Measuring Java & Buurtinzicht: tools to help make blueprints of a neighbourhood

On the 22nd of April 2016 I organised a workshop together with Wouter Meys, Maarten Groen and Nazli Cila from Citizen Data Lab at University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam. Jelle Vrieswijk (a communication multimedia design student) assisted in the graphic communication and documentation.

In the workshop Creating Grassroots initiative blueprints by mapping the city, the tools Buurtinzicht and the web app Measuring Java were explored. Both tools were specifically designed for this day. With the collected data and other data-sets a story was built around a specific issue in a co-creation mapping session. The aim of the day was to engage with the following questions:

  • How participatory tools can be used/useful to make a blueprint of a specific issue on neighbourhood scale.
  • How to mine and map data, using a variety of data-sets (open data, social media data and collected data) as to build a story around an issue.
  • How the created blueprints can be used to support grassroots initiatives.

 The workshop formed part of the conference Design & The City (Amsterdam). Design & The City explores citizens-centred design approaches for the smart city. The central theme is the role of design(ers) to create opportunities and practices for citizens, (social) entrepeneurs and policy makers towards more liveable, sustainable and sociable urban futures. The workshop took place on the last day of the conference on the FabCity Campus on Java Island in Amsterdam. FabCity is a temporary and freely accessible campus open between 1 April until 26 June 2016 at the head of Amsterdam’s Java Island in the city’s Eastern Harbour District. Conceived as a green, self-sustaining city, FabCity comprises of approximately 50 innovative pavilions, installations and prototypes. Students, professionals, artists and creatives are developing the site into a sustainable urban area, where they work, create, explore and present their solutions for current urban issues. The participants come from various educational backgrounds, including art and technology academics, universities and vocational colleges.

The morning programme consisted of presentations/interviews with two municipality officials of the area and an interview with Bert Kommerij, an initiator of the local initiative Meet the Locals. Bert furthermore participated in the workshop and shared his expertise throughout the whole day. Afterwards a small presentation was given of the web app tool and the blueprint that we would be working with for the rest of the day. The idea of the blueprint was to describe the issue, the stakeholders involved and to make a compilation of the different data sources. For this a variety of other tools were presented to the participants, such as; a link to an excel sheet of social media data of the area (Instagram, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook groups) and open data from the municipality. Previously to this workshop we created the tool Buurtinzicht to make the open data from the municipality easily accessible and usable.

The interviews with the municipality and the local initiative helped the participants get an understanding of how local initiatives can become successful and how the municipality can facilitate such initiatives. Through the presentation of area development plans – developed by the municipality every 5 years with the aim to put certain issues on the agenda – we furthermore discussed the changing role of the (local) municipality and that of citizens. With this insight the participants were divided into three groups to focus on a specific issue of the existing area development plan of Java Island. The themes/issues that we chose were: (lack of) green spaces, (failing) businesses and (lack of) social cohesion.

Each of the organisers of this workshop joined a different group. I participated in the third group; (lack of) social cohesion. In the next paragraph I will describe some of the findings regarding finding ‘evidence’ for this issue and the use of the tools Measuring Java, Buurtinzicht and the making of the blueprint.

Walking on the terrain of the event we saw a ship stationed right in front of the FabCity. We boarded the ship but were immediately yelled after by the second captain. ’This is private property’ and ‘you should immediately get off my ship’. I asked him if he knew anything about the event happening right in front of his ship, but he knew nothing about it. Afterwards we walked towards a construction site on the right hand side at the entrance of the event. On our way we saw a lot of parked tourist busses. I asked one of the bus drivers what the busses were doing here. He told me this was the only place where he could park for free. He just dropped 200 Norwegian tourists who were on their way to Keukenhof. With his Scandinavian accent he mentioned not to know anything about the event and asked me if I liked his bus because I was taking pictures of it. Opposite the busses we saw a woman who was holding a dog leach. Her dog was running in a tiny fenced park for dogs. I asked the woman what she knew of those busses.“Het is hier een klerenzooi”. She nagged about the noise and the fact that the busses took away her view. Opposite the street there was a construction site. We entered the site and I presented myself to what seemed to be the project manager. He told me that a week earlier they started with the building of a hotel. It would be the first self sufficient hotel of Amsterdam and it would have a beautiful tropical swimming pool! I asked him if he knew about the FabCity event 50 metres from here, that was about sustainable living. He did not know about it. Opposite the construction site we saw children playing in a fenced playground. With children’s bikes parked everywhere we figured the building right next to the playground was a school. I entered the school and asked someone behind a desk what she thought of the hotel. She said that she was not amused by it. It was a very long story and if I wanted to know more I could make an appointment with her. After leaving the school we walked towards a cafe, 100 metres further down the road. As we wanted to enter the cafe two people with suitcases crossed our path. I asked them if they knew about the FabCity event. They answered “keine ahnung”. We entered the cafe. I saw a man with his Lassi dog having a what seemed to be strong alcoholic beverage. I asked the woman behind the counter what people normally visit this cafe. “A bit of everything. We get locals, parents from the school, but also tourists. Twice a week there is a group of elderly that organise a buurtsoos here”.

After1,5 hour  – collecting many photos and quotes with the Measuring Java tool – we walked back to work on the blueprint. All the photos and quotes were printed out. We mapped out the many different (parallel) worlds that we found on this narrow piece of land; realities that often do not know of each others existence. As we had a local expert (Bert Kommerij) present we asked him if he knew how social media was used on the island. He showed us different communities that revolved around a specific issue/theme, such as; the buurt app garden (a closed group about the garden on the island), the honden van java eiland group (a closed Facebook group of 99 dog-owners of the island) and the Kop van Java group (an open group that talks about activities/the future of the area of land at the head of the island. This group has 499 likes). We did not have enough time to use the Buurtinzicht tool, but what became clear to us is that the locals were very active in organising themselves with digital tools. The variety of themes in the digital sphere reflected the parallel words that we encountered while walking on the island.

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Launched in April 2016
Development of application by Maarten Groen and Wouter Meys