How to Build Livable Cities: From Tactical Urbanism to Urban Mobility Futures – Jorn Wemmenhove (Co-Founder of Humankind)

01.03.2023, Regina Schröter

How can we strategically transform cities to be more human-centered? Jorn Wemmenhove, co-founder of Humankind – agency for urban change (Rotterdam), shares his expertise on mobility transition and tactical urbanism. In this interview, All Things Urban spoke with Jorn about current trends in urban planning, practical advice for aspiring professionals and Humankind’s upcoming [Masterclass „Beyond Flying Cars“]( #What inspired you to pursue a career in human-centered urban planning and how did you get started in the field? I am not a trained urban planner. After finishing a Master’s in New Media & Digital Culture, I started off my career in advertising, driven by a romantic idea of an industry full of creative power. And I did meet some really great, creative people but soon I started to realise that the world does not need more cars or hundreds of different types of shampoo. One thing led to another, and I eventually co-founded a non-profit organisation in Argentina, helping youngsters to break the poverty trap through soft skills development. We developed different social programs, from sports to coding to cooking, trying to create change. Working in the different neighbourhoods we realised how the built environment limits people’s opportunities in life. Moving back to The Netherlands I continued my work on cities, first with the Dutch Cyclists Federation and then on different mobility-related projects with municipalities, often applying tactical urbanism working with local communities. Like many people I met on the way, I, too, realised I wanted to create more social, sustainable, exciting cities, always starting from the question “what do we humans really want?” In the end, our built environments, our buildings and our infrastructure, are human ideas turned into a physical reality. #What does Humankind do differently when it comes to urban planning projects and what is your most successful project so far? Some years ago we worked with the municipality of Rotterdam and other stakeholders on the project Happy Streets. The aim was to accelerate the mobility transition in a city that is basically built for cars. It was the spin-off of a transition management project to show the future of mobility today. So we worked on different visions and tried them out in the streets. No fancy pilots scaling up technological innovations at that point but finding out how we want to move in the near future, and how we want our public space to be affected by it. The success of the project is in the process it accelerated. It showcased that innovation is not only found in new mobility solutions, but in the ways we work together. By bringing together people from different municipal departments, entrepreneurs and local residents we could move beyond the different opinions in the short term, working on a practical shared vision for the long term. Rotterdam still has a long way to go, but something has shifted in the way the city is thinking about mobility. Obviously, this is not just our work, it is always a collective effort. But it shows that change does not just happen, we can create it. #What are some of the most important trends and developments you are seeing in urban planning today, and how do you see them shaping the cities of the future? More and more people are starting to realise that city-making is not just the business of developers, architects and politicians. And that we can’t create better cities while working in silos. This is something I see industry-wide, but especially in the new generation leaving university. To them, it is only logical to approach challenges in a multidisciplinary way. Education is catching up, and more people are trained in different design methodologies and systemic approaches. Often “human-centered” or another fancy word to distinguish one method from another. We will see which approach works best, but it is already changing the way we shape cities. For example, municipalities are wondering how better mobility can actually solve health problems. The impact of our measures on the lives of people is central. My only concern is that we often fail to understand what humans really are, and what makes us tick. We should move beyond the obvious. Because what people say they want is not always what they desire. To find this out collectively is exciting and fun. And is one of the main objectives of ["Beyond Flying Cars", our upcoming masterclass on the future of urban mobility]( – and much more. #What skills do you believe are most essential for success in the field of urban planning and design? I think the most important skill is to allow yourself to be curious, question the status quo and create the space to be creative. If there is one human superpower that we are currently not using to its full potential it is imagination. Humans can think beyond what they see around them, and dream of a different and better future. It is the driving force of progress. But we must create the conditions to do so. Collaboration is key, being able to work in multidisciplinary teams dealing with different types of talent is very important. Media and all types of new technologies offer us great opportunities, but also reinforce one narrative. We should continuously question that dominant narrative, to either make it better by adding new perspectives, or offering a new one. #Can you share any tips or advice for aspiring urban planners and designers on how to make a real impact in the cities where they work? Understand what makes you stand out from the crowd. Of course, you need some technical knowledge, materials, and methodologies. But I think it is more important to understand your purpose, and your drive to work in a field that influences the lives of other people. Make it personal. Also, don’t worry if you did not get that university degree in architecture. Everyone can be an urbanist. When you start your career people are more likely to give you advice, so it is important to use this opportunity. Ask different people from different backgrounds and walks of life. It will help you to create a future-proof network, but also to empathise with people from diverse backgrounds, mindsets and experiences. Emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity are as important as technical knowledge. #What's next? Curious to learn from Jorn Wemmenhove and his expert team at Humankind? Check out their upcoming [Masterclass "Beyond Flying Cars – Co-Imaginging Urban Mobility Futures"](, which will apply speculative design and transition management to exploring different scenarios and strategies for change in the field of urban mobility, providing innovative and hands-on tools for professionals to create new, worth-living mobility futures. Use our special discount code ALLTHINGS10 to get 10% off. {{Pic1: This article is sponsored by [Humankind]( — a Dutch agency specialised in complex challenges in the spatial context with a focus on public space and urban change. }}