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[Street / Appropriation / Struggle]

Street/Appropriation/Struggle is a confrontation with intangible territories. It researches how different forms and modes of territorialisation take place by observing those, often, subtle mechanisms in the Witte de With Street in Rotterdam – and brings them to a digital extreme. Street/Appropriation/Struggle has been devised for the exhibition ‘INFRactures’ at V2_ (Rotterdam), in which, with intervals, it takes over the installation Sound/Light/Street (Edwin van der Heide) by projection of simulations of the 'struggle' between competitive users of the (public) space.

Street / Appropriation / Struggle simulation in the exhibition installation at V2_, Rotterdam


The envelope of the Witte de With Street marks a space on which various groups and individuals exercise a form of authority and control. Through constantly shifting appropriation by individuals and groups - brief coalitions or temporary conflicts - they privatise the space for shorter or longer term. Within the hard street envelope, thus many softer territories can be found.

The temporary conflicts and coalitions in the use of space are ported into a digital simulation environment, making it possible to amplify them and bring them to their extremes. Through this, these usually ephemeral territories are able to turn into tangible topologies. In relation to this, a simulation engine generates a series of scenarios based on observations of real-life events from the Witte de With Street. The resulting struggle over space is graphically exposed.

Samples of temporary appropriations of street suface, Witte de With street Rotterdam


Street/Appropriation/Struggle features a diagrammatic representation of the street and its interactions. Its base is a multi-agent simulation of the flow of users (pedestrians, bicycles and cars), which gets affected by the street boundaries and the forces this movement exercises within it.

To form a basic understanding of the multitude of interactions taking place in this street, during a number of days samples have been taken of the number of users, the types of usage that appropriate public space and both the typical and untypical events taking place.

Parallel to this, a number of recent public discussions on the use of city space have been used as a trigger. In Rotterdam, in recent years the control over the use of space has shifted towards more influence by municipal and law-enforcing bodies (following the rising political tensions during 2002 and the more general tendencies in many countries towards increased monitoring of activities in the streets). As a result of this investigation, a number of scenarios has been set up in which the effects mentioned in these discussions have been extrapolated to a level where they become prominently visible and touchable. Two issues at stake have been brought to the simulation: commodification of street space for commercial use (versus public use), and a ban on assembly, which can be introduced in ‘high risk areas’ of the city.

The simulation starts by acting out the daily life as has been sampled from the real-life experiences in the Witte de With Street. Following, one of the scenarios is brought in that starts to influence the environment (for instance the allotment and renting out of street pavement for commercial purposes) and behaviour of users (affected by this policy or trend of use of space). The enlarged effect of the scenarios on the daily life in the street now becomes utterly visible – leaving the observer of the simulation with the question of whether this shows a desirable future.

Nerve City simulation scenario, detail

Technically, the simulation is built around Netlogo, a cross-platform multi-agent modelling environment for simulating natural and social phenomena. NetLogo lends itself very well for modelling complex systems that develop over time. In the models that can be created with it, hundreds or thousands of independent "agents" can be addressed and instructed while all operating concurrently. As a result, the connection between the micro-level behaviour of individuals and the macro-level patterns that emerge from the interaction of many individuals can be explored and made visible.

The simulation engine ‘draws’ the characteristics of environment (using a graphical overlay over its patch-based interior logic) and reads the base characteristics of the events to unfold from a timed database. How the events exactly unfold, and in which way the precisely influence the individual users of the space, cannot be predicted in advance and is subject to each separate ‘run’ of the simulation.

[results and exhibition installation]

For the INFRActures exhibition at V2_, an installation has been made that shows the simulations in a 12 metres wide and 3 metres high projection, with two scenarios (‘Reclaim’ the Street and Nerve City) on display.

>> videoclip from the installation at V2_

The output of the simulation interacts with the Sound/Light/Street installation of Edwin van der Heide. At eight minutes intervals it leaves its imprint in S/L/S by replacing its real-time sound/light signals received from the Witte de With Street with its simulated spatial extremes. In this collaboration, Van der Heide has been responsible for the sonification process.

'Reclaim' the Street simulation scenario, photo Wendelien van Oldenborgh

Sound / Light / Street by Edwin van der Heide, photo Wendelien van Oldenborgh