Interview Ania Molenda

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Email Interview with Ania Molenda

Date: 03/11/2017

On collecting stories about the city

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to the city of Rotterdam? How long have you lived here, what kind of work do you do?

My name is Ania. I am a freelance researcher, curator and editor focusing on socio-cultural aspects of spatial practices. I have co-founded Amateur Cities – an online platform connecting city thinkers to city makers, work as an editor for The Site Magazine and continuously engage in various projects that explore the connection between architecture and culture. Rotterdam has been a home to me for the last eleven years during which I graduated as an architect and started my professional life. I have been really lucky to live and work here for the large part of this time.

2. As a researcher, what kind of methods of collecting stories do you practice? E.g. interviews? City archives?

I am often working on many projects of very different character, combining different kinds of practice and remaining open to choose the method of research as well as the medium to communicate it based on the particular context of a given project. As a part of Amateur Cities, however, we have been working with interviews quite frequently. It’s of course not the only research method we have been using, as desk research, literature review, archival studies are sometimes a better place to start understanding the context with which you get to work. – Partly, so that you can formulate better questions. But interviews have been important to us from the very beginning. Largely, because we wanted Amateur Cities to be platform not only for those who are good in writing and theorizing, but also for those who have more hands-on approach and often do not write. We thought it was an interesting format to use and develop as a part of what we do, where publishing is not only a way to communicate, but also on its own a way to research.

3. For our project, we are hoping to collect as many personal stories as we can from people inside and outside the community of the Poortgebouw. What advice would you give us when speaking to groups of people who may have conflicting opinions and interests? Tips on staying neutral?

I am not sure if you can ever stay neutral. It’s natural to have your own opinion, which you will want to put forward, but what you can always do, is to give space for all sorts of voices, also the ones you disagree with. Moreover search for them, try to find out what are their motivations and do everything you can to stimulate a dialogue. It’s not easy, but very important, especially in the current times where we often seem to be loosing ground on what is true and what is not.

4. How important would you say are personal stories when it comes to understanding a city like Rotterdam?

They are extremely important. And it’s not only the case of Rotterdam, it counts for every city. Rotterdam is naturally quite diverse culturally and ethnically, so researching the city through the complexity of the individual stories and various points of view of the inhabitants will surely reveal a different image than the generic story of what Rotterdam is.

On the Poortgebouw and other squats in Rotterdam

1. Do you have any personal connections or stories about the Poortgebouw? What about other squats / squatting culture in general?

I do not have a personal story that relates to the Poortgebouw, but I do think places like this one and other squats are becoming more and more rare examples of exercising the right to spatial appropriation. I see the agenda of issues addressed by the squatting culture as something that should be more present in our current discourse on city development and a point of departure in a social debate on what do we accept in the city politics and what we do not agree with. – Where do we take a stance, not only verbally, but also actively by occupying places. That counts not only for housing, but also for culture as done by Macao in Milan for example, but also for other potential needs of the citizens in the areas where they live.

2. What do you think is the role of places like Poortgebouw in a city like Rotterdam? Is it worth fighting for?

That is largely related to what I just mentioned above. I remember a brochure on squatting with a significant title “Nood kraakt wet”, which can be translated quite literally as “The Need Cracks the Law”. I think this logic should inform the current discussion on the city more. Who should be the main actor in this discussion, however, seems to have come to a very confusing point. Should it be finance – occupying the space of the city with empty buildings that serve merely as machines for speculation, or should it be citizens – occupying the space they need to live in a city. Who or what is supposed to serve whom? I think now this discussion has lost any sense of proportion and demanding a new sense of balance is certainly worth fighting for.

3. How do you see this neighborhood (Kop van Zuid, Feijenoord) changing? What is the role of the individual / community / government in citymaking?

When it comes to the changes that this and many other parts of Rotterdam have undergone in the last years, one of the problems that I see is that the visions of change are not created for those who live there, but for those who are supposed to come and change these places for ‘the better’. I remember a billboard advertising the bright future of Afrikaanderwijk as a great place to live in 2025. – What is such an offer supposed to communicate to the people living there now? What does a good neighborhood mean anyway? Is a rich neighborhood good per se or are there other values that should be considered?

I would like to hope that the government should see it as its priority to recognize the rights and the needs of local communities, but it does not always seem to be the case. In such circumstances there is enormous value in communities coming together, for example at places like the Poortgebouw to understand what can they do together to exercise their rights to the city not only individually, but also collectively.

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