems caused by a lack of co-ordination between the local government and the Autonomous Community, which exists within the neighbourhood (Pareja Eastaway et al., 2003).

In Italy, on the other hand, it has been found that while the owner-occupiers are willing to invest both on private and public space and to improve the standard of the estate, the tenants (who rely for improvements on the social housing management company) are frustrated by the lack of interest on the part of the housing management companies. The Comasina housing estate (Milan) shows a strong sense of social cohesion especially with regard to the several initiatives of self-organised homeowner groups for maintaining and managing the properties recently bought. There are a growing number of activities promoted by these groups, which include cleaning and redecorating common areas in their blocks, and even maintaining the green areas of the estate (Zajczyk et al., 2005, p. 61).

In the East and Central European countries on the other hand management and maintenance problems are closely related to the yet unsolved ownership rights over the land within housing estates. The privatisation of the majority of the former public housing stock in the early 1990s resulted in tenants becoming owners of their previous rental dwellings, but the land on which the buildings stand still remains, in the majority of cases in the ownership of some third person (municipality, company, individual landlord, etc.). This has resulted in a very ambiguous situation, which allows the actors involved to avoid executing the necessary tasks under the pretext of not knowing exactly who is responsible for what. Under these circumstances, the condition of public space in some of the housing estates was found to be rather appalling.

In addition to the bad condition of the buildings, “neglect of the public spaces, especially the playgrounds and basketball courts, was specified as the most negative aspect of the Havanna housing estate” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 72). In the Jósaváros housing estate, “the pavements have not been mended for many years, so they are uneven and cracked, with potholes full of big puddles after rain. The street lighting does not work in some public places and street furniture, such as benches, is often broken or missing, and reference has already been made above to the smelly unpleasant paths due to the accumulation of garbage on Ungvár Avenue in the Jósaváros housing estate. In Slovenia, the problem of unresolved ownership of the land adjacent to the blocks presents, to varying degrees, one of the greatest obstacles to the maintenance and renewal of public space within housing estates. Pending the resolution of ownership rights, public space management and maintenance activity presently depends on the initiative of individual housing estates and on their capability to achieve broader consensus. In this regard, the Fužine housing estate has been more successful while the Žusterna-Semedela estates experiences greater problems, where public spaces are poorly managed and the green areas are more or less neglected (Černič Mali et al., 2005).

The research has however shown that there has been considerable improvement in the management and maintenance of public space in some estates in recent years. In the Havanna estate, the Urban Management Company which manages the public space undertook an extensive regeneration programme that has been underway for the last 2-3 years. “The condition of the public spaces has improved considerably in the last few years and today they constitute less of a difficulty than the buildings themselves” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 48). EU funding has been used to renovate playgrounds have been renovated three of which have been completely reconstructed in accordance with EU standards and a standardisation test was carried out on every playground. In addition, since 1999 a total of 200 trees have been replaced. Nationalities Square has been laid out in the centre of the estate and 2,600 m² of pavement refurbished (Erdösi et al., 2003).

In addition to mowing the lawns, clipping hedges, shrubs and trees, mending pavements, renovating playgrounds and planting new trees, public space maintenance includes paying particular attention to and taking appropriate measures with regard to waste disposal and littering. Such measures have been taken in the Jósaváros estate with the aim of cleaning up the smelly and unpleasant paths due to littering. Garbage collection has been introduced with several ‘garbage-islands’ on the estate itself for all kinds of litter, and a special ‘garbage court’ in its vicinity to gather the environmentally dangerous types of garbage (Szemző et al., 2004). In the Havanna estate, on the other hand, clearing away the garbage still presents a serious task. “One of the problems the estate struggles with is precisely the amount of litter thrown haphazardly away on the territory of the estate – and it takes away the resources from maintaining the green in the area” (Szemző et al., 2004, p. 28)

The processes of privatisation that have taken place in the East and Central European counties in past years have also had other effects on the development and use of public space in housing estates. Among the most important developments is the appearance of gated communities within these neighbourhoods. The Wrzeciono housing estate provides an interesting account of such developments: ‘After the political and economic changes of 1989, many of the people working in the steelworks lost theirs jobs; previously many people in Poland had been employed in heavy industry. The maintenance of the buildings started to fall behind, because of the general crisis and lack of money. A socially excluded community connected by common problems of unemployment and with fewer opportunities on the labour market generated various pathological patterns. At that time, the state administrators of the buildings and the housing associations started to sell the land under building construction. At that time there was no spatial planning policy and architectural chaos ensued. New residents who were more prosperous than the indigenous community of the Wrzeciono estate moved into the new buildings. Most of these are separated from the rest of the estate by a high wall (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, pp. 62-63).

