One million homes were built in Sweden during the period 1965-1974, mostly financed by state housing loans and made available for renting. Large-scale rented housing then became commonplace, mostly built on virgin land on the outskirts of cities and towns. Although most of these 850,000 apartments are considered decently maintained, some 300,000 are still in need of refurbishment, especially with regard to bathrooms, kitchens, insulation and ventilation. This is a great opportunity for technological innovations, potentially contributing to energy-saving and climate mitigation on a broad scale. However, many of these estates have also been associated with social problems like spatial segregation and social exclusion. Under the label “suburb” [förort], these estates have become stigmatized, triggered by massive critique from journalists, writers, politicians, architects and even researchers.
The empirical focus of this report is on an attempt by a municipal housing company to approach the residents of a multi-family housing estate with a redevelopment scheme expressing a will to combine social and ecological qualities under the brand “My Green Neighbourhood”. The company wants to change their everyday behaviour by constructing energy-saving technical solutions, increase residents’ participation and social inclusion and redress the identity of the area in the eyes of residents, visitors and outside spectators. Drawing upon data describing the aim and scope of the redevelopment scheme, the dialogue activities undertaken during the planning phase, and residents’ reactions, the analysis relates to current debates on the potentials and limits of citizen participation in urban renewal in terms of the sustainability discourse.
Although the study only covers the planning process until the end of 2011 when the housing company took its final decision, conclusions also consider the potential of future implementations. Whereas prospects of success with regard to energy-saving investments are bright, other results are more open to question. Thus, whether technological innovations will also inspire households to lead a more climate-friendly life in general must also take other things than housing into consideration, in particular their life situations and lifestyles in a broad sense. Thus, residents’ willingness to participate in planning and politics, and their social inclusion in society at large are matters not only related to housing. Depending on the capacity and willingness of residents to pay and stay it is unclear how many of the present inhabitants will stay or leave for other households to move in.
There is little doubt regarding the housing company’s commitment in terms of professional and long-term financial responsibility. In addition, the company’s social ambitions do not only include a willingness to engage residents in planning and caring for their apartments and the outdoor environment. The housing company also cooperates with the main contractor with a view to employing more than 50 until now unemployed residents in the building process.
Finally, at the time of writing, it seems that My Green Neighbourhood should not be disregarded as just one more number in a never-ending parade of temporary projects. Its brand of social, economic and technological innovations have multi-dimensional sustainability potential that may even contribute to a decent make-over and a positive branding of a large, previously stigmatized multi-family city district.
Örebro, 2013. , 54 p.
sustainable development, urban renewal project, refurbishment, participation, social sustainability