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A brief resumé of the past.

By Louisa Vermoere

Brussels, Thursday 4 February 2016.

Before we accelerate HUMAN CITIES 2015-2018, Challenging the City Scale, we let you (re)discover a snapshot of the past through the eyes of the oldest partners. The Human Cities project and network was initiated by Pro Materia in Brussels in 2006 and has now spread in different cities all over Europe. To find out more about the past I, Louisa Vermoere, interviewed three ‘historic’ partners: Researcher Laura Galluzzo and Prof. Davide Fassi at the Polimi Desis Lab of the Politecnico di Milano, Matej Nikšič of UIRS: Urban Planning institute of the republic of Slovenia in Ljubljana and Camille Vilain of Cité du design in Saint-Etienne.

'Saturdays at Bovisa'-event at Politecnico di Milano, 2015
Lively discussion on the issues and future of public space were going on during the HUMAN CITIES study tour to Koper, organised in cooperation with local initiatives reclaiming public spaces in coastal Slovenia.
Human Cities partners, local designers and 'Carton plein' association at work at 'la Cartonnerie' experimental public space.

All my interviewees have been participating in previous festivals initiated by Pro Materia: the Human Cities Festival 2010// Celebrating public space, Human Cities Festival 2012// Reclaiming Public Space & the festival Brussels-Istanbul// Designing public space.



Each partner has slightly different reasons why they have been taken part each time:

UIRS believes Human Cities is about making places better with an active participation of citizens. That is what Ljubljana and other Slovenian cities strive for.

The Polimi Desis Lab in Milan works on service and space design and strongly trusts on co-design activities to improve and make more attractive the urban and public spaces. Human cities program wants to add value to participatory, bottom-up actions around the world and our Milanese partners believes adding this values can really change our cities and our spaces.

For Cité du design participating in Human cities is a way of considering all urban transformations with a human-centred focus in Saint-Etienne, particularly concerning the crucial issue of public space. According to Camille Vilain, project manager of Human Cities 2015-2018, design is a tool to improve the living environment of the city starting from its uses. Human Cities is an opportunity of exchanging with European partners on good experiences and tools to observe, adopt, transform the public spaces including its various users. It allowed a dialogue on public space with the various stakeholders dealing with urban design in Saint-Etienne,  supporting the existing and emerging initiatives of co-creation and participation.



When I asked the partners for the Human Cities greatest achievement, the partners mention, the two books edited jointly with HC partners in Ljubljana, Brussels and Milan: Human Cities Celebrating Public Space and Human Cities Civil Society Reclaims Public Space. Moreover all partners collaborated on the development of a research tool for comprehensive public space analyses and evaluation covering structural, behavioural, cognitive and receptive dimensions of open urban public space. In an upcoming story Human Cities will go into details about this Toolbox, for now you can find more information in HC Proceedings 2012 (page 16-21: human cities toolbox, page 151: Toolbox tour, page 153: Opening the human Cities toolbox).


Furthermore Polimi Desis Lab of the Politecnico di Milano points out one specific masterclass, held in the frame of the festival in 2012, that has up until today a great significance. It was there were Polimi Desis Lab started to work on the relations between the campus and its neighbourhood. They organized an event called There’s room for one more and for the first time they opened the university outdoor spaces, that are effectively public spaces, to the inhabitants. The event was a success and ever since the first edition Politecnico di Milano has repeated the experience many times. Today, the exchange with the locals is called Il Sabato della Bovisa (Saturdays at Bovisa) and has evolved to the foundation of a convivial garden at the Politecnico, Coltivando. Other research and activities on these themes has evolved out of this.


Saint-Etienne’s most significant experience was the workshop led in July 2011. It created a good synergy of local actors on the theme of public space and young people : urban planning agency, local associations dealing with young people, skaters, creative people, architects and designers, teachers and students from School of Art and Design, skilled researchers for the conference were gathered on this issue. Cité du design started working with the young urban projects collective Carton Plein to animate the field workshop on the question of creative playgrounds and experimental public spaces. It helped Carton Plein to feed their research-action on this issue and build out an international network which started with a collaboration with La Cambre on two workshops in Brussels.



Literature of the previous HC editions recommended by the partners:




When I asked to the three partners what will be different for the HUMAN CITIES 2015-2018, Challenging the city scale, all of them agreed on the difference in scale of the festival which has now a truly European dimension. Camille Vilain explains the current edition has a broader approach because it has a larger  network of partners to develop the competences and enlarge the audience: main design events in Europe welcoming several exhibitions, relations with other design networks in Europe and in the world (for example UNESCO Creative Cities). Prof. Davide Fassi highlights as well the bigger attention that goes to the actual HC research projects which has become more structured thanks to the co-briefing workshops, the experiment labs and the master classes; it is more itinerant thanks to the exhibition concept. In his opinion, there is a stronger objective: a deep legacy to the local communities. Matej Nikšič adds to that the relation to new IC technologies, involving citizens into activities not only with exhibitions but also with a Human Cities digital catalogue.



Upcoming projects of the oldest partners are:

Next promising event is the launch of the experimentations with several Saint-Etienne partners, from March 2016 to March 2017, with a big visibility and connections with the Human Cities exhibition during the Biennale internationale design Saint-Etienne 2017  (9th March-9th April 2017).

Milan will host the first HC exhibition during the Milan Design Week, 12th-17th April 2016. In the same dates all HC partners will attend a technical meeting in the School of Design at Politecnico di Milano. We are planning an exciting and attractive experience within the city of Milan and its public spaces especially through a bike tour from the exhibition site (Ex-Ansaldo creative Hub) to La Piana (the local context of the Milan experimentation phase).

Ljubljana will host Human Cities between May 23rd and May 25th 2017. It will be an interactive gathering of Human Cities partners, Ljubljana citizens and experts, composed of symposia (in collaboration with AESOP TG Public Spaces and Urban Cultures) and practical work that will connect experts and locals in a suburban neighbourhood of Ljubljana. The event will be linked to the MAO’s (Slovenian Museum of Architecture and Design) BIO 2017 – Biennial of Design Ljubljana.

Looking forward to report about what the younger partners, in LONDONBILBAOBELGRADECIESZYNHELSINKIGRAZ & TALLINN are up to! Glimps of this can be found in the co-creation briefings of Alice Holmberg.


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Workshop of 'Carton Plein' in Bruxelles on creative mobile playground with La Cambre during the Human Cities festival
HUMAN CITIES workshop hosted by Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia in park Tabor, Ljubljana, Slovenia, brought practitioners working on improvements of public spaces together.
Common lunch with Human Cities partners, local designers, architects, urban planning agency, student and teachers of Saint-Etienne school of art and design.
Human Cities partners, local designers and 'Carton plein' association at work at 'la Cartonnerie' experimental public space.
Visit of the new Saint-Etienne skatepark with the architects and skaters which participated in the design process.