The Urban Block and Social Organizations in the City
Phenomena in our cities today.
This essay is written in 2013, the year wherein for the first time in history, more then 50%% of the world population is living in our cities. If we look at the expectations for 2040, we see this number increasing up to 70%%. The world population is growing and our cities start to expand. Due modern technologies people are free to move, and therefore people can move from the periphery to the city, or form one country to the city of another country. The city is attracting a vast number of people again. This phenomenon creates globalization and urbanisation.
Trough globalization, our cities are housing an enormous amount of ethnicities and cultures. And because of the modern technologies – virtualization or computerization - people stay easily in contact with their own culture, which results in the fact that people intergrade less. The combination of these phenomenons creates trans-nationalization. 
Trans-nationalization can lead to segregation, people are afraid of the “other” and cluster into similar groups. And so a phenomenon of classification is developing. We can see this phenomenon leading architects to design typical housing for these groups – as recently published articles confirm. For example the “Halal–woningen”in Amsterdam, and “Wonen op een Verzonnen Plek” (Arnold Reijndorp), which are stimulating this process.In The Netherlands the municipality is stimulating clustering of classes even more by funding the recently introduced concept of CPO projects (Collective, Private, Commissioning). Which are popping-up like mushrooms due the prevalent financial crisis, I will come back on this later. This phenomenon shifts clustering of classes and trans-nationalization into a “capsular” civilization.
Our cities exist of different areas defined on social classes; wherein clustering of specific classes is seen as wanted and clustering of other classes marked as an enormous problem – these areas get the stamp of “problem neighbourhood” or so called “vogelaarwijken”.
Now it is the time we need to intervene these phenomena. The solution is not to organise the physical and social life in our city, as René Boomkes already concludes in its recently published article; Stad hoort beschaafde wanorde te zijn (The city has to be civilized disorder). René Boomkes says; “cities are civilization machines, and therefore they are density machines […] People like their cities because of the everyday life disorder.”(René Boomkens, 2008). He describes the city as in-between world; order/disorder, private/public, individual/mass. It shows that the city can offer the solution for the mentioned phenomena by looking at it from another point of view. 
Every city exists of an urban pattern, a layout, a plan or even better a “Urban Grid”, that since 1850 is defined by city planners and designers. The urban “grid” is defined by the open spaces between the physical – the build – “a network of interconnected open spaces created by those blocks – the Urban Grid” (Hillier and Hanson, 1984). When we know this we can say that the niche of the city is the Urban Block “city = block, or modernity = single building”(Phillipe Panerai, 1998). So when we shape cities, we shape the Urban Block or when we shape the Urban Block we shape cities.
The Urban Block is the niche of the city, as Susanne Komossa in her book “The Dutch Urban Block and Public Domain” also concludes; “The Urban Block is where the private and public domain of the city meet, and forms the intermediary between both”. (Susanne Komossa, 2010) Therefore in this essay we are going to look at the development of the Urban Block and the Social Organizations in the City, to become an expert on the traditional, cultural and historical models of already done experiments on the Urban Block and the social organizations in our city. Al these experiments are also done when problems occur in the city.
This will be shown by the most important developments trough-out history, mostly in the Western part of Europe. Eventually we will bend to The Netherlands to lay focus on developments and policy in this specific country.
One age of experiments
If we analyse the Urban Block and the Social Organizations in the City, trough-out history we can see they all have the same common problems to solve. The population grows, the city starts to expand, housing problems occur, density increases and the social everyday life disorder is seen as a problem. In 1850 the planner is being introduced as problem solver, organizer and policy maker, who makes concepts on the all-encompassing level in our city. From here – on this level – the city does not evolve naturally anymore, the city is planned.
The Urban Grid
The experiment starts in Paris, 1850. Baron Haussmann creates “star” forming breakthroughs and incisions within an existing rectangular Urban Grid, and so – as in the classic cultural history – broad boulevards, streets, squares, facilities and monumental orientation points. Haussmann created a rigorous system, to create a new code of human behaviour, and a new complex and dialectical rationality in the spatial configuration of human activities. The Urban Block is herein not recognized as an operative instrument, but arises form incisions in the existing Urban Grid, as system of streets as boundaries. Planning trough-making incisions inside an existing Urban Grid, with these specific tools, resulted in a static Urban Grid that made further expansions hardly impossible. 
