By: Annika Agger and Louise Glerup Aner
On the 7th of May 2018, on one of this years’ first sweltering summer days in Copenhagen, 15 active local people from the neighborhood of Nord Vest gathered to talk about their work. They represent a broad scope of various types of actors: some are active residents, others are entrepreneurs doing business, and some do social work in the area while others are public employees working with more strategic issues. However, common for all in the group is that they are identified as ‘smart urban intermediaries’ (SUI), meaning that they work locally to ‘make a difference’ in the neighborhood.
A round of introduction made clear that there are many ways of making a difference. Some are motivated by changing the ‘stigmatized public perception of the neighborhood’ expressed by the press. Others are driven by adding more cultural events into the area. And some again are dedicated to improving the conditions for marginalized poor people. Across the different aims and ways of doing a difference, a sense of belonging, a placed-based engagement and a powerful appreciation of Nord Vest was prevalent. Consequently, much of our talk addressed the topic of how the neighborhood was perceived by others, and there was a common frustration about how the municipal administration, made the demarcation of the neighborhood.
‘The labeling of our neighborhood matters for our sense of place, belonging and engagement’ (resident of NordVest)
The interactive format of the living lab – with small group conversations, writing in silence and plenary debates – was helpful to create an arena for reflection on ‘the practices’ and ‘the skills’ the actors apply in their local work. The processes of the living lab revealed both shared and individual experiences about the challenges, obstacles and difficulties in doing a difference locally. Some obstacles are relatively concrete and material. They are related to meeting places, lack of funding and difficulties in getting permission for their activities at the municipality. Other obstacles and motivations are related to more abstract issues such as image of the area, engagement, local culture and power relations.
Despite these difficulties the participants shared characteristics in that they ‘carry on’ despite – obstacles on their way. They are persistent in their engagement, and they are talented in finding resources and linking people and networks. At the end of the lab, several people expressed gratitude, about the platform provided by the project. They expect that it can serve as an arena for gathering different local actors. What is more, they were excited to get ideas from their ‘look – a like fellows’ in form of other SUI’s from Birmingham, Glasgow and Amsterdam. What kind of activities do they organize to mobilize a broad spectrum of actors in their neighborhoods’? was one of the topics that caught interest. In NordVest, they arrange ‘community soups’, ‘cultural events’ or ‘sports’ as activities that can attract young, old, ethnic minorities, families and other local stakeholders. A tip was: ‘Make dahl (soup) – then you can attract both, hipster vegans – as well as ethnic minorities and other types’.
We look forward to the next round of Living Labs where we will discuss what questions the Danish SUI’s would like to raise in the transnational living lab in Glasgow, September 2018.