Hi folks! I had big plans for last year - To meet and network with new people running fun projects, talk to them about their plans, community engagement, people, the future...But if there's one thing 2020 taught many of us, it was that to improvise. Presenting to you Dialogue with This is Helsingborg. A series where I chat with different people from the city running projects, ideas and initiatives. But in between all of this, I also want to talk about the city's residents - how and where do they come in?
Excited to kick start this first episode with Moa Sundberg about Helsingborg's placemaking project Söderscen.
Want to know more about Söderscen? Check out their links here:
If you prefer reading the interview, here is the full transcript:
Moa - That's my big dream for 2021 to have a big concert and celebrate together with the community... those events that you remember for life...the day meet in big numbers again.
Parul - Hi everyone! Welcome to 'Dialogue with This is Helsingborg'. My name is Parul and this is going to be a series where I chat with different people from the city about projects, ideas and initiatives but also to talk about the people and how they fit in between all of this. There's no better way to kickstart the series about people, the city and community engagement than with my first guest Moa Sundberg, the project leader of Helsingborg's placemaking project - Söderscen. Let's get started.
Moa - Hi, what an introduction!
Parul - But..tell us about yourself. Who is Moa?
Moa - Well I'm an urban designer and I work for the Urban Planning department and I moved back here to Helsingborg. I grew up here and I moved back here five years ago. I work mostly with safety in the urban spaces of Helsingborg so the project that is most interesting for this conversation I suppose is my placemaking project in Furutorpsplatsen - Söderscen, which is one of the innovation projects that we do within this field of work with safety in urban spaces.
(Transition - What is Placemaking?)
Parul - It seems like a very trendy term. So what is placemaking?
Moa - Well it's not a new concept. The idea came up in the States decades ago. It was about basically making...cities more human-centred. And it was the result of the modernist planning era and the need to go back to uh who are we building our cities for? It's the people. So place-making, how I'm using it at Furutorpsplatsen is about reimagining and redesigning the park as a community. So making the community come together through a placemaking process and since we had already redesigned the park big time in 2018, it was more about programming the park. So if we want to achieve better safety in the park, we need to change how people behave in it and you can only come as far as you can with just redesigning. You need to also activate it, program it and involve the community.
(Transition - Let's talk about Söderscen)
Moa - We started in 2020 last year, mid-June with a big event where we invited everybody to come and redesign and paint wooden chairs that we had bought from different flea markets, that we wanted to place around in the park. So that was a big introduction about Söderscen.
Then we have ourselves together with partners like Nordic Wellness and the Helsingborg Chess organization done different activities each week. So for example, Nordic Wellness had Zumba classes free for everybody, every Thursday evening. And the chess organization would teach you how to play chess in the park for two days, two hours every Saturday. So that was the base of the summer program.
Well, we had a lot more than that but that was just two examples. Then we also invited everybody to come with their ideas to us that they wanted to do in the park and we would fund it for them. So we had five different initiatives, it was both projects and activities and events made by different people both in Söder but also from other parts of Helsingborg that were looking for a public space to do their idea.
Parul - Is this the first time something like this has happened in Helsingborg, a project like this?
Moa - Well, in a way the Citysamverkan is doing it in the North city centre, with the activating the shopping area. And is strengthening the identity of the shopping area, but this is the first time we're doing this in a park in this way.
We've also done similar things on Sundstorget but that has mostly been about redesigning it and activating it through design but here we are activating it through events and program. But then again we couldn't do it as we wanted to because of Covid-19, but we have prepared for whenever the pandemic goes away.
We have built a wooden stage and we have bought different things so we can do a concert. We made some storage in the park and bought some public sun chairs, so yeah.
Parul - Very exciting! We're so ready for next year. I remember coming and participating in a few of your events and in my time here that's something...that's exactly what I was missing in public life, to participate in activities. I met a lot of people and made friends in your events, so I feel like it's so much more than just something happening in the park. It's also connected people.
Moa - Of course. Yeah, you're pinpointing one important thing as well that to improve the feeling of safety you need to interact with people, you need to start building trust between people. And I remember especially one activity that we did this summer.
