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The New Year is a time that’s usually filled with ideas and aspirations of change. Whether it’s personal changes that you’ve decided to implement or wider, societal changes that seem a little bit more possible, this time of year is often marked as a hopeful time. However, while this feeling is prevalent, for many people and situations, January looks much the same as the months that preceded it. People in the Netherlands and around the world are still faced with the same inequalities and cites are still operating on antiquated systems that serve the few. So, this January, let’s explore new ways that we can promote and sustain change – urban acupuncture.

What is urban acupuncture?

Urban acupuncture is a practice that combines elements of social design with the traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture. The idea is to pinpoint specific areas in a city that are in need of relief, in order to help alleviate the wider urban context as a whole. Part of urban acupuncture’s power lies in its flexibility: no problem or area is too small or to local to be changed. The smaller and more localised the problem, the more creative the solution can be.

Urban acupuncture in action 1 FairspaceUrban acupuncture in action: a temporarily constructed skate park built by a collaboration of residents, the municipality and local skaters in a recently developed part of town in Leidsche Rijn to make the area more welcoming to diverse young people. Photo by Diarmuid O’Hegarty @dirmoh

How does it work?

Urban acupuncture usually starts with locals and community members identifying a problem or an area in need of change. After the target has been highlighted, it is through collaboration between these members of a given community and a third party that change is realized. This third party can be an organisation, an urban designer or anyone who is passionate about inspiring and realizing change.
Urban acupuncture is an important tool that gives a voice to people and groups whose needs are often ignored. Instead of traditional urban planning, which is often bound in red tape and usually applied in a ‘top-down’ manner, urban acupuncture harnesses direct community engagement, creating sustainable neighbourhood features that are installed and cared for by the community who needs and uses them; this all leading to a more inclusive version of urban planning.

Urban acupuncture and street harassment

Urban acupuncture can be used to make cities more engaged and connected and indeed, less dangerous. If we take the phenomenon of street harassment, we can see how urban acupuncture could be employed to make streets safer and more inviting – to everyone. Whether fixing and installing lights in poorly lit areas, or providing training and knowledge to local community members to help them identify and intervene in instances of harassment, urban acupuncture has the very real and focused power to make cities safer from the ground up.

So, when next imagining change, start at the micro and local level. Imagine what you and your community can improve around you, and mobilize the different stakeholders in your community to create a welcoming and inclusive urban landscape. These instances of urban acupuncture have a great potential to lead to much needed, widespread, urban transformation in the Netherlands – and beyond.

Jack Halpin-Doyle

Jack Halpin-Doyle is a recent graduate of the MA in Gender Studies at Utrecht University. Originally from Dublin Ireland, but living in the Netherlands, his interests include urban planning, community engagement and skateboarding (and how the three can work together). If interested in any of the above or anything related, Jack can be reached at