40.1. Short description
Housing corporation Portaal, together with the municipality of Nijmegen, started the project “A Future for Everybody” in 2009 because the province (Gelderland) reserved money for the development of “innovative living arrangements” within a larger programme. It was not stated clearly what was meant by “innovative living arrangements”, but the focus had to be vulnerable groups. For Portaal, it was about participation in the broad sense – participation in the local community as well as contacts among residents.
The plan is directed at the neighbourhood of Wolfskuil (Wolf’s Hollow), which is located in the city part Oud-West. It was built partly in the period 1910-20, and partly after the Second World War. Relatively many people with a weak or vulnerable socio-economic background live here. The mean age is higher than average and there is a larger share of ethnic minorities than in the city as a whole. Social cohesion is under threat because of great distance between native residents and ethnic minorities, but also between “traditional” residents and newcomers, a lack of involvement with the neighbourhood, and nuisance on the streets, particularly by youths. However, there are some signs that the quality of the social climate is slowly increasing (Gemeente Nijmegen 2012).
The central goal of the project is to involve residents in the restructuring of the neighbourhood. In collaboration with residents, ideas should be developed about innovative forms of housing pertaining to themes such as welfare, care, education and work. The project entails the rebuilding of a square and the development of houses for mentally ill residents as well as for elderly residents. There are also plans to build dwellings especially for the elderly of ethnic minorities, in combination with houses for youngsters and/or teen mothers, in order to stimulate the interaction and integration between these groups. There are two important sub-goals: (1) to have a process aimed at connecting the needs of residents, active societal partners and entrepreneurs; and (2) to experiment during the process with stimulating residents’ own responsibility and entrepreneurship of vulnerable people. Since a lot of building plans had to be postponed because of the economic crisis, the focus is now especially on the social sub-goals. In general, the project fits the spirit of the new WMO law of societal development very well (see Introduction).
The project is divided into several phases. The first phase consists of employing a process manager, who is hired from an external consultancy company. In the second phase, this process manager makes an inventory of demand and offers in the neighbourhood on relevant issues. The next phase is designated to involve residents, front-runners, active societal partners such as the professional soccer club Nijmegense Eendracht Combinatie (NEC), entrepreneurs and (potential) end-users of the real estate in the development of innovative ideas. Then, it is decided whether the innovative forms of housing are feasible, and the sixth and last phase is appointed to implementation. The two last phases are not executed yet. The municipality of Nijmegen and Portaal have set up the project together, but in the second and third phases the municipality is the main party, while in the fourth and fifth phase the housing corporation leads the project. In the last phase, both parties will deal with implementation and completion. The entire project costs around 150,000 euro, where 25,000 euro is contributed by Portaal and the municipality, and 100,000 euro is funded by the Province of Gelderland. The greatest part of this money used to pay for the process manager.
40.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
In the project plan it is stated that residents of the Wolfskuil, along with the “end users” of innovative forms of real estate, have to come up with concrete plans for the realisation of these innovations. They also should have a role in the development and implementation phase and have the final responsibility in daily practice after implementation. One of the basic principles of the project is to “make use of everybody’s talent and the focus on what is possible”. The project leader of Portaal underlines this: “It is not about doing everything for big groups of people, especially not that. It is about facilitating that they can do it by their selves”. How residents are seen exactly becomes clear in the way they were involved in the “goodbye” festival of a central, old square that was about to be demolished and rebuilt:
What we did is to say goodbye of the square with a lot of residents, where we also [involved] an artist and a poet from the neighbourhood, and a family who baked Turkish pizzas. […] It was more in the direction of co-production, as in communicating about how was the neighbourhood, back then and now. We tell stories, you could tell your own story. There were different people who did something, made a product of the neighbourhood. Former residents were invited too, so it starts with thinking from the viewpoint of the resident, what would it mean for him or her? Next to resident they were a producer too that day.
Hence, residents are regarded as co-producers rather than passive consumers. The idea is that people do something because they can experience direct benefits to themselves and to others. The head of the Hobby Centre said “the power of entrepreneurship, the power of creating something on your own; that is important for the neighbourhood”. The process manager argued that it would be great if someone were to come into the Hobby Centre practising his or her hobby, and to see the same person as a small entrepreneur some time later. This is exactly what happened with one of the residents. He was the father of the family who baked Turkish pizzas (lahmacun) at the square. He received some help to buy a covered mobile stall, to sell his pizzas throughout the city regardless of the weather. This allows him to make some extra money next to his subsidised job. He also became a member of the neighbourhood committee as the only resident of foreign descent.
40.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The process manager started with a so-called “neighbourhood safari”. This is a method to get familiar with the neighbourhood by talking to residents and professionals, to come “behind the front door” of role models, but also of vulnerable persons. All these people were asked what they do in the neighbourhood, how they experience that, what needs to be done, what do people need to achieve that, what are their intentions, how do they work together, etc. Some people were asked to help with the so-called Kuul contact week, along with professionals from the most important organisations in the neighbourhood. During this week, residents and professionals paired up to consult other residents about their concerns, their needs and their willingness to become active in the local community. A total of 102 people were consulted. One result was that people would like to have more contact. It appeared to be that people have great willingness to do something for the neighbourhood too. Another very important outcome was that many networks exist in the neighbourhood which are not easily visible.