Every Tuesday we tried to introduce a new activity that you could do or try out a new hobby and one was the Ikebana workshop where you could try to do a Japanese flower arrangement and that activity was one of the most popular but it also attracted people with different cultural backgrounds - young and old and men and women. So after that night, I was so happy because you could feel the love and the creativity of the people of Helsingborg. That's the one that I missed, unfortunately.
Parul - You mentioned men and women. I have a question about that. I was listening to a podcast or I was reading something and a very interesting thing that was said was that if you want to assess and understand the health of a public space look around and notice how many women do you see. If there are more women in the space than men then you know it can be considered a safe space. I'm from Delhi and unfortunately, Delhi has a reputation which is known worldwide. And I understand that sentiment very well of being or feeling safer when there are more women around me. So my question to you is that as an urban designer in a country which in my eyes is very gender-equal and very safe do you consider gender as a factor when you plan your work either with Söderscen or in your department?
Moa - Yeah, it's very relevant actually and we've always had this aspect integrated in our work but right now we are also...we can talk about another project we are doing a project called 'Fair share' with the partners like Tengbom architects here in Helsingborg, the Rise Institute of Sweden and Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Sweden focusing on human rights, where we want to create a certification process.
So a framework for how everybody can work with not only the gender issue but also other discrimination grounds like religion, sexual orientation. How can everybody feel safe in public spaces? That's what we want to help everybody and develop tools and methods to achieve this, not only for us here in Helsingborg.
Parul - What about diversity in general? Over the last few years let's say the last five to six years there has been a huge change in population and I'd even go to say that it's become much more diverse than it used to be so is that also a factor that say, Stadsbyggnads takes in planning city projects?
Moa - When we decide where we do projects it's probably one of those factors that there's a large portion of the people in the area that are maybe new in Sweden or something similar. It could also be they come from different economic classes for example, but all of those things factor into how people perceive the safety in the urban spaces.
(Transition - Community engagement)
When we plan the year and the projects that we want to do, we do a bunch of different projects, and we generally decide that this one and or maybe this one we want to do it together with the community. Because it takes a lot of time and resources to involve the community and you need to be there so for example at Söderscen we have someone working only with being in contact with the community. And also if you have an idea we need to put aside time to help you develop it well.
Everybody don't have an education in project planning and leading that kind of projects but um so yeah so we try to engage the community in different ways but the most basic is gathering insight about the area or the place that we are redesigning that because the community is the expert when it comes to these issues.
(Transition - What's next?)
We're starting another place-making project on Gustav Adolfs square and there we want to have...so we are going to put aside a budget to develop the square and we are not going to say how we should do it because that's what we want the people of Söder to get involved and decide together what they want to do and then we want to help them to achieve it. So we want to even though we are planners who want it to be as grassroots-like as possible.
Parul - And if for Söderscen or the other project if you know someone is more comfortable in Arabic or in English, is that a barrier or can one at least reach out to you with ideas?
Moa - Well since none of us is involved in Södersen knows Arabic, but we have colleagues that do so we could always contact them but it helps if you know at least English because we can help you. In fact, the first initiator only spoke English because she was also from India so I hope she feels that it wasn't an issue.
Parul - I have spoken to her many many times and she only has good things to say about you and the team of Söderscen, so I'm pretty sure that even if you do come across a language barrier you'll solve it. Yeah, it's not about knowing the language it's about the energy and what you bring into the project.
(Transition - What's next?)
Moa - If you want to contact us we're on Instagram and we're on Facebook and we have a webpage. So just google Söderscen at Furutorpsplatsen, then you will find some way to contact us.
Parul - Great, this is great thank you Moa I'm really looking forward to season 2021 and I hope things open up by the summer and we can all have a big party at Söderscen and do more things together.
Moa - That's my big dream for 2021 to have a big concert and celebrate together with the community... those events that you remember for life...the day meet in big numbers again. So yeah that's the expectation for next year.
Parul - Great on that note, have a good evening and thanks for this chat. Thank you bye thank you bye.