Philippa Driest: Maintaining Community? On Housing and Agency between the cracks and scaffolds of the neoliberal city


Thesis Advisor: Rachel O’ Reilly

August 2021


In this thesis I argue for critical attention to the concept of “maintenance” in relation to community housing. I ask: how can independent social housing, cultural agencies and city-making organizations, working in the aftermath of lawful squatting-based community models, maintain agency in a neoliberal city where institutional cooptation and neoliberal planning regimes dictating cultural and living spaces have become the norm? 

The thesis shows particular interest in the model and challenges of lawful “associations” in the aftermath of the 2010 illegalization of squatting. In this focus I have two case studies: my first is of a vereniging (association) called Poortgebouw; my second case study is of a stichting (foundation) called Stad in de Maak (City in the Making). 

The thesis uses policy research combined with an auto-ethnographic narrative. I draw on theoretical frameworks from artistic practice, urban studies and political and economic policy to elaborate my experience of being part of two communities within the city of Rotterdam. Through this combination of practice-based experience, research and theory, I consider the political processes over the past century that have shaped the current situation and develop a position on how to maintain agency. 

These are important questions to ask, if we are committed to continue to organize for space to live and work, in the context of the financialized city. What are the tensions that emerge in the pursuit of community as such, and for communities of “maintenance”? The question of maintenance talks about the continuation of politics, but also the negotiation with complicity that needs to happen to maintain working and living together.