Celebrating the city

Creating WeMakeThe.City, the festival that makes cities better — part 1

Last week, on day 3 of WeMakeThe.City, and also the first day I only had one message on my phone, one single red dot, from the lovely Tessa Wernink checking how I was doing. I answered: ‘78%’. Man, what a trip it has been the past months. Bringing a new multi-stakeholder festival into the world is quite a challenge on all levels. It is incredible, ugly, a struggle, satisfying, frustrating, wonderful, fascinating, inspiring, complex, complicated, fun, challenging — all at the same time. Always lacking sufficient time and resources to make all ideas a reality. People get to know each other who never met before to work together, overcome differences, get to like or even love and hate each other. All with the same goal, to make that event happen. And then suddenly, there is that day, when it all comes together. Posters on the street, flags waving in the wind, people wearing badges and wristbands queuing up for events.


Well, not really. Reality is that it is a shitload of work done by a dedicated group of people that just want it to happen. Only blood, sweat and tears next to joy, passion, dedication and perseverance. So, why WeMakeThe.City? And why do you see what you see? I thought it would be good to share the thoughts, considerations we had and the choices we made creatively to give this initiative its substance, its identity. Apparently, a festival like this encompasses a whole lot more than the visual manifestation of it. Everything you see visually is the crystallised 5% of the 95% of process, discussions eventually manifesting itself in form.

So, why WeMakeThe.City?

On 8 April 2016, the European Commission named Amsterdam as the European Capital of Innovation 2016/2017 (iCapital) based on the proposal submitted by the City of Amsterdam and its partners Pakhuis de Zwijger, Kennisland, Waag Society & Technology, the Amsterdam Economic Board and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS). The iCapital award is a prize for the most innovative city in Europe. In 2014, the winner was Barcelona, and in 2016 it was Amsterdam’s turn. The award shows that Amsterdam is a frontrunner in Europe, with smart, social and creative solutions for optimal city living. The jury report praises Amsterdam for its innovation ecosystem, bottom-up approach and ability to mobilise the strengths and creativity of its inhabitants to produce innovative and creative approaches to urban issues. The infrastructure connecting the bottom-up movement with established institutions is seen as an essential element of the ‘Amsterdam Approach’: the cooperative model for innovation. It came with a prize of €950,000 for the city to use in developing innovative local projects, in which everyone in Amsterdam can take part, which gave birth to the ‘Amsterdammers, Make Your City!’ (in Dutch, Amsterdammers, Maak je Stad! or AMJS) challenge.

The ‘Amsterdammers, Make Your City!’ challenge is a learning and development scheme for 30 to 50 local initiatives that contribute towards innovation in Amsterdam. The challenge is aimed at identifying and bolstering the best bottom-up initiatives at a grassroots level in each neighbourhood. A total of €600,000 in funding was provided to local social initiatives across a six-month learning programme. Assisted by experts, the initiatives work on their development together. The project aims to make Amsterdam not only the most innovative city in Europe, but also the most inclusive: a city where every inhabitant is involved and shares the responsibility for shaping their neighbourhood and city, and equal opportunities are central.


To celebrate the end of the iCapital 2016–2017 period, there were plans in the making to organise a highly ambitious multiple day celebration. A festival. With the working title ‘CityFest’: a new five-day international event about social and technological innovation and the impact on the future of every day living in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, other cities in Europe and the rest of the world. With the first edition of this yearly event taking place from Wednesday 20 until Sunday 24 June 2018 in as much as Amsterdam Metropolitan Region as possible.

Envisioned places, locations and partners (draft)

Bringing together government, business, science and education, civil society organisations and local civic initiatives on the urgent urban challenges. Focussing on people and cities and future and every day living: climate change, migration, mobility, affordable housing, healthy ageing and healthcare, sustainability, future jobs, revitalising public space, education and 21st century skills, circular economy, technology and big data, food, governance and democracy, security, waste, energy and water, inclusiveness and liveability. From the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region to other cities in Europe and the rest of the world. Multiple days, opening up from exclusive to inclusive over the course of the days of the event, smartly addressing and inviting all the layers of people to join and participate. The first three days for professionals in conferences and meet-ups, e-ve-ry-bo-dy during the weekend.

Subject matter

Shaping it

There was a shared consensus amongst all stakeholders that the working title ‘CityFest’ wasn’t perfect. April 2017, Kitty Leering linked me to Egbert Fransen, the director of Pakhuis de Zwijger. After a great meeting with him, where we discussed everything but the festival, we got to work. First job to be done: clarifying the complexity, find a name and move on from there.