Ending the residency…

Ellen Holleman and Sarah Spanton have now completed this one-month residency in Poelenburg, Sarah returns to the UK, today, Friday the 1st March.

The experience of living and working here in Poelenburg has been very stimulating in terms of our collaboration and our individual practices (Ellen and Sarah). We’ve dug deeper into the meaning of value in neighbourhoods, following research leads on Place Capital, Social Capital, asset mapping and human values in relation to community development, economic development and place-making.

We were inspired by the experience, ideas and thoughts of our colleagues at our seminar on 26.2.13. We held the seminar because we’re interested in the bigger picture and wanted to contextualize the residency. As a group we agreed that we would continue as an ongoing network for exchange and conversation between multidisciplinary professionals interested in the issues arising from what is value in the neighbourhood.

We haven’t completed our final outcomes from the residency yet, but for the moment have left the residents in the building with a final message in the building’s entrance lobby, and an online sample image of the skills and talents that residents told us about.



We’ve also started to make some illustrations mapping the many assets in Poelenburg and have begun to future cast for ideas based on these potentials.


Image credits: 1/2 – Sarah, 3 – Ellen

We plan to continue working on the project in the next few months and will post more about the work soon.

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People making Poelenburg Connections…

Yesterday we appeared in the local paper, describing the project and our residency. This followed another article two days before from a local politician stating ‘the trouble with Poelenburg is the people who live here’, in other words the exact opposite of what we’ve been saying – that the people make the building/area valuable. Being here for a month and speaking to the people who live here, has confirmed our belief there is no use in continuing to stigmatize this neighbourhood. That’s why our focus has not been on the needs of this place, but on its strengths and qualities.


Image from Dagsblad Zaanstreek 27.2.13

On the same day the paper came out, a man from the local resident’s neighbourhood group immediately came to visit us, having read the article – asking us to make a presentation about our project to the group. We’ve found that people in Poelenburg are interested in our ideas around looking for assets and not problems in the area. That by building on these assets a community can make the changes they want to make and fulfil their potential. So now we’ve met another active community leader who is working to support these developments in Poelenburg.

The first we met was Violeta Meta, a local activist and entrepreneur. She runs a catering company and has initiated several valuable projects in Poelenburg. Including the World Women’s Choir – which brings women from the many cultural backgrounds in the area together, to sing as well as support each other in their lives. They’re hosting a performance event with a buffet, which is open to all in the evening of 15th March. Violeta also works at the Infohuis (a housing association/municipality-run support centre), an accessible place where anybody can walk in with their questions and ideas. Violeta acts as a facilitator, connecting people when she thinks they can succeed better by working together. This way of working is an example of how things can slowly things change in Poelenburg, by using a positive, ground-up approach.

We hope we may be able to continue to work with residents of Poelenburg in some way in the future.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton

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Place Capital and solving the riddle of what value lies in community?

Last week Sue Ball asked us whether we had solved the riddle of what value lies in community? We can categorically say we haven’t reached any conclusions on this one. But we think that the concept of Place Capital could be a good way to think about community and place-making differently.

Place Capital can be defined as the shared wealth (built and natural) of the public realm. In Place Capital, people share in the realisation, activation and development of a place, they are not passive consumers of it. Place Capital as a concept acknowledges that places are inherently immobile, grounded – with qualities and distinctiveness of their own.

By involving people in the creation and shared wealth of a place, places which have become increasingly placeless, due to the homogenizing forces of globalisation, begin to amass Place Capital. Thus, communities can build up and leverage other kinds of capital, develop economically, innovate and increase their resilience and sustainability.

(Paraphrased from Ethan Kent vice-president of Projects in Public Space – 11.2.13 From http://www.pps.org/reference/place-capital-the-shared-wealth-that-drives-thriving-communities/ )

We’re interested in this concept and how it pertains to Poelenburg. Every settlement including Poelenburg, has elements of distinctiveness, and has people who want to share in developing the wealth of this place. After all in this short research period we’ve met residents in our building who are keen to help each other out and a local community leader who’s active in community development.

Today we’re continuing to explore Waarde in de Wijk / Value in the Neighbourhood alongside colleagues from the Netherlands and UK at a seminar we are hosting here in the building. 

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Seeking resilient communities; depicting trust, talent and social networks

Whilst exploring the concept of what is valuable, we feel that the nature of ‘trust’ is a significant value in this project. As we read Social Capital for Starters, the building of social capital starts with the building of trust: ‘Trust between individuals [..] becomes trust between strangers and trust of a broad fabric of social institutions; ultimately it becomes a shared set of values, virtues and expectations within society as a whole.’

So we’ve been building trust with our (temporary) neighbours in this building, taking small steps, creating face to face encounters. We feel that trust is only developed over time – something we are short of on a month-long residency.

However, strong social capital can also have a downside: Groups and organizations with high social capital have the means (and sometimes the motive) to work to exclude and subordinate others. Furthermore, the experience of living in close knit communities can be stultifying – especially to those who feel they are ‘different’ in some important way.’