These developments have had several consequences. First of all, they have encroached upon and effectively reduced the original size of public spaces. “According to the spatial plans the centre of Wrzeciono estate was initially designed to be a recreational area for local people, both children and adults. In the past, it played an important socio-cultural. At present this green area still exists, but it is smaller than it used to be since much of it has been built up with newly-built frequently walled-in housing” (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 59). Secondly gentrification has occurred in the particular housing estates. “There are big contrasts between old buildings and new ones and many conflicts between former and new inhabitants, especially in the context of space appropriation by gated communities” (Musterd and van Kempen, 2005, p. 113). This is an example of the situation described earlier on (Madanipour, 2004) whereby the scare public spaces become a battleground in the competition between different users.

Thirdly, the new developments have created architectural barriers that cause “many problems for internal transport and communication, make access to some places difficult, especially schools, hinder Fire Brigade access and make the daily life of the handicapped and the elderly difficult” (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 65). .

Public space is also experiencing great pressure from potential investors who are constantly on the look out for any 'spare' space for additional construction. While the residents of the Wrzeciono estates specified green areas as the main feature which makes their estate attractive to live, the managements of housing cooperatives do not always share this point of view. They see the green areas as places for future investments. “They accept the importance of small-scale gardens for the attractiveness of the estate but expanding and development of the existing large green areas are of a minor interest to the estate managers” (Węcławowicz et al., 2005, p. 43).

4 Parking
The parking problem is particularly acute in the housing estates of East and Central European countries. It may be argued that inadequate parking facilities present one of the biggest problems in most of these housing estates. These problems are essentially related to inadequate planning standards which, at the time of construction of large housing estates, did not give much consideration to private car ownership. The most important objective at the time was to provide dwellings for workers most of whom did not have cars anyway. The following observations illustrate the standards that generally prevailed at the time.

At the time of construction of the Havanna housing estate “there was an obligation to build one parking place for every tenth dwelling; nowadays, 34 per cent of households in Budapest have a car and this number will increase. There is a significant shortage of parking places in Havanna and the only current option is to use up some of the space reserved for greenery” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 49). The same authors identify the lack of parking space as probably the biggest problem in the Jósaváros housing estate where, at the time the estate was built the regulations required one garage to be built for every ten dwellings. The most recent regulations, on the other hand, prescribe a garage for every new dwelling.

A similar observation has been made in Ursynów where at the time of its planning “there were about 100 cars/1,000 inhabitants; now there are about 600 cars/1,000 inhabitants (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 56). In Žusterna-Semedala (Slovenia), failure to accomplish the original estate plan is considered to be one of the biggest causes of the current traffic management problems which have led to the inappropriate use of public open and green spaces. In Both Žusterna-Semedela and Fužine, the residents stated parking as the biggest problem in the estate. Due to poorly organised parking facilities and low ‘parking culture’, cars are parked on green areas, where they occupy the pavements, the playgrounds or at least their edges (Černič Mali et al., 2005, p. 43).

There, however, have been attempts to solve the parking problem. In the majority of cases, parking problems are being solved on account of the present green areas. In Jósaváros, the new garages that were built a few years ago on the green areas did, of course, satisfy the garage owners. But in addition to the reduction of green area space, the noise and smoke produced by the cars parked in these garages annoy the people who live on the lower floors of the surrounding buildings (Tosics et al., 2005, p. 33). And in spite of these efforts, the parking problem still exists and many people continue to park their cars on the pavements. Pavement parking is also considered to be convenient due to fear of car-theft. The owners “think their cars are less likely to be stolen if they are parked as close as possible to their dwellings” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 73).

In Žusterna-Semedela, open multi-storey garages were built on the edge of the estate. But they were badly constructed and are currently unpopular, because of vandalism, drug addicts gathering in them, and so forth. The inhabitants are afraid to leave their cars in these places, so some of them have claimed parts of these garages for themselves and put up fences. Others have built on open parking lots on the ground floor and use these spaces as garages (Černič Mali et al., 2003, p. 67). Similarly in Ursynów, the housing association of the residents built a multi-storey garage and constructed several two-storey car parks and the new houses have underground garages. The aim is to prevent the parking problem from growing very quickly, “but it is unlikely to disappear altogether” (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 56).

