This July I was fortunate to meet up with urban planner Lior Steinberg in the vibrant city of Rotterdam. Lior and Jorn Wemmenhove are the founders of Humankind, an organisation with a philosophy based on creating people-centred cities through co-creation and tactical urbanism. Humankind launched in January 2017, following Lior and Sascha Benes’ blog LVBL City. The collective’s democratic and creative approach means that community members from a variety of backgrounds have the chance to work together and shape their city. Moreover, Humankind’s work extends globally, and shows how similar projects can work in other countries.
Collaboration is central to Humankind’s activities. They encourage community members to work together to create one vision. This could be through designing together on a computer, drawing and workshops. Children are also involved: they can use toys to illustrate how they want their city to be, and older children can use Minecraft.
Humankind worked with the Rotterdam Municipality and Opperclaes creative agency on ‘Creative Crosswalk’ in 2017. They transformed a usually car-oriented large intersection into a work of art that centred on the pedestrian. The project added colour and vibrancy to the site, with the words ‘Stand Straight, Walk Proud’ emblazoned on the road. The artwork took just two days to complete, showing that successful interventions can be administered swiftly, and can immediately enhance the urban space. This highlights that Humankind celebrates the human scale, and how quickly a car-centred space can adapt.
The Happy Streets project demonstrates Humankind’s collaborative philosophy, and that a historically automobile-oriented city can be shaped to become more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly. The planners worked closely with neighbours and shop-owners to reflect their intentions. By removing parking spaces, adding bike lanes, and a bike-through café, Happy Streets showed how simple it can be to turn a car-oriented space into a happy and sustainable, pedestrian and bike-centred area. It gives stakeholders and planners a vision of what the city could look like, by making simple changes for a limited period.
Humankind’s work promotes cycling as a form of freedom and equality. Lior emphasises the liberty, safety, and accessibility of cycling in the Netherlands. Dutch bikes are inexpensive, and no licence is required. This ensures that cycling is accessible to all, and gives city dwellers much independence. For example, he explains that riding a bike in Groningen is ‘like cycling on a cloud’: the city has excellent cycling infrastructure, and there is therefore no need to wear a helmet or use an expensive bike.
Lior and Jorn work to spread their people-friendly ethos across the globe. Using Rotterdam as an example, Humankind works with cities from Argentina, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany to spread the word of better public spaces and mobility worldwide. Lior explained that, ten years ago, Rotterdam wasn’t a cycling city at all, and is therefore testament to the idea that a seemingly unlikely city can change.
Humankind’s focus on inclusivity and creativity puts citizens at the heart of the city planning process. Their low-cost, short-term projects demonstrate clearly that human scale, people-centred projects can enhance urban life exponentially, and the principles can also be applied internationally. Humankind’s work embodies Jane Jacob’s idea that ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’
About Lior Steinberg:
Lior is an urban planner from Tel Aviv, who lives and works in the Netherlands. He holds a BA in Social Science from the Open University of Israel (including an exchange with the University of Groningen), and a MSc in Urban & Regional Planning from the University of Stockholm.
About Jorn Wemmenhove:
Jorn holds a BA and Master’s from Utrecht University, and co-founded El Desafío in Argentina. The NGO helps impoverished children and communities in Rosario. Jorn also works to target mobility poverty in the Netherlands.