On 4 March 2019, Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and Alderman Said Kasmi of the Education, Culture and Tourism department received the publication Letters to the Mayor: Rotterdam containing the results of the project. The publication includes five short manifestos on the most pressing issues for the city accompanied by the original letters, three critical reflections, reports from public talks, and an image essay by the Rotterdam photographer Rubén Dario Kleimeer.
An ongoing conversation
Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb concluded the meeting at Rotterdam City Hall by underlining the importance of an ongoing conversation about the city between administrators, civil servants and architects on urgent topics such as green areas, housing, and inclusivity.
Letters to the Mayor: Rotterdam originated from an international collaboration with Storefront for Art & Architecture in New York and was exhibited in Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2018. The 46 letters to the mayor from a total of 66 architects expressed concern, appreciation, restlessness, criticism, desires, and dreams.
During the opening of the exhibition Mayor Aboutaleb invited the architects to formulate the five most pressing issues for the city and to discuss these with him and his aldermen. Following the invitation, Het Nieuwe Instituut organised a series of public and private talks about Rotterdam that eventually led to the definition of five urban urgencies - 'Big Green', 'Housing as a human right and a monument to diversity', 'Righteous city', 'The architecture of work' and 'An architectural city to take seriously'.
Finding the plans formulated to be a good start, Mayor Aboutaleb encouraged the architects to sharpen their visions into a revolutionary plan. "When designing the city we must not lose sight of the human dimension. It involves creating more than just as many homes as possible; it's also about light, air and space for encounter and creativity. The vision and ideas of architects help us with this. The municipality, developers, architects and, last but not least, entrepreneurs and residents in the city, have to keep pulling together so that the city becomes even more of a place where everything and everyone can grow and flourish." He proposes the conversation between the municipality and architect community continues because, as one of the attendees indicated, a conversation with such vistas does not happen often.
The architects hope that the themes highlighted in the publication will also be used by the municipality, policy makers and urban designers in the discussion about the future of Rotterdam outside the contours of the project.
Architecture as a cultural force
Het Nieuwe Instituut sees outstanding architecture as a social and cultural force from which new perspectives on our environment can arise. Architecture is not understood as a solution machine, but as a discipline in which critical questions are asked.
Rotterdam has a long tradition of involvement with architects and designers in visualising a possible future for the city; from the international architecture programmes of AIR in the eighties and nineties, the salons of the NAi and IABR, to Agenda Rotterdam, the resulting Architectenplatform, and the many discussions organised by De Dépendance, AIR and Het Nieuwe Instituut, among others. Letters to the Mayor does not stand alone; it fits with the tradition of a continuous dialogue on the future of cities and the role of the designer.