An urban planning project

An example of the Open Design approach applied in an urban planning project is the Lijnbaan urban renewal project in Dordrecht (Leenman, 1985).

For a number of years attempts had been made to draw up plans for this project, but to no avail. The neighbourhood was deteriorating, sites where factories had been demolished were becoming wastelands and many of the old houses were in a very poor state of repair. The municipal council therefore decided that a breakthrough had to be made. A new project leader was engaged and he was given one year to produce a feasible plan and obtain approval for its implementation. The 'Open Design method' was called upon to provide support for the design process.

The project group based their approach on the 'integration of all the aspects involved' and 'parallel operation' on the assumption that only in this way would it be possible to complete the assignment within the specified time. The group actually succeeded in this. Within three months the integrated solution space had been defined, all the parties involved had formulated their requirements and constraints, and this had all been incorporated into a computer optimisation model. The initial mathematical solution that fulfilled all the requirements could thus be produced.

In the following three months the solution was expanded to become an urban redevelopment programme for the area, which included requirements regarding the type and number of houses, amount of greenery, streets and parking, public and private areas, cost of the land, etc. While this stage progressed well, the following phase stagnated.

The residents' committee and the housing association became aware that within the solution space that had been accepted by everyone more than one design was feasible. The housing association's architect, who was responsible only for designing new housing, presented an overall plan for the area that was completely different from the one produced by the municipal urban development agency (Fig 3.4). In the municipality's plan the housing blocks are located at the inside of the site with roads oriented to the water front. In the architect's plan the housing blocks are placed on the edge of the location oriented to the old city.

A great deal of confusion arose in the group. Communication between the architect and the urban designers became problematic. Both had extremely firm ideas on the land use plan. It had been ascertained on the basis of the computer model that both plans fulfilled the requirements of the redevelopment plan. However, it proved impossible to reconcile the differences related to aspects which are difficult to quantify such as greenery, urban character and living environment.

It emerged at this point that, since the computer model had made the norms, requirements and rules of the relevant disciplines explicit and transparent,

Figure 3.4 Two different plans within one solution space

people could no longer hide behind them. The debate was now about ideas and opinions. Separating in this manner the computer-related aspects and the aspects which are highly individual in nature only intensified the confrontation.

In retrospect, the problem of stagnation was solved fairly easily and logically. The municipal councillor was presented with both land use plans and he asked the future residents and the housing association which one they preferred. They were unanimous in their choice of the architect's plans. These were presented to the council, approved and implemented.

This project contained almost all the elements of 'Open Design' described in this book:

• The shift towards decentralised design

After the council's decision, the local paper reported that the monopoly of the municipal urban development service had been brought to an end. People then realised that there was no longer one central place where the design was made and decided upon. This had already been proposed in many public consultation documents and political manifestos but it had now become a reality.

• Team design as a multi-party negotiating process

The residents' committee had participated in the process from the outset. However, as soon as they presented themselves as an independent party with their own views trying to achieve their own goals by means of negotiation with a municipal councillor and the formation of a coalition with the housing association and the architect, the professional designers of the municipality tried to exclude them from the team process.

• Design optimisation as a form of social welfare optimisation

Because nothing had been done in the Lijnbaan area for years there was a great deal of pressure on the project to produce results fast. There was also a degree of mistrust towards the experts who had not been able to produce a viable plan. However, as the first optimum calculation had incorporated various constraints and requirements, both political and from the residents themselves, the project group could move seamlessly from expert optimisation to social optimisation.

• Acknowledgement of an individual design decision area for each team member

Some decision areas had been allocated within the municipal urban planning service. That outside participants had their decision areas as well, possibly independent thereof, came as a surprise to the experts.

• The political nature of the multi-party design process

That the problem of stagnation was solved through political channels would have been logical to the experts if this aspect had been recognised from the outset.

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