It was not only the social networks of residents that mattered. The network of local organisations was also crucial in encouraging participation. The project leader of Portaal emphasised this:
There is no longer any organisation that can do this on its own. You need cooperation on neighbourhood level with the most important stakeholders, to create a network in order to protect the most vulnerable areas. And at the same time, that regular networks keep an eye on other networks, for example women of migrant origins who cook every week. Actually there are two things, cooperation with other organisations and searching for networks you don’t know.
(Project leader, Portaal)
Hence, different organisations play a role in the project. Investments are made in a so-called Hobby Centre, which is a place where residents can practice their hobbies and come together. The intention is to turn this centre into a so-called “neighbourhood factory”, which is supposed to become self-sufficient by delivering particular services or products by and for residents. Foundation Dagloon is also involved in the project. This foundation gives homeless people the opportunity to work for a small reimbursement. They were asked to help with demolition work. In the same vein, people who are mentally ill participate in cleaning back alleys and maintaining playgrounds. Although attempts were made to involve ethnic minorities too, it appeared difficult to reach them.
40.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The most important impact on the governance of the local welfare system in Nijmegen would be that the intentions of the project demand a change in attitude from professionals and local administrators. Stimulating the involvement of citizens can be facilitated, but also hindered by them. This was underlined by the process manager:
An aspect in which I am now… is what is the role of partners and the role of the government, or the role of Portaal. Because they can help or bother a lot. They can really discourage you taking up the initiative. For example, a group of residents would maintain a piece of ground. They ploughed and sowed the ground together and grass and flowers started growing and what happened one day… the municipality came and they mowed and straightened it. So goodbye initiative. […] It is about that public official, or those few officials, that they are willing to listen, that they are very patient, because a delay will come, it will be difficult sometimes. And that they believe that those citizens can do a part themselves. And that they don’t take over, but that they only facilitate and keep their tasks clear. Then it might be successful.
For Portaal, this requires a shift in culture. In the case of the goodbye festival of the square, the housing corporation would have done it completely differently in the past, the process manager said: “Portaal in this case, and the municipality would say, well, we order catering, place a draft and the Alderman says his story, done.” In the interview with a resident, it becomes clear that such a shift requires time. When he requested a permit to start his small pizza business, the municipality stumbled over rules and regulations and granted his request only after many phone calls and letters. Also, he notes that “housing corporations only think about themselves”. Still, the project leader of Portaal argued this situation is no longer feasible. Recent changes in policies and thinking oblige Portaal to think beyond its own organisation, which was rarely done before.
I think that the recognition of the presence of networks and that they are everywhere might be the most important discovery. But you have to look for them. Maybe that is the most innovative, how basal it might sound. Consciously searching for networks within groups you never hear or see, we never did that, neither the municipality.
(Project leader, Portaal)
Linked to this is the aim to connect traditionally active societal organisations to less obvious partners, such as entrepreneurs, the soccer club NEC and educational organisations. The process manager manageded to bring a group of entrepreneurs together who meet a few times per month. They agreed to provide some services for weak groups in the neighbourhood for free, such as free painting lessons. Bigger companies, such as a bank, a supermarket and a health insurance organisation are involved too, although it is not clear yet what their exact contribution would be.
During the project the idea of a so-called “neighbourhood factory” developed. This factory would resemble a trust as it is known in the UK. Portaal saw an example of such a neighbourhood trust a few years ago and they would like to see if it can be realised in Nijmegen. To further develop this idea, the Hobby Centre was chosen as the location. It is believed that is a place where everybody feels welcome. In the factory, several main aspects of the project have to come together: participation, getting together and a sense of ownership. Also, local entrepreneurs and artists should be given space to get involved in the factory. The process manager and project leader of Portaal explain how it would work:
Wouldn’t it be great if that former shoe factory becomes a neighbourhood factory, where you can develop activities for and by the neighbourhood. Where the idea is with each other, for each other. So the people have to be owner of that neighbourhood.
Residents have to manage and maintain a neighbourhood centre. If everything goes well, they have to generate income from this and one way or another they should reinvest this money back into the neighbourhood. You can do that in different ways. You could talk to people, those women who come together every week to cook something, well let’s sell those products. […] But you can think of everything, people can work with local entrepreneurs, cleaning of back alleys, organising activities. Maintenance, which is now the responsibility of the municipality, could be handed to such an organisation. What we [as a housing corporation] do in the living environment could go there too, so there are plenty of opportunities.
(Project leader, Portaal)
According to the director of the Hobby Centre, the idea of a self-sufficient neighbourhood centre has two causes. First, the dependence on subsidies from the municipality is a cyclical problem: you can only plan a few years ahead, because you never know what is going to happen when a new executive board is installed. Secondly, it would increase independence of the demands of the municipality. If they give a subsidy, they often would like to keep control over the way the money is spent. Still, it could be that in the first stage of the factory some professionals of Portaal will be part of the management, delivering knowledge and competence to support the development of an independent organisation.
In the end, to have a successful neighbourhood factory, the role of residents is of great importance. The director of the Hobby Centre thinks that the neighbourhood factory stands or falls with the sense of ownership. Residents should be aware that a neighbourhood factory not only provides services or products for them, but they are a part of it: “It means that people don’t have to think like, this is what we get subsidy for, no, we have to work together for it, just like other companies. [..] This [the Neighbourhood Factory] is not a company with a pure consumer and a producer, it is a co-production” (Director, Hobby Centre).