New Urban Topologies

Urbanism and society

New Urban Topologies in Stockholm

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On 6–9 December 2011 Färgfabriken carried out an extensive program for the key participants within the New Urban Topologies (NUT) project. The aim was to gather these stakeholders for the first time in order to facilitate a common discussion on planning strategies, transparency/democracy, and the future of NUT. An important goal was also to identify problematic and successful aspects of the city of Stockholm and by so further ease the exchange of experiences. Among the participants were architects, urban planners, artists, educators, and researchers from Sweden, Belarus, Moldova, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

Reception at Färgfabriken
The starting point of the New Urban Topologies (NUT) program in Stockholm was a reception at Färgfabriken where all NUT key participants met for the first time. In addition to the Färgfabriken staff and representatives from the Swedish Institute, architects, urban planners, artists, educators, and researchers from Belarus, Moldova, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt were present. The directors of Färgfabriken, Pernilla Lesse and Joachim Granit, welcomed the group and gave a brief history of Färgfabriken. Project Manager Thomas Lundh described the program of the coming days. Hans Lepp, Counselor at the Swedish Institute, gave an informal lecture on the soul of cities. He also explained how the Swedish Institute is backing the NUT project in order to promote democratic development and new paths in cities all over the world through a connection of people. Finally, the participants got a guided tour through Färgfabriken’s latest exhibition.

Stockholm by bus
The second day the participants visited a number of key sites in Stockholm on foot and by bus. The excursion had been put together by Färgfabriken in collaboration with architect Ola Andersson who had prepared a map of the route and a text with background information of the different stops.

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The tour started at Fjällgatan in Södermalm in order to give an overview of the city. The participants got information about the planning history of Stockholm and the current debate on Slussen. Driving through the city center, the next stop was Gamla Enskede, an area built a decade ago as a part of the movement where inhabitants got state loans to build their own homes, “egnahemsrörelsen”. The group discussed gentrification, closeness to service and the social life in Stockholm and in cities in general, as many perceived Enskede as empty and segregated, with no impressive social life.

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Driving through the southern industrial areas, the next stop was the main square of the suburb Årsta. The group talked about the Swedish model and the social democratic visions for the society at the time of the Second World War. They noticed how the commercial activity was more vibrant in the streets, but that the square still hosted the cultural center and popular library.

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The following suburb visited was Bredäng with its large scale housing blocks built in the middle of the 1960s. Ola Andersson described the background of the housing program at the time, miljonprogrammet, and the events following with an escalating segregation where immigrants and low-income households constituted a bigger and bigger part of the population. The participants thereafter discussed how to make such neighborhoods more socially lively. The question was of particular interest to the Belarusians who have an experience of living in Minsk, a city where such blocks and suburbs are built in even a larger scale at the very moment.

The next stop was GlashusEtt, Hammarby Sjöstad's environmental information center. Here Carl-Gustaf Hagander, Architect and Technical Judge at the Land and Environment Court of Appeal, took over as the excursion guide and explained the thoughts behind the new district. A long discussion followed on participatory processes, energy efficiency, land use, how to make streets lively, and ways to create socio economic diversity. Finally, the group went to the central islet of Riddarholmen to see the new Waterfront conference building beside the City Hall. The participants reasoned about the tension in city planning that often arise between the forces that want to preserve the old image of the city and these arguing for new structures. The group finished the day at the Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Modern Art at Skeppsholmen. At the dinner two artists were invited from Intercult, an NGO that engages in trans-border cultural projects.

Visit to the city planning office
The next day the participants were split into three groups according to their professions for study visits at respective institution. The officials from the city planning offices were invited to The City Planning Office in Stockholm where they met with representatives from this office as well as from The Office of Regional Planning, Stockholm County Council. The theme of the meeting was Communication and Participation.

The day started with short presentations where the NUT participants described the major aims and challenges in their cities. In Amman the land use is a central issue where the City is aiming for a more compact city in order to make it sustainable. In Alexandria the Planning Department is working on a new strategic plan, something the city really needs as the present situation to a large extent is chaotic an unplanned. In Chisinau the planners face a problem with private investors that aims to build on public spaces. There are also problems in preserving the architectural heritage, and with the infrastructural system. In Minsk there is a present housing shortage and a need to develop the infrastructure and quality in housing which has put a great pressure on the planning office. There is also a need to preserve green spaces threatened by private investors. In Beirut the great challenge is that most of the land is privately owned, which limits the City’s possibility to act. After these presentations the Stockholm planners described the Stockholm administrative systems, explaining the functions of the regional plan, the comprehensive plan and the detailed plans. The following discussion regarded different land use laws and how to deal with the private sector. Thereafter the group talked about ways to execute and secure participatory processes and successful methods when involving citizens and how to make use of their input in the best possible way. Here the Swedish planners shared their presently used tools in the participatory field, among them web sites, sending out proposals to key institutions, visits to schools, ads in the newspaper and public exhibitions. Finally the group went to Kulturhuset to view a full model of Stockholm.

