Innovations in public spaces

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on May 10th, 2013

> Read Sally Kneeshaw's articles

How can conflicts in public space be turned into opportunities for change and urban renewal?  This question was at the heart of the debate at the Kick Off meeting of the URBACT USER project . Several inspiring cases were presented by the host city Copenhagen and a placemaking expert from London.

‘Welcome In My Back Yard’ in Copenhagen

The seminar was hosted by Sundholm District Urban Renewal Team  in Copenhagen who led the group on a study visit of their neighbourhood.

Historically the area was a labour camp for undesirables, set up in 1908 as a place for the city of Copenhagen to send its destitutes, vagrants and beggars to live on a self-sufficient farm. This was the city planning solution for marginalised groups in the start of the 20th century.

Over the years the area in Amager West has become more integrated with the city. A social housing estate was built along with schools, public transport connections and cycle tracks .

In 2004 an Improvement Plan was created with the message of WIMBY- ‘Welcome in My Back Yard’ (as opposed to the better known NIMBY  ‘Not in My Back Yard’).

The idea is to better connect Sundholm to the rest of the city, to encourage more Copenhagen residents to live in or visit the area. Sundholm’s history was to lock the problems in, away from the city. Now it is trying to make bridges and open windows between these worlds. on its farming history and Copenhagen’s culture of urban gardening a new field has been created with raised boxes inviting all locals to come and plant flowers and food and tend animals

One of the innovations is a bee keeping enterprise involving local schoolchildren and homeless people. As local government representative Andre Just Vedgren commented: “Take alcoholics, take bees, take children. What could possibly go wrong? But nothing went wrong, because somebody dared to try it.”

Another innovation that has attracted national media coverage and video media coverage is the construction of shelters alongside urban gardens in the streets for the homeless people to use.

Urban Forest, Urban Orchard and New Temporary Uses of Public Spaces in London

Other inputs to the seminar came from Peter Williams of Better Bankside Business Improvement District in London. He gave examples of a partnership model with the private sector, which has helped to fund both large and small projects such as a pedestrian footbridge, an urban forest, and an urban orchard. Better Bankside has also pioneered temporary uses of public space, such as platforms for performance and making books about local history.

Creating Flexible Urban Public Spaces: A New Solution? 

Camilla van Deurs from Gehl Architects cautioned on what measures are used for public space. Cities collect data on traffic not pedestrians. Gehl studies people’s behaviour and needs and now has 50 years of data on walking and stationery activity in Copenhagen. She encouraged cities to create flexible spaces as this is often where the magic happens, for instance in Copenhagen when the canal freezes and citizens come out to play curling together.

The nine city project USER, led by Grenoble Alpes Métropole, will exchange experience over the next two years on new solutions for designing and managing public spaces. Each USER partner city has identified a target area to develop or improve, working together with local residents and users, within a shared framework. The project has now entered a new phase and will look for integrated urban development solutions. The next thematic seminar will take place in Riga to be followed by peer review visits of smaller groups of cities evaluating common challenges. Keep looking at news on this blog and on the URBACT website!

Sally Kneeshaw (Linkedin Profile)
Thematic Pole Manager



One Response to “Innovations in public spaces”

  1. Fernando Barreiro (USER Lead expert) Fernando Barreiro (USER Lead expert) says:

    A big challenge emerges in the Sundholm neighbourhood of Copenhagen: how to achieve a convivial public space “inclduing” those traditionally “excluded” from the city life. The recognition by the local public policy of homeless rights in using the public space, is a key element of this experience. The homeless merge private space and public space in their lifes. Therefore, what should be done to make compatible their needs as users of public spaces with the needs of other users of the same public space? Sundholm District Urban Renewal Team is experimenting new and innovative measures to make it possible trying to work with different types of users simultaneously, avoiding conflicts and stereotypes, building social capital, that is the glue that keeps together different people with different interests and needs in a single community of users. Indeed public spaces become a central arena to exercise citizenship and to ensure social cohesion in our cities. In Sundholm they are trying to demonstrate it in practice.

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