Culture, Heritage and Diversity

 

Designing an Intercultural Park

Results of the International Master Class, Stadslab Melitopol 2010

 

In April of this year an international team consisting of eleven architects, landscape architects, planners and designers travelled to Melitopol, Ukraine, for a Master Class on Park Design, organized by Stadslab European Urban Design Laboratory. (1) Stadslab is an international think tank and design laboratory for urban design in today’s European cities. Located in Tilburg, we organize Master Class programmes to bring design expertise to cities and regions in Europe in order to create coherent, sustainable and successful urban environments. Participants of our Master Classes are mostly young professionals with a degree and several years of experience in architecture, town planning or landscape architecture. The programmes are supervised by internationally renowned experts in the field. Although we stress the necessity of local participants in the team, what we offer can best be characterized as an ‘outsiders view’. This kind of studies, even if they cannot lead to instant, ready made practical solutions, can have a positive impact on the hosting cities urban planning activities:

 

They allow seeing the complexity of local problems from a certain distance, which is helpful in a proper definition of the priorities.

They can define a number of different solutions and consider their consequences from different angles.

They are general enough to encourage public discussion stimulated by revealed possibilities.

At the same time they are specific enough to organize a public discussion around a good frame of problems to be solved.

They add outsider’s impressions into the local perspective, preventing attitudes based only on current status-quo.

They create an opportunity for better public debate about the vision of change, without the risk of personalized criticism deriving from reasons not related to the topic (which is often the case for locally created proposals).

The, mostly, young professional’s point of view, considering the lack of experience as a quality, is more general, and as such leads towards integrated visions of complex development. This is a good starting point to consider the wide context.

 

The project in Melitopol has been special in several regards. First of all, it has been our first project outside of the EU. Previously we organized Master Class programmes with cities in Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands. It never was a very conscious decision to limit our working area to EU. Countries on the fringes of Europe, both within and outside of the EU, all face severe transition processes, not least in the sphere of spatial planning and urban design. Most of the Central and Eastern European countries are historically and culturally linked, while the socialist period has been a relatively short but very influential interval. (2) The second respect in which this programme was different from our previous experiences was the length of the project: only one week! Our Master Class programmes are designed for professionals in such a way that they can combine joining the programme with their duties in the office. Few professionals can stay away from the office for more than one week. That’s why our programmes normally consist of a series of one week sessions; one per month. Participants, from all over the world, sometimes combine the four month Master Class programmes with an internship in a Dutch or European Office. But the Melitopol Master Class was a ‘special’ in the sense that it would last one week only and that we were to produce results with an international team 'on site'. Melitopol was also special in the sense that it presented a case which was clearly related to landscape architecture rather than architecture and urban design, and on top of it, it added the dimension of ‘interculturality’ to the assignment. The assignment given to us was to create an Intercultural Park by improving and transforming the Gorky Park, a large classical city park in the centre of this South Eastern Ukrainian city. The park should be transformed such that it would both please Melitopol’s citizens but also be able to attract tourists to spend a day in the city. Knowing that this city is far from Kiev, doesn’t have a reputation for its tourist appeal, and has very limited means, this was never likely to be an easy task.

 

Programme and approach


Team members met in Kiev on Sunday, April 11, to get introduced to each other and to catch the night train to Melitopol. Upon arrival in Melitopol two local participants joined the team; a botanist and the dean of the pedagogical faculty. (3) Due to a close collaboration between Olexander Butsenko (Democracy through Culture, Kiev), the local authorities and Stadslab the participants were well prepared. The park has been very thoroughly mapped and studied, and a wide range of information about the park was available to us, ranging from botanical and historical analysis, to information about maintenance. Since most team members never visited Melitopol before we needed the first day to get acquainted with the park and the city. We also met with the Mayor and the local project team and discussed with local teams of citizens who produced ideas for the park in a previous event organized by the British Council. (4) Phil Wood, well known author and expert on intercultural cities, joined the group for two full days and gave a public lecture in which he reflected on the topic of intercultural cities and specifically on the role of parks as catalysts for public informal encounters and the celebration of urban culture. (5) Successful parks encourage and accommodate interaction between all members of society; through the ages, genders and nationalities. Phil Wood was present during the first brainstorm sessions and actively participated in the first steps toward a common strategy for the park.

