Starting with the place, the exploration of the specific spatial and relational situation in which something should be developed or designed is one essential part of our approach. Very often this is a good starting point for any project or investigation, but especially when it is about developing or planning a space. Place is understood here in the sense of a space that is used and activated by activities and through a network of stakeholders. Places are knots of social relations. Places is what we remember and map, because we have made experiences with them – they are active actors in storytelling. Exploring a place could mean to do walks through the neighborhood, letting people tell their stories of the place. It could also mean to map a place with all its different features and to see where certain qualities are perceived. Making a place a common space, a space that is and could be used by everyone is one of the main ideas of the design of public spaces, no matter if that is meeting room in a shared office or a park.
In June 2016 we started with our first workshops in public space, where we focused mainly on mapping. The first workshop was run during a Welcome Party, organized for the newly arrived refugees in Mainz-Kastel. Different partners like the local youth-club and the social association running the refugee camp joined for a welcoming event, sharing food, with activities for the kids and some initiatives that informed about their activities for refugees. Our main goal here was to get to know the local community organizations that were already active in the field and to map all activities that were going on in connection with refugees. The idea was to map this later also to a digital map that we would offer on our website.
During the workshop we offered a large printed map and two options for marking places: One color for existing projects and one for ideas and wishes of people in the community. The existing projects that were mapped ranged from reading for kids in the local library to the possibility of refugees to get free access in sport clubs. The ideas that were mapped ranged from a skate park for kids and young adults to a mixed student-refugee housing.
We also met with Urbanista, a participatory urban planning agency from Hamburg who developed a platform for mapping ideas with a similar project approach at the 03.06. During that meeting we discussed how we as co.city lab could work with the platform to map projects in the Rhein-Main area. We also wrote a proposal for the planning department of the city to propose the idea of such a platform.
The second mapping workshop was run during an international graffiti festival, the Meeting of Styles. We were not very lucky with the weather, it rained again and again and we had to pack and unpack our trailer. Still, we had a few good talks with people passing by and collected some new projects.
Following the good experience with the first workshop we planned another follow up workshop with the association Platz Da?! e.V. at the Bauwagen at the last weekend of August 2016. The association organized a whole festival called Herzblick with free entry as a chance to welcome new citizens and to meet and discuss the challenges of refugees.
On Saturday afternoon we were invited to facilitate a workshop which this time was based on the concept of the association for an intercultural meeting place in Mainz. Platz Da?! already introduced their idea of opening an intercultural center in an abandoned office space in the city center in 2015. When it became clear that the whole building was going to be used as a new refugee housing, they wanted to re-new the concept and convince the city to integrate a meeting space in the same building at ground floor level. Our aim for the workshop was to build on the experience from the first and work on the concrete proposal for the intercultural space.
The workshop started with a session on political engagement strategies run by Platz Da?! e.V. , which introduced modes of non-violent resistance and community organizing, influenced by characters like Saul Alensky and Srdja Popovic. After that we started with introducing the concept of the intercultural meeting place and had the ground floor plan prepared to work on top with drawings and materials. We started with a stake-holder mapping, to sum up all the groups and people that would be interested in the developments of that space and we organized them in clusters of supporters, potential supporters and potential opposers. After the stakeholder mapping we started to collect possible use scenarios for the intercultural meeting place. What activities should go on there? What was missing yet in the city? What facilities would be needed? Due to the hot weather we were not able to continue with prototyping after that two clustering activities, but we had a first good collection to work further on the idea of the intercultural meeting place.