While some estates have already introduced various measures aiming at solving these critical problems, others are yet to attempt to deal with the problem. Given the financial and spatial limitations involved, it appears that the majority of estates do not even seem to know how to tackle the problem.

5 Public participation
Another important aspect of public space is the active involvement of the residents in its management and maintenance. Although resident participation is often considered to be a high priority, it is actually seldom implemented in practice. A lack of interest on the part of local authorities and social housing companies/associations is only part of the explanation for this. A lack of interest on the part of the local residents takes part of the blame. Most of the residents tend to be in-house focused and out-side ignorant or indifferent. Their attitude could be described as: ‘the boundary of my property is the boundary of my participation’. The involvement of residents with anything outside their apartment is generally very limited. Many residents explain their unwillingness to participate in outside activities due to fear of getting involved in the various improper occurrences outside their homes. Others feel that their participation (especially in decision-making processes) would not make any difference anyway. In Poland, people “generally do not trust officials, they are not engaged in general social matters … Only 7-10 per cent of householders takes part in meetings” (Węcławowicz et al., 2004, p. 26). The situation is similar in Slovenia where citizens “do not believe that participation is meaningful and that their actions can, in anyway, influence the final decisions that lead to implementation” (Černič Mali et al., 2005, p. 11). In Cerisier in the Les Minguettes housing estate, the renewal project that includes the construction of 90 new dwellings on current green area was approved irrespective of the furious protests against its implementation that were staged by the inhabitants (Trigueiro, 2005).

Efforts have however been made in some cases to promote the active participation of estate residents. Policies such as the ‘involve residents more’ approach mentioned above in the case of the Biljmer aim at enhancing the role of participants in creating and achieving a better living environment. In some estates, (small groups of) residents took action themselves, while in others they have been actively organised by the city district and brought together in ‘theme groups’ where issues like ‘traffic and safety’ or ‘public space’ were discussed (Aalbers et al., 2004). These groups can be involved during the renewal process to give feedback on the (lack of) progression.

In Utrecht, social workers try to involve non-Dutch women aiming at achieving social integration. However, one of the side effects was that the group approached the local government and the housing associations. This resulted in several interventions in the public space: “trees have been clipped and dark footpaths have better lighting” (Aalbers et al., 2003, p. 140). Another positive example comes from Marzahn were a girls workshop identified the needs for a playground, which was subsequently designed in an artistic way (Knorr-Siedow and Droste, 2003, p. 100).

In Jósaváros, the management company gives free soil with plants and flowers for residents to plant around their houses. Usually 5-10 per cent of the inhabitants of each building participate in this work and it has been observed that the number of participants is increasing. These small gardens around the buildings, trimmed and looked after with simple tools such as stakes and string, can be seen everywhere (Erdösi et al., 2003).

Another positive approach to the mobilisation of public involvement is presented in the Havanna estate where the municipality organises different public space maintenance programmes. Among these, it distributes shrubs and grass seed to the residents and gives advice on how to take care of them. Afterwards the residents themselves take on the everyday work of caring for the greenery. The two companies that maintain the parks employ people who are temporarily out of work thereby giving them the “added bonus of feeling they are contributing to the upkeep of their neighbourhood” (Erdösi et al., 2003, p. 49). Inhabitant participation in the planning and improvement of the living environment was also found to be quite developed in Comasina. The residents actively participate either on large scale issues such as the environment and traffic management or they operate on a micro-level scale such as reclaiming green areas near their homes (Zajczyk et al., 2005, p. 42).

In other estates, resident involvement is focused on issues concerning the sustainability of the neighbourhood. Such is the participation of inhabitants in development programmes of the Orcasitas estate in Madrid. The residents suggest, amongst others, environmental measurements like improvements of parks, more green areas and a reduction in the level of noise and atmospherically pollution (Pareja Eastaway et al., 2003, p. 40).

6 Accessibility and use
Public space design theory distinguishes between various categories of spaces that must be incorporated in the site plan of large housing estates, among them, social spaces (De Chiara et al., 1995). These are the spaces that provide the opportunity for social contact. Social contact occurs in entrance courts, play courts, and other places within the overall walkway system. Other such spaces may include benches and canopy trees for shade and interest. These areas provide the residents with a place to relax and converse with neighbours.

