Photograph: Merlijn Doomernik

About the author

While big pretentions in the past have jeopardized the future of urban planning, in his research and planning Zef Hemel tries to focus on its core: economy, ecology, democracy, art and imagination. He is searching for a new kind of open planning – a planning which can easily adjust to permanently changing circumstances and benefits from unexpected opportunities. In all his planning projects, Hemel works with artists, invites them to engage with citizens, thus using the city as a ‘brain’, as a potential space of ‘collective intelligence’. Such a radically different – ‘open source’ – planning is needed, because the world is urbanizing fast and seems to be rushing into one crisis after another. Because of the growing complexity, the type of planning required is local, at the level of individual cities and their spheres of influence. The paradox is that this localized planning is global at the same time.

Zef Hemel (1957) is a visionary planner. Since 2022 he is holding the Abe Bonnema Chair at Delft Technical University and Groningen State University, the Netherlands. In the past he was chief editor of ‘Stedebouw & Ruimtelijke Ordening’ (Urban and Regional Planning), the professional magazine for urban planners and designers of the Dutch Institute of Housing and Spatial Planning in The Hague. In 2011 he organized, as a member of the think tank of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, the symposium ‘Creative Cities’ in Amsterdam. From 2001 to 2004 Hemel was director of the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Design. In 2004 he moved to Amsterdam, where he became member of the board of the Urban Planning Department of the city. There he organized ‘The Freestate of Amsterdam’ in 2009, which was the start of a different kind of planning: more open, democratic, responsible, and sustainable. From 2012 till 2022 he was Professor on Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam (the Wibaut Chair), combining this with planning activities for the Amsterdam Economic Board. ‘Volksvlijt 2056’ was his latest project, an exhibition on the future economy at the Amsterdam Public Library where he tried to engage thousands of citizens by letting them ‘dream their own future’. Hemel studied human geography at the State University of Groningen and wrote his PhD in history of art at the University of Amsterdam, for which he was awarded the Prof. Ter Veen Award 1994.