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The People’s Democratic Republic of Columbusplein

Ownership creates responsibility. This simple thought lies behind the social design project by the experimental group Social Design For Wicked Problems in a problematic Amsterdam neighbourhood. 

By Editor Design.nl /asdf 06-02-2014

The city of Amsterdam and its social workers had tried many things to make the Columbusplein, a square in De Baarsjes neighbourhood in the western part of Amsterdam, more liveable. The square contains a basketball field, a playground and a community centre where one can take photography or dance classes. Surrounding the square are five-storey high apartment blocks built in the typical and very popular Amsterdam School style dating to the beginning of the twentieth century. There’s clearly no lack of facilities or infrastructure, so something else must have been missing.

“There are problems like bullying and a lack of a community spirit in the neighbourhood,” says Jorge Mañes Rubio, one of the designers involved in the project. “This is an area with quite a negative image in the rest of the city.”

People of many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds live in the neighbourhood. Not only Dutch, but also Moroccan, Turkish, Surinam, Dominican, and many more. A large mosque is being built a stone’s throw away from the square. Social Design For Wicked Problems decided to explore the possibility of an entirely new identity for the area, one that every citizen could contribute to and thus could equally relate to. The People’s Democratic Republic of Columbusplein was established.

New passports, a flag and a space program were created. But a nation also needs a food culture so a contest was organised for a new local Columbusplein sauce to go with French fries – traditionally eaten with mayonnaise in the Netherlands. The winner of the contest for Columbussauce was 9 year old Sophie Hamzaoui and her face adorns the new Columbusstamps.

“I think this is a good positive example of social design, of how design can make a positive impact on complicated social situations,” says Mañes Rubio. “It might be early to say, but lots of people are excited about the positive impact that this art project is having in the neighbourhood.”

The city, which has struggled for a long time with incidents and a sense of insecurity among residents in the area, also gives a positive appraisal for now.



SOCIALDESIGNFORWICKEDPROBLEMS is a project created by The New Institute, Twynstra Gudde, social designer Tabo Goudswaard and Stichting Doen.

The micro-nation of Columbusplein was created by Jorge Mañes Rubio and Muzus.

Image credits: Jorge Mañes Rubio


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