The Les Minguettes housing estate provides a typical example of the variety of forms of social contact that may take place within social spaces. The rhythm of the estate is determined by the school rhythm and by the rhythm of the workers. Indeed, the inhabitants are present on external areas and, in particular, on public spaces more intensely after-school. People gather in groups generally constituted of persons of the same age, sex and cultural origin. The population of foreign origin and in particular people originating from North Africa represent the cultural group which is the most present in external public spaces. Furthermore, the relationship with public spaces is related to cultural phenomena of 'appropriation'1 whereby some groups are identified as potential users of certain spaces. In this direction and in a general way, it is possible to establish a connection between some groups and the spaces which they generally use. The Women and children frequently gather in gardens, playgrounds and in Minguettes Park: The men meet at the benches, lawns and pavements in front of the shopping centre. Young people meet at the benches, pavements, around the table tennis area and in, building entrances while the teenagers collect at the school exit, in gardens and in the lawns of Minguettes Park (Commerçon et al., 2003, p. 79).

In the development of outdoor facilities in residential neighbourhoods, public space design theory also prescribes the necessity to pay particular attention to the provision of a spectrum of activities which can accommodate all age groups. Arranged in a manner that keeps user conflict to a minimum, these facilities and activities are strong factors in creating a sense of neighbourhood or community cohesiveness for the residents (De Chiara et al., 1995). In this, consideration must be given to the specific requirements and interests of the various users with respect, in particular, to the various age-groups.

The case of the commune of Rilleux-la-Pape in the La Ville Nouvelle estate suitably illustrates the importance of the availability of such facilities. The lack of external spaces for meetings and community had resulted in some groups of young people misbehaving and engaging in uncivil activities that created feelings of insecurity among the inhabitants (Commerçon et al., 2003). Realising the problem, several projects were undertaken that created 44 various public gardens and parks. Planned mainly for young children, some of these places are equipped also to meet the needs of teenagers. According to Jacky Darne the mayor of Rillieux-la-Pape, the reduction in urban delinquency may be attributed to the requalification of urban spaces (Commerçon et al., 2003, pp. 55-56).

In the majority of the case study estates however, the research results show that very little or no consideration at all has been given to the provision of appropriate outdoor facilities. In Ursynów there are no places where different groups of inhabitants can congregate. Many of the residents stressed the lack of recreation areas for families and young people, sports fields, parks, and so forth. (Węcławowicz et al., 2003). The same authors make reference to the findings of a research conducted in 2002 in Wrzeciono where the inhabitants specified as one on the major problems in the estate, the lack of places for youngsters and older people to spend their free time safely, including a lack of green areas for sport and recreation, as well as the local organization of recreational and playground equipment (Węcławowicz et al., 2003, p. 66). In both estates, residents who have children under the age of 14 were more critical about the state of the playgrounds on the estate. It is obvious that parents whose children use playground facilities on a daily basis are most aware of the conditions of such places. According to them playgrounds are neglected, and are not adapted to the recreational activities of children and youths.

Intergenerational conflicts are also visible in both the Wrzeciono and Ursynów estates. Asked whether the Association had plans to create some places for meetings in the estate such as benches and playgrounds, a member of the management of one main housing cooperative in Ursynów responded: ‘Benches become clusters of noisy youths and drinkers. Our inhabitants are getting older and less tolerant. They do not want the benches in front of their windows. They cannot stand the noise. Presently because of the protests against youths we pull down the sport baskets. Soon we will have to build facilities for elderly people and fence them off. These two age groups cannot tolerate each other. We respond to the needs of the older generation because they are the majority. This is democracy’ (Kretkiewicz, 2004 in Węcławowicz et al., 2005, pp. 48, 49).

It should be noted, nonetheless, that the Wrzeciono residents pointed out, as one of the recent positive developments, the establishment of a few new playgrounds with modern facilities for younger and older children. Respondents, who stated that the condition of playgrounds has improved, probably based their assessment on the fact that in the last years few new playgrounds have been constructed and some of them were modernised and extended. Respondents from Wrzeciono often mentioned a recently established playground (Ogródek Jordanowski) in the heart of the estate. It evokes a great interest among residents, especially among mothers with children. They said that they usually go there with their children even if they live quite far away from this place. According to them this is the only real playground in the neighbourhood where children can safely play. Besides, it improves the aesthetics of the surroundings (Węcławowicz et al., 2005, pp. 57,58).

