Meaningful memories inspire urban planning

Can memories build places? Can what meant something to people become new valuable elements for the development of residential areas?

“We build our identity in relation to others but also in relation to places, which is why it’s hard when we demolish. Then you demolish what bases our memories, while building new things in which we do not recognize ourselves,” says Elisabeth Högdahl, ethnologist at the Department of Service Management and Service Sciences at Campus Helsingborg.

Port area to become residential

Helsingborg’s new and growing district, Oceanhamnen, was previously a vital part of the port area with boats loading and unloading fruit, vegetables and coffee. Boats also departed from here for Oslo, and if families with young children were heading to Legoland in Denmark, it was the most convenient starting point for the trip.

During a year-long pilot project, Elisabeth Högdahl and Jessica Engvall from the city of Helsingborg met former stevedores, former ferry crew and crane operators, among others – all people who had worked in the area, a previously bustling place with a lot of activity. How could their memories be reflected in the new streets and new buildings that now had to occupy the space instead? Stories, memories and rumors have been collated into an interactive map for use in city planning.

The well-worn daily path and what it means to people should be visible

An example of how to preserve a cultural environment is an old crane in Oceanhamnen. It was brought back to life through many people’s memories of crane operator Gullberg, a man fond of raw sausages, sitting at the very top and in charge of the levers. This type of knowledge creates a deeper understanding; the old crane becomes more than just a crane.

Digital toolbox

Memories-collecting experiences at Oceanhamnen have led to a new research project, with support from Forms, on how to link daily stories with overviews and detailed plans, for example, so that they can function as urban planning tools.

The group was strengthened by researchers Ola Thufvesson, from the Department of Service Management and Service Science, and Anja Persson, who works at the Dunkers Cultural Center in Helsingborg. The municipality of Järfälla was also actively involved.

A digital toolkit is now available, showing in various ways how people’s stories can be translated and interpreted in urban development.

“We have created a method, a digital toolkit, on how to transform people’s memory to occupy space in new buildings, road networks and street names. The inhabitants are great connoisseurs of their neighborhood, but not connoisseurs of urban development.

Through the collaboration, the project also tested working with different urban development processes, for example with the new master plan of Helsingborg, an architectural competition and the development of the center of Jakobsberg in the municipality of Järfälla.

Build from below

Within the framework of town planning, citizens are invited to take part in a dialogue and the inhabitants have the possibility of giving their opinion on what is built. Often this happens when a lot has already been decided. Instead, Elisabeth Högdahl and her colleagues suggest involving locals early on, at the start of the planning phase, by actively listening to stories and learning about what has been important in the area. If you build new buildings from below, using what has been meaningful to people over the years, it expands the vision of what the area might look like. Otherwise, there is a risk of losing the soft values. The street names, materials, colors and shapes we choose can in turn create more personal and unique places.

“The path traveled on a daily basis and what it means for people must be visible. Through people’s perspective, we understand both the history of the place and what it means to us today.

Governed not only by trends

Elisabeth Högdahl also wants the urban developers of tomorrow to think in a broader perspective and not only on the basis of financial and technical factors. Dialogue with students gives rise to new reflections.

‟They are also fascinated by the way in which one can consider the city on the basis of immaterial assets. It is not just trends that can govern a place, but how we have lived there and how our memories are reflected in the area.

“More municipalities and more architecture firms need to take a broader view, new discussions need to start, new territories need to include their history to shape the future,” says Elisabeth Högdahl:

“I hope we can make the processes more flexible and include more voices from all generations, including young people. For this, I see the town planners meeting the inhabitants upstream. Not like they do now, when they first come up with a detailed plan and then go out and walk around with people. Since it is the people who create the identity of the place, we must listen to them. In this way, we listen to the place itself.