Barcelona; “The Paris of the South”.Ildefonds Cérda made a “Uniform Grid” of Urban Blocks. Unlimited expansions, hygiene, public transport, parks and broad streets where the concept of the Urban Grid. It is not working in an existing Urban Grid, but connecting to an Urban Grid. This concept of un-limitation and “Uniform Grid” made the Urban Block and the Urban Grid very flexible. The Un-limited expansions insured that Barcelona could grow uniformly (Barcelona wanted to organize The Olympic games). The square Urban Blocks are connected trough main axes and intersections.
In London (1905) we see another experiment, Ramond Unwin made use of modern developments on public transport. He creates Garden Cities as growth poles – which we see later on in this essay come back – in the periphery outside the city. This means total out of the context of the existing Urban Grid. These growth poles are planned following structural hierarchic and typical English community practices. The Urban Block exists of a group of houses that surround a street, and have excess to the main road. The Urban Grid is in a sense “Uniform” but by expansions, new axes have to be created.
Amsterdam 1913, Hendrik Petrus Berlage made expansion plans to connect the East and West side of the city. Obviously he is inspired by Haussmann and Unwin; the main concept consist of monumental orientation points, symmetry, axes, density in the centre, openings in the periphery – like the Garden City – and also with Barcelona, to connect on the existing Urban Grid of the city. But again this Urban Grid is in sense static for expansions.
Frankfurt 1925, Ernst May is experimenting with “Siedlungen”. This concept has connections with the planning principles of Haussmann, Unwin and Berlage. On one hand he tries to make the connection with the traditional city, on the other hand the “Siedlungen” are clearly separated from the city. There will be no radio-centric expansions, but discontinuity in growth, zoning and typological renewal. He makes incisions in the Urban Block trough the Urban Grid and so the monumental orientation points. The Urban Grid is extendible but not “uniformly”.
Le Corbusier, is the last piece in this one age development. Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse is a concept which is inspired by many architects – also in The Netherlands – after WOII. The Urban Grid is totally rejected in his concepts. The main concept is that there is no context, continuity and tradition are being rejected and every relation with the existing city does not exist. The Urban Block is lifted from the ground and so becomes a building on its own, in this concept we can not really speak on a Urban Grid anymore. It is not about referring to history or working with a context, but about creating a hole new planning principle. 
The Urban Block and Social Organisations
Now we understand the development and the relations in the Urban Grid trough history we can analyse the Urban Block and the Social Organisations in the City. This part goes in to the same concepts but now we show the planner, creating the physical by concepts for the social life inside the Urban Grid.
The Paris of Haussmann is were the level of representation is being introduced. Haussmann wants to control the social life and classifies the centre for the thinking and the periphery for the working. The public space is being overvalued, and elements are added to serve as masks for differences between neighbourhoods, social statuses and practices. The dwelling is also about representation, rooms get names and functions “one did not talk about money in the kitchen neither plays suicide in the closed”. By diagonal incisions in the Urban Grid Haussmann created primarily triangles, and smaller rectangles, which remain very compact, this forms the basis of the plots. The Urban Block is closed, and there is no room for appropriation, only representation.
Cérda’s “Uniform Grid” was about the concept of domestic living; all classes live in the same Urban Block, everyone deserves sunlight, good ventilation, a sewer, vegetation and public leisure.By making 45o North West orientated incisions in the Urban Block and a maximum height of 20 meters, Cérda could provide this. The urban blocks were divided into districts of 20 blocks, which had at least 2 public parks, a hospital and several government buildings. And so the Urban Block becomes very flexible in this concept.