From an earlier collaborative project of ours, on the Parisienne banlieue communities, we learned that people in cities / communities have either strong or weak network ties. The social relationships in the Parisian banlieue mostly fall in the first category: strong ties, where everyone knows everyone, the social (family/neighbour) bonds are tight-knit and the network protects like a cocoon. However paradoxically, weak network ties appear to be a source of strength and innovation in wider society: where people easily ‘bridge’ to strangers through diverse sets of connections, making opportunities more widely available.

strong and weak network ties_def no text

We suspect a similar situation exists in Poelenburg, to that in the Parisienne banlieue: strong bonds but a lack of ‘bridging’ ties. In conclusion, we are thinking that a resilient community needs both bridging and bonded network ties. We think Poelenburg has plenty potential for this. And we’re working on creating artwork that begins to reveal the talents, energy and skills of its most valuable asset, the inhabitants – depicting the importance of building trust and showing people’s bonding power and their bridging potential.

Image credit: Ellen Holleman

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Conversations in Poelenburg

Last week we tried hard to meet with inhabitants of ‘our’ building. This has been more difficult than we had hoped. People are very friendly but unwilling to spend much time with us. Which is understandable in a way: insecurity about future plans for the building and the neighbourhood has kind of brought people down, they are tired of talking and not getting anywhere, so why put up with two strange artists?

So, we’ve offered to give them something in return and this seems to work (called Brengen en Halen Dagen). We have had some interesting conversations with women who want English conversation lessons for themselves and for their children, in return. We’ve noticed a great eagerness to learn and the wish for their children to have a good education.


Which brings us to another interesting conversation this week on human and personal values. We met with Pieter and Anneke Costerus who gave us a short introduction on their approach to human value systems. They told us that human values are dynamic and we use around 60 core values through our lives. But any one time, in our daily lives we tend to focus on only 5 of them. Which means that under different circumstances, ones personal values shift. Which is also true for a community. We are wondering where the focus lies for the population of our building, would it be on safety and security or on improvement and could it shift towards working together? We don’t know (yet) but one thing we’re sure of: there is a lot of trust-building to be done in this place. We’ll get back to you with that one in our next blogpost.


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Hé buurman – mensen maken dit gebouw waardevol

Many of the blocks of flats in Poelenburg are recognised by both the agencies managing them and the residents themselves, as not up to modern standards. And large-scale renovations were planned, however these have recently been cancelled leaving residents at best severely disappointed. Thus today, it is all the more true that a neighbourhood’s value lies in its people – their energies, attitudes and skills. 

 We’re finding that the residents in this community value their neighbours and have good connections with each other.

Hence this blog’s title: Hi neighbour – people make the building valuable.

So we’ve begun asking people who live in the block of flats we’re based in, about their skills, hobbies and passions. In exchange we’re offering residents 1 hour of our time and skill – such as designing a logo for a small business.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton

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Values and potentials in Poelenburg – grow your own local economy

We found a blog from Projects for Public Space (PPS), that is particularly interesting for our residency. It speaks about ‘local opportunities’ and how you ‘can’t buy a new economy’. This blog explains very nicely just what we are aiming to do in Poelenburg.

‘Neighborhoods need to define their priorities for themselves; in so doing, they often discover that there are untapped opportunities to grow their own local economies, without needing to import talent from elsewhere.’

Exactly. That is why we are searching for those opportunities, as talent scouts and treasure seekers.

We suggest that cities can only be ‘made’ by the people that live in them, and that there should be ‘fair’ opportunities for all. We believe that there is a lot more potential present in places than the statistics show. So we need to find out where the values and potentials are in this neighbourhood, before we (or anyone for that matter) can start thinking about how to provide the right opportunities.

Therefore we’re studying and observing the neighbourhood and getting to know the residents. We aim that from today we will meet some of the neighbours from the building we are based in,  and are keen to find out more about their talents and what they are passionate about in Poelenburg.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton

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Living on Heukelsstraat

We’ve been walking and cycling around Poelenburg, getting to know the area the tHUISbasis residency is taking place in.

Here are some photos of the neighbourhood:








Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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Thinking about Open-Source Placemaking

Poelenburg is a district of the city of Zaandam that has fallen foul of the credit crunch, in that the whole area was due for regeneration, but due to financial crisis, this has all been put on hold for the foreseeable future. The tHUISbasis programme of artists is part of light touch approach to re-activating the area. So, Ellen and I have been re-reading some articles on alternative approaches to regeneration. Dave Barrie’s article on Open-Source Placemaking is particularly interesting.

Barrie describes it as ‘… an approach to urban development that centres on the making of an implementable ‘social action plan’ first – not a master plan – is inspired by the autonomy that many people want from their lives and seeks to create places through an unfolding process of interaction design first, architecture second.’

We’re interested in how he suggests supporting communities and enterprises in regeneration areas by having agencies involved in development ‘…promote internal markets in goods and services on a barter basis – perhaps even follow a model by which tenants provide services-in-kind to external grant funders of a site, in lieu of rent.’

Today is our first real day of working on the project, so we’ve drawn back the curtains to see out into the neighbourhood.



Image credit: Ellen Holleman

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Ellen and I began the tHUISbasis residency yesterday. We met with two of the other artists on the programme; musician and composer Claudia Rumondor and visual artist Carla Hoekenga – who updated us on how the tHUISbasis project has been going.

So far Ellen and I have been thinking together and planning the residency’s trajectory. We’re focussing on asking the question – what is valuable in this neighbourhood? We’re interested in asking residents and local agencies/organisations to look more closely at what might be of value, to try to reveal value that is currently not recognised in the area.

And I’ve moved into the flat and have been getting it ready for us to start using it as a studio and as my living space for the next month.

ImageThe neighbourhood of Poelenburg.

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