“COMMUNITY BUILDING ISANOTHERWAY OF SAYING PLACEMAKING” SUSAN MORALES GUERRA
"The public sculptures and murals express the community history and the present desires for an environmentally safe, multicultural community."
“It’s simply innate, we enjoy such encounters”. In Susan’s experience, these community encounters are also an important piece of cultivating democracy. “These local experiences of having an impact on your neighbourhood can bring a better understanding of how each person can have an impact at other levels,” she says. A political system can fail a neighbourhood, or bureaucracies can be barriers for the greatest of ideas, is her experience, while she emphasises that placemaking can help us all keep democracy, citizen rights and neighbourliness alive.
The local political council and administration agreed that an upgrade of depressed and neglected areas had the potential to become vibrant social and physical meeting places in two densely and diverse neighborhoods. The needs of children and youth were to be in focus for many efforts, and also the needs of other vulnerable groups. There was also a need to work with the resident’s feelings of tension and fear in the neighborhoods, and to upgrade the sad, depressed outdoor areas which were unused and wasted space. The goal was to establish a sense of safety and beauty for residents through participatory methods.
There was a positive political and administrative initiative behind these placemaking efforts. However, there was little or no basic financing for investments and therefore dependency on a variety of grants and volunteer efforts. A community of public servants, residents and technical and artist professionals, local institutions were established and developed over time. There was also a need for flexible work hours for all, a municipal plan was worked out by multidisciplinary teams and each half year these plans were adjusted. This plan was not limited to a project period. The implementation was done through parallel improvements of both the physical and social conditions for all residents but in particular the needs of children and youth living in social housing in the neighbourhoods, along with the goals of creating meeting places and cultural opportunities for people of all income levels to gather and experience extended community.
The process began with a value-based framework of community building, participation and social sustainability. A systematic framework within the plan included a vision incoherence with the common values. The plan secured accountability and flexibility through allowances for organic processes. The plan also held an operational framework describing the necessary open infrastructures for the public administration to work by, not least how to include working with the diversity of input from the residents. Risk-taking and failure were adopted as a way forward to something new. All the professionals and residents, artists and craftspeople who worked together agreed on the values of community through their understanding of neighbourliness.
Participatory approaches, inspired by Community Development work, democratic dialogue forms, artistic workshops and multidisciplinary teams were the main methods. Placemaking efforts were facilitated by the coordinator for a flexible and organic process which began with open questions to all, both residents and civil society. Resident groups and NGOs together with civil servants, were present in the neighbourhoods, showed up at volunteer centres, kindergardens, festivals, parent meetings, youth clubs and Town Hall meetings held at local schools. Important conversations were held overdoing things together be it painting, building, imagining places, taking photographs and making an exhibit. Together. Workshops brought together people who had different roles in the neighbourhood. Politicians, head administrators, children and community residents, young and old were gathered to build, to decorate and to imagine development possibilities. Many ideas were transformed into real plans for initiatives by professionals or amateurs or community activists to create vibrant new places. Each placemaking effort had a public sculpture made through participation as an “Anchor” or “Flagship” activity which pronounced the coming process of physical improvements, and social and cultural activities; such as annual neighbourhood days, markets, exhibits, and public stage performances. The relevant administration consultants had active roles to initiate new funds and manage technical safety measures for public investments. Many small spontaneous gardens, art installations and cultural activities popped up along the way. The coordinator’s role had to maintain a broad communication exchange and direct a follow-up of the chaotic processes; otherwise said, a follow up of the mix of chaos and order into synchronised relationships creating new social platforms for new initiatives and changes.
“PLACEMAKING OFTEN HAS ARIPPLE EFFECT, IT IGNITESSIMILAR IDEAS IN NEIGHBOURING AREAS”
Placemaking builds community and social sustainability, as well as meeting the needs of people to contribute to their own neighbourhood quality. The ethical framework based upon the values of solidarity, neighbourliness; as well as public well-being and health opportunities, gave direction for new common goals. Using the arts allowed new voices to be heard in communities. The public sculptures and murals express the community’s history and the present desires for an environmentally safe, multicultural community. The expressions are both intimate and personal yet stand as public testimonies to the future public about the participation which it took to make them. As such, these become uniquely belonging to the community.- Susan Morales Guerra
Time period: 2001 – 2017
Financing: Mixed public & private funds
Location: Arne Gjesti Place and Haarklous
PlaceCoordinator: Susan M. Guerra, public servant
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