Cities are traditionally understood to be places that collect a diversity of knowledges and people, giving residents the opportunity to place themselves in a larger context and obtain different perspectives about the world around them. Democratic and inclusive public places are necessary for getting different groups of people in contact. However, in the context of many Western European cities today, where segregation is becoming a growing phenomenon, creating inclusive public spaces has become a challenge. This is no less true of the Netherlands, where public places are often designed on the basis of regulations guided by money and fear, instead of facilitating encounters.
Inclusive public places are places different groups of people can identify with and appropriate. In a democratic and inclusive public place one can relate to the other. Relating to means identifying yourself with the other. This is a constant and open process that is never finished and never secure, which begs the need for places where this constant identification is possible: a permanent self-study through the study of one or the other. Space and language are essential components here. A sustainable social society requires public places where people can meet, converse, and have the opportunity to confront issues from different perspectives.
Built in 1632, The Plein in The Hague is the ideal place and case study for the development of a democratic and inclusive place that facilitates encounters between different groups of people. Given the Hague’s uniquely political character, the city’s square is an important public place for exercising democratic rights. Due to its symbolic significance and its proximity to the Binnenhof and major governmental institutions, The Plein has historically always been an important site of political protest. The site has also been an important symbol of income inequality and segregation: since the city’s earliest development, the Plein marked the border between where the poorer newcomers would settle around industries on cheap peat, and where the more well off settled on sandy soils farther away. The border between the sand and peat is located exactly in the soil below Het Plein.
Our proposal for turning The Plein into an inclusive and democratic public space is two-part. First, we propose giving the College of Human Rights a place at the Plein. This building should provide people with a platform for litigation on human rights issues and a public archive for investigating both current and historical events, which can be commemorated in the Square and brought to light in the forum. In this way, subjects for which there is hardly any attention, money or space can also be investigated.
Secondly, we add the platform for the Spoken and Heard Word as a new component to the College and the Square. This is a debate platform for high school students where human rights issues can be debated from different perspectives, and lessons for the future can be negotiated. The students receive a week of debate lessons and overnight accomodation in the newly designed building on the Plein. The lawsuits and debates take place in the forum. In addition, the platform also offers young and older people the opportunity to tell their own story. This is recorded, archived and played in and around the building.
All components respond to the current qualities and phenomena present at and below Het Plein. The ultimate goal is to make the College of Human Rights redundant and to replace it with the platform for the Spoken and Heard Word.