Social Design


Utrecht Overvecht is considered to be a problematic neighbourhood with a lack of identity

The municipality of Utrecht was distraught, not knowing what to do with Overvecht. So I started doing research in where it all went wrong.

Kinderen kunnen spelen, kunt u dit ook?

‘Kinderen kunnen spelen, kunt u dit ook?’ translates to Children can play, can you?

This is a question I asked a few people while doing my research in Overvecht. A question which seemed to be rather difficult to asnwer. Adults told me that they had too little time to be themselves, too busy to ‘survive’. If I asked what the reason behind that was, I usually got to hear a lot of prejudices. Prejudices such as life is just work, eath, bringing children to school and back home, and sleep.

I decided to make people aware that there’s more than just ‘surviving’. Let the child in you show itself and play with it. After I asked a group of playing kids what they would think if their parents would join them with playing, many started to laugh. A Turkish girl told me that her father would be scared to get laughed at by the Morrocan neighbours.

Quite odd right, I would find it more strange and even embarrasing if parents wouldn’t make time to play with their kids.

Visualising prejudices

When it comes to visualising prejudices I found the shadow to be a perfect way of showing this.

The shadow of a human being is something very personal, something everyone carries with them, it’s unique for everyone, no matter how small the difference.

However, you can’t see from a shadow what haircolour someone has, what the colour of their skin is, how old this person is, what their face looks like, if they have green, blue or maybe brown eyes. So at the same time it’s quite anonymous.

I talked with a girl sitting on this bench about how I want to give Overvecht an identity. After having talked with her to explain my project she asked me whether I had any prejudices about her. I told her she seemed like a happy person. How wrong I was, she apparently had lost a relative quite recently.

That’s how I came to this image, people have their judgement ready, but you don’t know the private situation this person is in, you don’t really know this person. Respect eachother, despite who the person is or what he or she has been through.

Visualising prejudices

I was doing an intervention at this location a few days before I took this photo, it got quite some attention from people passing by. I explained the purpose of this intervention was to get to talk to people. This appeared to be exactly the place where many parents came together to talk with eachother if the weather isn’t too bad. It’s the ideal place to do so, children playing with eachother, and the parents have a nice view as of what is happening. They can sit on the benches and picknicktables to relax and enjoy the weather and having a nice talk from one parent to another.

Quite remarkable was that children from all sorts of backgrounds, (Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Morrocan and Dutch of course) were playing with eachother full of energy and joy. This was a nice thing to see and gave me energy too. People from different etnicities managing with eachother without any problems. Not just the kids but the parents too.


This location also started as an intervention. The intervention accurately reflected how a lot of people live in their own world, and what strong prejudices there are.

The intervention itself was fairly simple; place a shopping cart with trash on a crossing place, in such a way that people either have to walk around it, but then having to walk over the bicycle path past a few poles. Quite the detour. Or simply have to move this cart 1 meter and continue what they were doing.

Strangely enough, ALL people chose to take the detour, even disabled people with a companion chose to take the detour via the bicycle path. It did not matter at all how busy it was, how many people had to walk that way, everyone realized that there was a shopping cart, but nobody did anything about it. Almost everyone looked at it strangely, pointed to it, had an opinion about it, even said out loud that it had to be moved, and so on. But no one took matters into their own hands. 

Apparently as long as there is no direct culprit to point out, they just let it happen.

There was noticable displeasure about this shopping cart, “Jesus, put this somewhere else, like 100 meters away or something” or “always the same again..” and even “must have been one of those drunk homeless people again” (those are already two prejudices in one sentence!).


Because of this I decided to split all the prejudices I heard into keywords and place them in the shadow / silhouette. A shadow of a parent and child, showing how all these prejudices don’t arise by themselves but are passed on, for example from parent to child. And hopefully some day people will look at this and say “you know what, let me move this shopping cart one meter myself so I make life a little easier for me and others.”