Paper in proceedings, 2012
This paper explores the notion of architects and designers as facilitators and design processes as processes of actualization and cultivation in relation to two research projects performed in a suburb of Gothenburg, Backa. Suggesting that there is a lack of places where issues of social sustainability, in relation to city development, can be discussed and probed on an everyday basis outside professional and formal structures, an informal and experimental space, a “civic-lab” was established, by the researchers in a former Video-store for those everyday experts, living, working and spending time in the area for four months. Centrally located the 200 sqm space, at the ground floor, with big windows facing the street and where interior had been stripped out provided a low-key platform. Asking: In what way can an open, informal and performative space dedicated to development of local ideas and initiatives and supported by researchers become a tool of mobilization in relation to city planning and city development?
The question of how to deal with and build upon the everyday life and concerns of people within city development and urban planning is an urgent socio-political matter at the core not only of social as well as ecological and economical sustainability. Demographic tools are well developed but as tools they merely entitle and priorities professional knowledge and a linear logic often produces predictable outcomes, being exclusive rather then inclusive This kind of knowledge needs to be complemented by processes that reflect and include desires, concerns, dreams, individual and collective narratives. In this context the tradition to deal with experience in an open non-instrumental way, which one can find within practices of art, provided a productive platform.
With a mix of experiences and methods from a social work, architecture and design, the former video-store became the platform for picking up, connecting, expanding and bifurcating local ideas into autonomous initiatives, such as small-scale urban farming, a flea-market and home-work/handicraft evenings for children. These “small changes” bear witness to the lack of interplaces in contemporary Swedish society where initiatives can connect and grow, as well as how designers can engage in these processes without risking high-jacking processes which might not be theirs to run?
In addition, the Video-store also contained issues of power, democracy and responsibility. Ideally local democracy is a way of strengthening the interaction between the municipality and people. It is about the sharing of power, but can also be a way of reassigning responsibility from state to individuals, or of strengthening certain “loud” groups in favor of others on the margin. Therefore the purpose of the Video-store was to prototype processes as well as discuss issues of democracy, the possibilities and limitations of participation, the tensions and “passions” in the relationship between people and the local as well as central administration, city planners, architects and politicians as situated within current frameworks and processes.