- « The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbor has made everything so much more fun. I want it to stay. I think it has brought me out of the house. So many people know me now. And I think that’s wonderful. »Ouardia, resident of New-West district
- « The project provides a centre around which the community can engage in the process of “building a place”—a much-needed ritual in a climate where many families experience continual resettlement. »Jack Becker, Board member and Jury member International Award for Public Art
The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour
The uprooting of families with low incomes as a result of urban development is a worldwide phenomenon. This is also the case in Amsterdam, where the redevelopment of the post-war district of Nieuw-West in 2009 (at the start of the project) was one of the largest urban renewal projects in Europe.
The redevelopment policy for this modernistic district would not merely entail the relocation of existing residents, but also proposed a densification of the built-up areas at the expense of public space. By contrast, The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour (De Kok, de Kweker, zijn Vrouw en hun Buurman in Dutch) regarded the population with a low income – predominantly families of foreign origin – as an ‘added value’ within a sustainable neighbourhood.
The project combined visual art with social architecture and returned ownership of the neighbourhood to the residents by means of a shared vegetable garden and a communal kitchen. The project is an example of ‘redirective practice’, which involves people from diverse backgrounds coming together in order to create a community, with the aim of redefining the neighbourhood as much as living together in city and countryside. The community kitchen and garden offer a meeting space around which the community can engage in ‘place-building’ – an important ritual in a social climate where families undergo a constant re-housing.
With its open-door policy the community kitchen has also provided security, another added value for the neighbourhood. The communal vegetable garden is located behind the kitchen, on a site that was previously fenced-off flowerbeds. Nowadays the garden is cared for by 22 families from seven ethnic groups.
The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour demonstrates that it is not only desirable for residents to collaborate on the shaping of ‘their’ city; it is also feasible. The project introduces an inspired, bottom-up process into an over-regulated Dutch society.