Visit to the Royal Academy of Technology (KTH)
The meeting at the Architecture School at The Royal Academy of Technology had four themes: The role of activist groups in urban planning; The relation between public authorities and private companies in contemporary planning; The colonial planning; The mechanism of coping with unplanned development. The day started with talks by Swedish representatives from the Department of Urban Planning and the Department of Architecture. The educational system was described as well a few chosen student works. Short presentations followed where the NUT participants from the respective universities developed their views of the different themes.

In Skopje the university staff has taken a new role in bringing together different stakeholders in the city, among them officials, activists and researchers. In Mostar the image is quite dark, with insufficient funds to the architecture- and planning education, few activists and great divides in the city. In Chisinau some young people have squatted heritage buildings in order to protect them but been forced out. In Beirut public space is used as a tool to attract people, not bringing them together which is much needed in the divided city. However there are activists working in the urban field. In Minsk there are no activist groups as of political reasons. This means that knowledge from abroad is absolutely vital. In Alexandria inhabitants have now discovered that they can be heard and therefore show a new interest in taking part in the urban planning process. In Amman the voice of activist groups is just about to emerge, they mostly focus on heritage protection and environmental issues. The subsequent discussion came to focus on the role of activism within the urban field. One aspect was preservation of buildnings and monuments of the past and how these can be uniting forces in cities battered by conflicts and war. Another issue was the power of private investors, and how to find urban pockets beyond their radar to develop democracy and creativity. In this process activist groups were seen as important stakeholders. Another topic was the educational system and how it can include more knowledge from institutions from abroad. The panel finally concluded that professionals within urban planning and architecture must take a more active role, and that this must be done in their role as professionals, not only in their private free time. This means that a shift is needed in the educational system as a whole where the universities must produce thinkers – not a labour force alienated to the society.

Visit to cultural institutions
The NUT participants coming from NGOs started the third day with a tour of Siri Derkert’s installation on Östermalmstorg. Here questions came up as: Who gets the assignments? Is it prestigious? One participant saw the permanent public artwork in the subway as contradictory as it is a place of movement and therefore the art should be mobile and developed.

The tour was followed by a visit to the Slaughterhouse Studios and a tour of the project Room With a View, which discusses the planned redevelopment for the area. The discussion focused on: How to find your place as an artist in Stockholm? How do one get accesses to premises? How does the state contribute? The fact that artists are working together in a collaborative way surprised some of the participants. They also wondered if the Swedish artists were interested in the urban development in general or if it was the local context that made it an affair of the heart. Parallels were drawn to activities in Alexandria and Amman, where the NGOs work in similar ways to strengthen cultural heritage sites and spread information to the citizens.

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The visit at the Slaughterhouse Studios (Stockholm Meat packing district)

In the afternoon the group visited Konsthall C and the exhibition ”En ömsesidig sak” about political solidarity and struggle, and art as acting space. The discussion came to touch upon how to work with local populationa and linking artistic activities to a local context. The participants also talked about the Swedish model and the program for artists and culture in Sweden. Moreover, the group discussed how Sweden could stop believing in their own model when it worked so well. Finally, the participants visited an exhibition on Gallery Index with images from Chernobyl. Together with the project manager they continued the discussion on how and why the Swedish model was abandoned and how it affects society and culture today.

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Konsthall C

Presentation on study visits and discussions on Stockholm
In the evening, all NUT participants met again. Each group told the others what they had discussed during the day. The conclusion from the university was that the most important issues discussed was public participation in urban planning, the planning field’s strong connection to politics and lastly the new role for professionals as activists: ”More ethics than estetics”. The NGO team mentioned the role of art regarding the issue of gentrification, learning and sharing strategies with local communities and the responsibility of artists to take action in the process of urban change as the most vital issues during the day. The participants that had visited the City Planning Office told the others that the most interesting things discussed were the regulatory frameworks of the comprehensive and detailed plans and their legal status in the different countries, and what to learn from each other. They also found the topic of public participation a fundamental issue; how to approach the public and get their feedback. The next morning, the group met for a final discussion on the city of Stockholm and the future of the New Urban Topologies project.
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The Slaughterhouse Area (Meat packing district). The next part of Stockholm to be gentrified?