The absence of appropriate outdoor facilities was observed also in both Slovenian housing estates. The Fužine estate lacks cultural and sport facilities, in particular for young people, who have nowhere to go in the afternoon or evening. Consequently, they gather in the nearest bars or in front of the buildings (Černič Mali et al., 2003, p. 51). A room at the entrance of each block, which was meant for socialising for all residents, was taken over by the youngsters. The elderly residents can do nothing more than complain about the youngsters’ boisterous and noisy activities (Černič Mali et al., 2003, p. 43).

Similarly, the Žusterna-Semedela estate lacks community places where people may gather and socialise. The community centre of the Local Community Žusterna is used only for local meetings and small cultural events. People of other ethnic groups gather on the streets in front of the apartment blocks and chat. These groups are more receptive however and are not exclusive. They also have their favourite bars, which they visit more often. Younger people apparently have no special community places either. They gather in bars, in front of the school, in playgrounds, or the Žusterna swimming pool. When they go out in the evenings, they usually leave the neighbourhood (Černič Mali et al., 2003, p. 72).

7 Social-cultural aspects
It may be argued that large housing estates generally provide housing for the disadvantaged urban populations. These populations are, in the majority of cases, made up of lower-income households of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The problems associated with low income, and the (sometimes very) different cultural-ethnic characteristics often lead to conflicts that may be manifested also in the treatment and use of public space.

Madanipour (2004) identifies several causes of public-space related tensions. Some are due to different patterns of use whereby some households are accustomed to conducting various activities in public space. There are also those who choose to hang around longer in public spaces such as the unemployed, the homeless, drug abusers and street drinkers, teenagers and migrants who may have no other place for socialisation.

Some of the RESTATE estates have indeed been affected by constantly clashing values and norms which have often resulted in various forms of social tension. In the Bijlmer, for example, these have included drug dealing, drug abuse, fear and high crime rates, vandalism, garbage disposal and littering in public spaces, different cultures (both ethnic and non-ethnic), youth delinquency and anonymity. In the mid 1980s, many fringe groups, such as refugees, migrants, illegal foreigners, and so on, found refuge in the Bijlmer district in Amsterdam. The drug trade and associated crime took root and became virtually ineradicable. With its anonymity and badly organized public and semi-public spaces the Bijlmer also offered a suitable place for hanging around and hiding illegal immigrants (Aalbers et al., 2003).

In other estates, public space related tensions between residents follow ethnic lines. In Marzahn North, the different age groups of the German-Russians are occupying public space and greenery, often at distinct meeting places. A frequent reason for misunderstandings are conflicting ‘behaviours’ (language, the manner of speaking, body-language), norms and values related to their ‘pre-modern’ structures and contrasting to the ‘free’ German life-styles (Knorr-Siedow and Droste, 2003, p. 117).

Besides the conflicts generated by ethnic and cultural differences, tensions may also be caused by emotional links whereby the old residents consider newcomers as intruders, invading their ‘acquired’ territory. Such are, for examples the tensions that have arisen due to the gentrification processes described above in the case of the Wrzeciono estate. Similar observations have been made in the Comasina estate: “Nowadays, public spaces are becoming new arenas of conflict between new and old residents in the estates in Milan: the same public space is interpreted in different ways by different groups (native and immigrants, young and old generations, man and woman)” (Zajczyk et al., 2005, p.40).

Natives and immigrants tend to use public space in different ways. Some ethnic and immigrant groups use public space much more intensively than natives. Not only do they spend more time outside, some of them also gather in larger groups. “In San Roc (Barcelona) Gypsies use public spaces relatively more than no-gypsies, since in general they live with large households in small dwellings. Their activities on the street and in public spaces cause problems between residents” (Pareja Eastaway et al., 2003, p. 90).