The Garden City concept of Unwin in London takes over Haussmann’s representation level. Only here the representation is about showing community – as in typical English practices – “one can see the relationships between neighbours by looking at the front gardens”. The grouping of several buildings surrounding a street results in much more space for appropriation. The private back garden is introduced, with a path that connects it. The introduction of this path will later on result in the opening of the Urban Block.
The plans for Amsterdam of Berlage, are inspired by Haussmann and Unwin. The typical Dutch niches on the front side“window-shops and showcases” (Susanne Komossa, 2005), are for representation. The backside of the Urban Block has private gardens with a connecting path in the middle. For developments on the social level – to create workers emancipation – there becomes a collective space inside the Urban Block. The concept of this “new” space is to create stronger connections between inhabitants of the Urban Block by the housing of several functions. Eventually the connection of the path with the outside of the Urban Block will lead to the opening of the Urban Block, and so the rejection of the collective space, it becomes a place for representation as everything open for the public should be.
In the Frankfurt of May the opening of the Urban Block is even going further. The Urban Block expands in height. Both sides of the Urban Block disappear and the collective space is being rejected. The front side is still for representation, but trough this development by opening the Urban Block, the backside becomes suddenly also the side of representation – what is open for the public is for representation – and so there is no room for appropriation. The Urban Block becomes a freestanding building on an undefined terrain. Panerai concludes that the inner space of the closed Urban Block, isolated from the public, does not exist anymore. 
Le Corbusier is driving this overvalue of representation even further to classify life into functions to create the ideal family life. He develops the functional city in a Urban Block. Lifts it from the ground, and places it out of context. The public domain is undefined and rejected. Appropriation can take place on balconies, which are for representation. Eventually the concepts of Le Corbusier and the CIAM congresses are important for the rediscovery of the Urban Block and the Public domain.
Making conclusions trough-out lessons by history
The Urban Grid and the Urban Block are developing trough time. For now, the process is presented from the introduction of the ‘planner’, which connects tradition with continuity of the city, to the rejection of it, into no connections or a context at all. The transformation of the closed urban block, with private – outside – spaces into a vertical urban block that is lifted from the ground and contains a street inside, whit an undefined public space outside. The space of representation, appropriation and flexibility changed into a structured place, written as a script – how people should act and behave – and every relation with tradition, continuity and context is rejected. The public domain disappears and the collective domain becomes overvalued “the urban block as micro cosmos, changes into a homogenous urban block.” (Susanne Komossa, 2010)
Dutch ‘planners’ after the Second World War
The reconstruction period after the war destructs the urban block even more. The distance between private and public domain – surrounding the block – becomes even broader. The segregation – by influences of the CIAM congress in 1933 – grows, with as result the ending of the public domain. The dwelling becomes “an open unit in an open environment”(Susanne Komossa, 2010) disconnected as a space for ‘closed’ family life in an open society. This assumes a uniform population with the same everyday life pattern, with no needs for public space where interactions, meetings and differences in opinions between “the other” occur. They even hire ‘woning opzichteressen’ to control this way of living. “This arrangement is taking the shape of an tight glove, in stead of an spacious sitting want.” (Scott Brown and Venturi, 2004)
‘Planners’ Become conscious of problems created trough planning principles.
By creating homogeneous planning principles, about the way people should live, behave and develop – without mentioning the public and private domain as motor for society – planners created segregation in civilization. As Jane Jacobs in 1960 already advocates that this phenomenon has to be a natural process, and the planner only has to offer the stage for it “a city is a diverse mix of people and processes, with its own self-organizing dynamic” (Jane Jacobs, 1960) – which is also the notion now days as Jan Gehl advocates.From here planners start to rediscover the values of the Urban Block, the Social Organizations and the Urban Grid in the city.  We have to be aware that the context wherein Jane Jacobs is working is totally different form the context found in our Dutch cities, but we can see the same developments occur and take harsh lessons from her findings.
Dutch planners start to experiment with various concepts to deal with the still expanding city and population. Collectiveness inside the Urban Block and the relation between the public – residential streets – and the private – dwelling – will take another shape. I will name next developments in planning, but not go further into it because the basis of these planning principles is located in the one age history part of this essay.