 

Our strategic proposal starts from the current situation, in which the park is very intensely used, accommodates a great variety of functions, programme and different groups of people, both during the day and the night. In this respect the park can be counted as one of the prime public spaces in the city, next to the recently restored square next to the Pedagogical University. Notwithstanding its intense use, the park clearly lacks a sufficient technical infrastructure and in general lacks clarity and an exciting spatial variety. It has through the decades become a bit wary and needs a boost to revamp its identity and attractiveness. The proposal to make the park the centerpiece of the city’s intercultural strategy is well chosen. A park by itself cannot generate an intercultural city life, but if the societal conditions are already there, the park may be the symbolic and actual place of intercultural interaction. These societal conditions seem to apply to Melitopol. The city has a long tradition of being on the crossroads of civilizations and both the historical and geographical conditions created an atmosphere of tolerance and open mindedness towards visitors. Moreover, its citizens feel strongly connected to the city and park and show this commitment in many different manners. These favourable conditions greatly support the case for an intercultural park. The park will enhance them and transform them into a showpiece of the cities character and pride.

 

After establishing this general direction and base for the redesign we mostly spent time to analyze the park and to develop a coherent set of interventions to enhance the quality of the park within these basic criteria. Designers worked individually and in groups on different layers and areas of the park. Supervisors Beatriz Ramo and Jan Maas managed the process and guided the teams towards a coherent strategy. Both of them have experience in managing international design teams and are experts in the field of public space and park design. (6)

 

Proposal


After discussing about how to deal with the intercultural aspect of the assignment, we decided to express interculturality in two different ways. First we decided to design a space for representation and symbolic expression of intercultural space. Next we defined a ‘relational’ space, a space of intercultural interaction, the factual expression of interculturality. This strategy is strongly related to the current lay-out and use of the park. We emphasize the two key elements of the park: 1) the central square, which is its heart and in some ways is also the heart of the city, and 2) the ‘forest’, because the fact that the Gorky Park feels like a forest is a very precious feature in this hot steppe territory. These two key elements will represent and embody the concept of interculturality: the square – we will call it the ‘Golden Square’ – will be its representation and symbol. The forest will be the embodiment of intercultural city life and accommodate activities that bring people together.

 

Next we clarified the path structure by articulating the formal axes in thematic and physical ways such that they all have the ability to bring people together: Love, Sport and Celebration. These main lanes lead people from the edges to the square of the park. One of the lanes will be designed as a Wedding Lane, a very strong wish of many people in the city. The colour scheme will be white, applying broken shells as a new surface and white flowers and bells in the trees. The existing entrance through the sports park will be emphasized even stronger as a Sport Lane, creating a surface that invites people to use the area for a wide range of sports. Next to these two main and formal entrances to the park, a third and new, diagonal zone has been defined which will be devoted to Celebration of Culture, including music, dance and food.

 

The zones that are created by these main axes and the square will be devoted to different themes and families of functions, which can be accessed through a structure of informal paths:

- a secret forest for adventurous exploration - a silent forest for culture and contemplation

- an area for all kinds of sports

- an area for food, food production and education

- an area for leisure and night life

- an area for children

 

The basis of development in all the zones is the existing vegetation, but the character of the zones must be much stronger articulated through creating a denser forest or a more transparent forest, more colourful vegetation, an adapted lighting plan and pavement of the paths etc. The existing building structures in the park will be renovated and given new functions according to the programme that they will have to accommodate. Also, all the building structures will be painted blue according to the existing colour scheme in the park. The park will be fenced, but the fences will be redesigned according to the identity of the park and the city. A new fence design is offered, which could be manufactured locally by the metal industries still present in Melitopol. The fence will act both to secure the vegetation and clarify the border of the park. It transforms into a gate near the entrance areas.

 

We propose to redesign and resurface the Golden Square and make it an empty stage for many different kinds of activities, such as events, weddings, play, music, theatre etc. The colour of the square resembles gold and the square will truly be the bright heart of the city. Existing elements will be relocated, such as the central fountain and the trees. They will be placed a-symmetrical or on the borders of the square to break with the monumental centrality and to provide space for large scale activities. The fountain will be placed directly onto the surface of the square and be much more inviting for children as an element of play.