Except for the foreign NUT participants, Bojan Boric from The Royal Academy of Technology, Anders Öhrn from The Swedish Institute and two journalists from the program Kulturnytt at Sveriges Radio and Arkitekten, were present. Initially, Thomas Lundh asked for experiences and criticisms of Stockholm. On the positive side, the participants described a well-connected city where the inhabitants walk and bicycle a lot. The street system is very accessible and well planned. The air is unpolluted and the buildings colorful with an appropriate height. The openness and the large amount of water was seen as a pleasant asset. The nature is integrated in the city with parks and natural forests that are easy to access. The low income-groups seem to have access to good facilities. There are a lot of playgrounds for children. The public transport system works really well, ”everything as practical as Ikea”. The streets often continues into public spaces. Usually there is public art at these sites which gives an inclusive feeling. The inhabitants looks happy, safe and satisfied. The planning process seem really effective and has a focus on community participation.

On the negative side, Stockholm is inevitably affected by the coldness and darkness. People seem to be stressed and constantly on the move. The water is not used as a part of the city life, which it could be with public boat traffic and better quays. The communities doesn’t seem natural but prefabricated. Because of the planning monopoly people don’t have the possibility of creating their own spaces, nor shape the city according to their wishes and needs. The city is over regulated, over controlled and isolated. Everything seem to be according to a certain template – diversity is needed. The city seems to offer a lot, but in fact everything is the same. Stockholm doesn’t feel vibrant or diverse even though people with many different backgrounds live in it. The fact that culture is branded entertainment is worrying. The city has clear tendencies of gentrification. It is over commercialized. Everything is expensive, from food to museum visits.

The future of NUT – common conclusions
The last part of the NUT Stockholm meeting was a workshop and subsequent presentations of ideas of how New Urban Topologies can evolve in the future. The suggestions for upcoming NUT projects came to focus on both on the preparatory work, the execution itself and the required strategies after the visits. The advices were the following:

Prior the visits: Create a sheet with photos and bios of the participants that can be shared within the group. Put together a qualified basic material about the city that the participants can reflect on before visiting the cities. Set up an online blog or a Facebook group where the participants can exchange information on beforehand.

During the visits: Each participant should have to write down their reflections on the process each day during program, which could be published online. Each local participant should present a site or phenomenon during the excursion.

The three steps with seminar, excursion and workshop works well. The mix of artists, architects, academics and officials is good, but more officials need involve. The seminar should give more qualified information about the current city. Some said that three days are sufficient, that no more time can be spared. Others asked for a two-day excursion.

After the visits: Gather the results – this could be done online, through social media, or/and in a travelling exhibition. A book with the results is good, but not enough as the process must evolve and continue. Instead of a book there could also be a small editorial board that gathers the material, this would make the reporting quicker. Perhaps the material gathered by this editorial board could be presented in a folder or magazine which also would be translated into the local language. Make the process visible, leave something behind in the city, as an exhibition or a public presentation where locals and officials are invited. Set up a social media platform where participants and others can discuss problems and exchange experiences and advices any time.

Participants and contributors in Stockholm:

Sweden: Färgfabriken; The Swedish Institute; The City Planning Office in Stockholm; The Office of Regional Planning, Stockholm County Council; The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm; The Land and Environmet Court of Appeal.

Egypt: Gudran for Art and Development, Alexandria; Alexandria Governorate, Urban Planning Department; Alexandria University, Faculty of Fine Arts.

Jordan: Hamzet Wazel Foundation; Amman Institute, Urban Development; Jordan University (JUST).

Lebanon: The City of Beirut; Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA).

Belarus: Gallery “Ў”; General plan workshop “Minskgrada”; Belarusian National Technical University Architecture department.

Moldova: Oberliht; Chisinau Project Institute; University of Moldova.

Macedonia: Press to Exit Project Space; University St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Faculty of Architecture.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: University Herzegovina, Faculty of Civil Engineering in Mostar.


The text is an shortened, and partly re-written, version of the report "New Urban Topologies Stockholm" by Rebecka Gordan.