First we start to experiment with growth poles – like Unwin did in London, only on a bigger scale – also known as “New Towns” – Almere, Lelystad. With the same effect, attract the middle class or higher and eventually end with the lower class. Arnold Reijndorp concludes in its recently published book, Atlas Nieuwe Steden; “because they can’t build on an existing situation, they had to think about the meaning of a city” (Arnold Reijndorp, 2012) He sketches that a city is comparable with wine – it has to be old to have quality – but it has to have quality to become old. 
As reaction on The CIAM and the modernists, the post-modernist movement establishes. They refer to history, and refer to the context – ‘Plan Zuid’ Berlage – of the situation. They start to use ‘old’ materials again, instead of concrete and glass. They try to establish a new relation again with the Urban Block and its environment – the public domain. Examples of Urban Blocks are; Katenbroek, Amersfoort and Java-eiland, Amsterdam. From that point of view the concept of ‘Bloemkool Wijken’ starts to exist – combination Londen, Garden City and Frankfurt Siedlungen – with ideas about traffic calming and a clear “Boomstructuur” – genealogical tree structure – in growth. As a compilation of the growth poles and the ‘Bloemkool Wijken’, the concept of the ‘VINEX wijk’ establishes. On one hand to prevent population reduction in cities and on the other hand to create traffic calming between them. Also the ‘Garden City’ idea is found in this concept, create community and mix the middle class with the lower class. But in production we see very different approaches – Haverleij ‘s-Hertogenbosch – and criticism develops about these concepts. As Arnold Reijndorp also concludes; “Planners have been searching for flexibility in the plan structure, but generally not in urban structure or housing typology”. (Arnold Reijndorp, 2012) These modern planning principles led to even more homogeneous Urban Blocks, public domain and dwellings. Their development had to be fast like a stamp they moved over the landscape. The collective space is overvalued and there is developing a distinction between the transitions of, the private into the public space. This made the dwelling turned its back to the street where the actual public domain is. The collective space that has to serve as collectiveness and transition between private and public space is useless in this context. Most important planners become aware of the significance of the city and the design of public space.
Planning of today
Arnold Reijndorp states in his essay ‘The Domestication of Urban Living’, that from the 1990’s more attention is being devoted to designing public space – “a more urban program is becoming increasingly prominent… this does not detract from the ambivalence between urbanity and collectivity.” New experiments with the Urban Block in search for a new relationship between urbanity and collectivity arise.
On Java Island – Amsterdam – they experiment with “open collectivity and diversity in architectonic expression (Arnold Reijndorp, 2005).“ Sjoert Soesters created the ‘master plan’ for the Java Island. The plan refers to the city of Amsterdam, as we can find the ‘grachten’ – canal – structure – inside – and waterfront buildings – outside. The combination of canal and waterfront Urban Blocks are defined in a grid with fixed measurements – waterfront buildings are 27 meters long with dwellings between 5,4m. Inside this grid many different architects designed multiple typologies – which attracted a diverse public of inhabitants – dwellings show that standardization and diversity are possible at the same time. The public domain is also designed following a uniform grid. A combination of waterfront and canal Blocks enclose a diverse mix of open collective spaces. The design of the public space is based upon a book of the Japanese landscape architect; Tadahiko Higuchi – The Visual and Spatial Structure of Landscapes – this goes into the experience of openness and closure and the diversity of landscapes.Trough this the architect found out that the attractive part of the ‘Amsterdam canal building’ is not only about the front side and the canals, but about the bridges and the quays of different heights. This created diversity and flexibility inside uniform measurements. The private and collective open spaces are accessible for the public and so they found a transition between the public and the private space, where collectiveness, appropriation and private activities can take place. 