 

Branding


Melitopol is a city with a modest access to means. We tried to avoid the trap of providing them a fancy park design which needs a huge initial investment or with high maintenance costs. Most of the proposals we made are feasible with modest investments. Also, maintenance should be possible with the already significant support from normal citizens. Nevertheless, we also considered how the renewed park could help to increase the income of the city by means of using the tourist potential of the park and the city. Melitopol is located on the main access roads and railway to the Crimea, which in the summer months attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. Most of them pass Melitopol on their way to the coast, but right now there are few reasons for them to stop. Although the park is mainly oriented to the local citizens, it could be the reason for a stop-over if an attractive programme is offered. Possibilities are festivals dedicated to the strengths of the city: fresh fruits and local, intercultural cuisine, sports or music. The redesigned park is much better suited to provide these festivities and could be a central part of a new branding strategy for the city. A relatively large part of our time and energy has been dedicated to proposals to brand the city to attract more of these tourists and to generate additional means for maintenance and further city improvements. First of all, we proposed a two new logos and flag for the city. The new logos refer to both the many flags of all the different nationalities and – with the honeycomb structure – to the name of the city (‘city of honey’). The logos can be used for a great variety of branding actions, leading to a better and easily recognizable identity of the city. Among the proposals are T-shirts and cardigans with the logo, adding the logo to train and bus tickets (in such a way that they can be used in the park for a free ride in the Ferris Wheel or a free sample of Melitopol honey etc.), street signs etc. We also propose to arrange a competition for a new name of the park. The current name ‘Gorky Park’ is far from distinctive in Central and Eastern Europe and a Google search will not lead to Melitopol. Of course, the main aim of all branding activities is to increase the reputation and then the number of visitors to the park. The second stage is to provide adequate commercial services to get some income from these visitors: cafeteria, kiosks, restaurants, hotels etc.

 

Implementation and further process


Although Stadslab explicitly is not involved in the actual implementation of design strategies we do have some recommendations. In general our role was to provide Melitopol with a coherent set of ideas and a strategy for a redesign of the Gorky Park. The ambition of the city authorities is clearly to act on the basis of these experts ideas and start a fund raising campaign. This will be more effective if the city can show a coherent vision and visualizations of the possible results. If an adequate financial paragraph could be added it would provide a convincing business case. The fact that Melitopol is an active member of international networks, such as the Intercultural Cities network, may clearly increase its effectiveness in obtaining funds for concrete projects. Most important however, is that the citizens of Melitopol should be encouraged to be actively involved both in the transformation and in the maintenance of the park. The Gorky Park is a park for them and for many generations to come (7).

 

By Marc Glaudemans

Professor Urban Strategies and director of Stadslab European Urban Design Laboratory

 


1. Stadslab is the postgraduate programme of the Academy of Architecture and Urbanism and is part of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Fontys is one of the largest providers of professional higher education in the Netherlands. http://fontys.edu/Default.aspx

 

2. As a matter of fact our next project will be in Georgia and we also plan to return to Ukraine. See www.stadslab.eu 

 

3. Team members: Bjorn Andreassen (Norway), Sofia Castelo (Portugal),Steve Chodoriwsky (Canada), Jan Doms (Netherlands), Irina Gavriluk (Ukraine), Anna Komarova (Ukraine),Kyrylo Komarov (Ukraine),Olena Pavloska (Ukraine), Frank de Volder (Netherlands). Local participants: Alexander Matsyura(Ukraine), Katerina Diadkova (Ukraine). Supervisors: Beatriz Ramo (Spain), Jan Maas (Netherlands). Coordinator: Marc Glaudemans (Netherlands)

 

4. http://www.britishcouncil.org/ukraine-projects-creative-cities-future-city-game.htm 

 

5. Phil Wood and Charles Landry, The Intercultural City. Planning for Diversity Advantage, Earthscan, London 2008

 

6. Beatriz Ramo is head of the office STAR. Strategies and Architecture, based in Rotterdam: http://www.s-t-a-r.nl/ . Jan Maas is member of the board of directors of Landscape Architecture office B+B in Amsterdam: http://www.bplusb.nl/bplusb.html 

 

7. The complete presentation of the plans can be downloaded from www.stadslab.eu