8 Safety situation
Safety issues are seen as important on most of the estates. The planning, organisation and maintenance of public spaces undoubtedly contributes greatly to the level of safety in the estate. In the Western European countries, the research does not reveal any serious safety problems directly related to public spaces. While, for example, many residents expressed having a fear of crime in the Bow Hat Estate (UK), these fears are not necessarily reflected in the crime figures (Hall et al., 2004). The investigation of the safety situation in the Husby and Tensta Housing Estates (Sweden) showed that crime rates were not considered to be higher than in other parts of Stockholm. It was, however observed that “… media representations often tend to spread the message that the estates are unsafe, and that they are dangerous places to visit and live in. Therefore, much work has been done of a more cosmetic character, with the explicit idea to try to establish a more positive image of the estates” (Öresjö et al., 2004, p. 41). In the last years more and more projects have been implemented in order to increase safety. Some of these projects are more physical in nature while others are more social (Aalbers et al., 2005, p. 48).

There are, indeed safety problems in many of the estates and various countries have implemented various measures to deal with these problems.


Besides the safety measures that are connected to the management of public space, there are also other projects that aim to stimulate safety. For example, the local police departments in many Dutch cities work with a ‘Buurtregisseur’ [Neighbourhood Director] that knows many people in the neighbourhood and is able to fulfil an intermediary position. (Aalbers et al., 2004, p. 58).

Furthermore, involved actors in the estates have also taken action to fight youth crime by providing more ‘perspective’ through ‘socialisation’ projects such as New Perspectives that focuses on education, job training etc., but also by fighting (youth) crime by a project named Court of Justice in the Neighbourhood in France and the Netherlands (Aalbers et al., 2006). New West in Amsterdam seems to have the most programmes focusing on young people2; besides ‘New Perspectives’ and ‘Court of Justice in the Neighbourhood’ they include projects such as ‘Beware Watch Out’, ‘Street Corner Work’, ‘Mobiel Jongerenteam’ [Mobile Young People Team] and a high school youth and safety project.

Another example is the ‘Buurtvaders’ [Neighbourhood Fathers] project which started in Amsterdam New West and has now been copied in other neighbourhoods and cities, including Utrecht (Aalbers et al., 2006). Organisations in other countries have also shown their interest. The ‘Buurtvaders’ programme was developed particularly in areas in which male Moroccan young people caused a lot of nuisance and trouble. The project not only makes neighbourhoods safer, it also promotes social cohesion within groups, between groups and between generations. While many indigenous Dutch people were very sceptical in the beginning, they also came to appreciate this initiative.


In Sweden, the state MDI programme has one explicit goal that concerns safety: ‘All city neighbourhoods should be experienced as attractive and safe by the people who live there, and provide sound and healthy living environments. The main aim of the safety policy in the two estates is to make the estates safer and to reduce the number of crimes and criminals. This is also a strategy to make the estates more attractive for commercial interests, residents and visitors’ (Öresjö et al., 2004, p. 42).

This is achieved at the local level through crime prevention focusing on people at-risk as well as on young people. Like is the Netherlands, the local or neighbourhood police is expected to work together with social and educational organizations.

In Jönköping the municipal housing company has developed a project about safety and security because their survey showed that one-quarter of the residents in the Öxnehaga estate do not feel safe in their area during evenings and nights. Re-design of the housing areas is used to increase security and safety, next to cooperation between local key actors to prevent crime and feelings of insecurity (Öresjö et al., 2004).


The Berlin housing estates that were included in the RESTATE-project are unanimously declared relatively safe areas and they are not especially noteworthy from the point of crime and prevention. However, there exist a big difference between the statistical appearance and the subjectively felt presence of crime: ‘Often young people in the street, especially from ethnic minorities, are seen as a danger in public spaces and to be avoided. Other factors experienced as criminality are often highly related to poverty and unemployment and are hidden behind the residents’ front doors: these are alcohol related and different types of family violence. Thus, preventive police actions concentrate more on going public with certain topics in order to develop an understanding with the residents about possible forms of action: ‘not avoiding public space makes it safer’, or safer ‘watching out for what happens in the neighbourhood and addressing it’ (interview police officer, Märkisches Viertel) are told to be a better advice, than ‘scandalising that is common in any big city’ (Droste and Knorr-Siedow, 2004, p. 57).

In the mean time, however, housing companies and local companies are increasingly employing private surveillance organizations to patrol (semi-) public space because the local police is overburdened. Furthermore, with the use of better lighting and improved visibility the housing companies try to make public space safer and more attractive. In Marzahn, a voluntary neighbourhood mediation team mediates in conflict between local (youth) groups (Droste and Knorr-Siedow, 2004, pp. 57-58).

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