“A simulation of free market architecture”, as Bart Goldhoorn describes.Waterrijk in the city of Woerden is a plan developed by West 8 architects. The aim of West 8 was to create diversity in housing typologies, stimulating CPO projects and provide high quality living spaces. The plan serves as a master plan wherein several architects can design a typology on a designed plot. Each plot or area has its own theme reflecting to a diversity of residential housing typologies. Several CPO projects are realised here, and diverse architects designed a block. West 8 states; “The ambition for Waterrijk is to provide high quality living space where children can play whilst enjoying their natural surroundings.” (West 8, 2013)
The different typologies are connected to the water, referring to old Dutch cities. Municipality, wherein a group of inhabitants are the project leaders, has developed CPO projects. Herein the inhabitants are the clients, which leads to intensive contacts with different building parties. These blocks are developed according the wishes and needs of the future inhabitants. Which all work to getter to design their own block. The area is split into two parts: the ‘villapark’, with a density of 20 dwellings per hectare – with stronger rules as they find their self on a ‘Berlageplot’ – and the islands with a density of 55 dwellings per hectare. Here we can see that a group of people with the same interests can be formed to create a urban block, these people start to know each other during the process, and at the end they live in the same building.
Theme Neighbourhood, sounds the title of the book by Arnold Reijndorp. One of the projects mentioned in his book is the urban block located in the ‘krachtwijk’ Bospolder, Rotterdam, Le Medi. Here an urban block in Mediterranean ambiance is build. Housing typologies are diverse wherein each typology has its own theme. The idea was to for fill the wishes of the middle classes, which are searching for; ground based dwellings with their own backyard and collective spaces.The urban block is turned inside and houses a semi-collective space that is open for public at specific times. The inhabitants have the responsibility to maintain this space. Housing typologies are flexible for expansions depending, on the typology it can be extended in height or with. The idea is to attract the middle class, and implement this ‘group’ into a neighbourhood with lower classes, to upgrade the neighbourhood.
Planning of today
If we look at planning principles of today, we can see there is a search for flexibility and diversity in architectonic expression. Plans refer to historical context and the given situation. The planner tries to establish a connection with the people and the people start to emancipate into groups – to function as a client their self. But if we look closely we can see that overall, the projects – which are leading examples for planning of today – are developed for the middle classes. New buildings with diversity in the façade, but with statistically homogeneous dwellers.
Launching place for success
If we look back at the phenomena mentioned in the first part of this essay, we can see time specific phenomena – population growth, globalization and trans nationalization – and phenomena created by planners and policy makers – segregation, clustering and capsular civilization. As Gert-Jan Hospers in his article “De Losbandige stad” describes about the image of the city today; “ Supported by several organisations, the government interferes increasingly with inhabitants of large cities […] many cities in our country are struggling with their heterogeneous image: how to deal with the diversity of communities in the city? […] Inhabitants with different backgrounds, nationalities and ages should visit, meet and - if possible – organise activities together […] The neighbourhood barbeque; for policy makers the symbol for stimulating social commitment.” (Gert-Jan Hospers 2011)
This image a city should have today, and which is vastly changed trough time; from Paris with ‘allure’, to modernity as ‘ideal family life’. To create their image of the city, policy makers are trying to organize the social life of people with planning principles. As Jane Jacobs advocates; “it is about these dreams, plans and acting of people, that make the city […] these can, and may not be organised by planners. A city is an living organism which was born, grows, decays and can revive.” (Jane Jacobs 1960)Gert-Jan Hospers goes further into the image created of the city today and says that different from a village, people in the city do not know each other personally, and that is what they like about it. Connecting also to René Boomkens with the concept of “the city as civilization machine” and people liking their city because of the “civilized disorder” – in-between world; order/disorder, private/public, individual/mass.
In his book ‘Stadswijk’, Arnold Reijndorp refers to phenomena created by policy makers saying that instead of specifying and precisely formulating major social problems the reverse happens. The daily problems of everyday life and climbing socially, being enlarged and intertwined. “The diverse reality is obscured trough the homogeneous image and general notions, of depressed areas and lack of social cohesion […] the way the discussion about depressed areas is brought in front, shows the signs of a ‘drama democracy’.” The ‘vogelaarswijk’ is born, the policy focused on reclaiming the public and collective domain on the communities, which are held responsible for the decline. “The goal of this pacification strategy, is the return of the middle classes to the city.” (Arnold Reijndorp, 2004) 
The lack of social cohesion in the city is a typical old-fashioned image of the policy makers that creates depressed areas. Jacob states; “its about confidence without obligations; you want to make contacts, but not held an ‘open door day’ […] this is a delicate balance wherein there is no space for harmony” (Jane Jacobs 1960) These depressed areas have an high level of alteration, which is the biggest problem of these areas, they are not diverse – in program and functions – and have no ‘eyes on the street’. People which have a choice, don’t want to live there anymore, and move. Instead of them there come people that don’t have a choice “and the confidence without obligations is disturbed, the neighbourhood is turned into a jungle and falls in decline.” (Jane Jacobs 1960) Depressed areas can be regenerated if inhabitants choose specific to stay in these areas. Jacobs points to the positive forces already present in the neighbourhood.Again we have to be aware that Jacobs is referring to ‘Great American Cities’ but we can connect these notions to our Dutch cities by looking at occurring developments. Arnold Reijndorp advocates a ‘civic society’ in a new form; “wherein numerous initiatives on social, economical and cultural level get a firm embed.”(Arnold Reijndorp 2012)“Not the dreams of policy makers, but the dreams of civilians should be given space. ‘Down with the romantic village ideals, back to the loosened city!’.” (Gert-Jan Hospers, 2012)
Bart Goldhoorn writes in his article about urban blocks in these areas; “The mass produced architecture of the 1960’s and 1970’s was apparently so traumatic that it led to the creation of a dogma in architecture and urbanism: diversity = good, uniformity = bad […] within this polarization ‘standard’ is automatically linked to uniformity.” He starts questioning how we can combine the advantages offered by mass production with those offered by customization. In fact the urban blocks build in this period have a ‘Plan Libre’ – Le Corbusier. Bart Goldhoorn describes that the introduction of ‘standards’ can lead to a broader market. For example he refers to the introduction of shoe sizes, wherein not each shoe is tailor-made but a production of shoe size standards that can fit every ones foot. The model is practically the same only the scale is different. Consumers can compare different models in their size, which can lead to competition and variety in shoes. “The sole of the shoe acts as a platform and it is possible to develop various shoes based on one sole model […] standardization does not lead to standard shoes.” (Bart Goldhoorn 2009) This concept can be bend to the mass produced urban blocks, which contain the same ‘sole’ and have a ‘Plan Libre’. Goldhoorn says also; “Thus the introduction of a new form of mass production in architecture is not a threat to the profession, but a opportunity to enlarge the market for architecture leading to better cities all over the world […} paradoxically, introducing an industrial standard leads to innovation and increases diversity.” If we implement this concept in the mass-produced urban blocks we create “unity in diversity”.
We should stop organising the social life of people, when problems occur in our cities. The city is a “self organizing dynamic” as Jacobs states, and history learns that it can regenerate its self. Give people a choice, and let them personalize their private and public space. Loosen up the “tight glove” and make it adaptable and flexible for social changes trough time. Architects and planners should lay focus on ‘what citizens really want’ instead of what they want. To connect to the concepts of Bart Goldhoorn, we can regenerate the ‘depressed’ areas Jane Jacobs is talking about, by introducing block standards in mass produced urban blocks; “You don’t make a standard Block, but a Block standard.” (Bart Goldhoorn, 2009) The market becomes broader and architects can be part of mass produced housing. And regenerate the public domain by creating a ‘civic society’ in a new form; “wherein numerous initiatives on social, economical and cultural level get a firm embed.” (Arnold Reijndorp, 2012) Herein we can give people a choice how to live and organize their own lives and still have control about the spatial qualities architecture as profession should have. The problem in ‘vogelaarwijken’ is the high level of alteration with no diversity in program or functions. “Confidence without obligations” does not establish. Inhabitants have no choice or opportunities to develop and climb the social ladder. For once we should pay attention to the lower classes, and make good architecture for them. Upgrade the neighbourhood with the people and the forces already present in these areas.
The ‘vogelaarwijk’ is a ‘Launching place for success’!
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