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Noisy Neighbours. Re-thinking neighbourhood narratives
A conversation with CSAM on developing new narratives for the neighbourhood, the so-called cultural-industrial sound zone and their installation exhibited at the Oslo Triennale.

Noisy Neighbours presents new narratives that outline what a neighbourhood is and can be through mapping, formal planning processes, and artistic practices. Exhibited within the context of the Oslo Architecture Triennale whose theme is “Mission Neighborhood”, the project calls for the preservation of noisy places of production and important meeting spaces for communities. In this conversation with CSAM (Centrum för studier av markanvändning) we discuss the utopia of the mixed city and focus on how existing structural, economic, political, social and cultural networks and interests can be woven together into a mix that suits a larger public? How can we capture the visible and invisible aspects of a place in order to have an informed and inclusive conversation about said place’s future?

Noisy Neighbours calls for the preservation of noisy places of production and important meeting spaces for communities. It also introduces a new strategic tool: the “cultural-industrial sound zone” or “kulturljudzon”.

KOOZ Let’s start with a brief introduction into the project Noisy Neighbours. What is it and who partook in this initiative?

CSAM Noisy Neighbours tells the story of collaborations and exchanges between CSAM, local artists, White Arkitekter and the City of Malmö. The exhibit itself presents a review of a five-year process that has gone beyond established urban development models on a neighbourhood level. It presents new narratives that outline what a neighbourhood is and can be through mapping, formal planning processes, and artistic practices. It gives clues to more open and explorative planning practices that can challenge the politics of land use and real estate speculation.

The starting point is Sofielund – an overlooked run-down industrial area that turned into a cultural, social and manufacturing hotspot in Malmö, Sweden. For us, it is also very familiar territory since we have been living and working in the area for many years.

Noisy Neighbours calls for the preservation of noisy places of production and important meeting spaces for communities. It also introduces a new strategic tool: the “cultural-industrial sound zone” or “kulturljudzon”.

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KOOZ You talk about the project being initiated by a change in the narrative of the Sofielund area, could you expand on this assertion further? How did the project commence and what were your ambitions at its offset?

CSAM Cities are in constant flux. As a city grows, the periphery becomes central, land prices rise and areas that were once too far away, too polluted or too run down start to attract real estate developers, local politicians and media. As the city changes, so does the story of what the city is - and what it can be. We saw this happen very clearly in Sofielund. The first indicator of a shift was a new public narrative calling for drastic changes to the area. By highlighting stories of crime and structural decay, loud voices argued that a total physical and social transformation was the only way to create a positive development for the area.

Our ambition with the atlas was to step aside from the debate and take stock of what was already there. Through an independent in-depth study we meticulously mapped what was actually going on behind the roller shutters of the sheds and warehouses. This interdisciplinary approach used economic and social geography to challenge an increasingly negative narrative about the area.

In the end the Sofielund Neighbourhood Atlas revealed a rich and varied ecosystem of industrial, cultural and social production which meant the area could no longer be seen as a tabula rasa for new development.

The project presents new narratives that outline what a neighbourhood is and can be through mapping, formal planning processes, and artistic practices.

KOOZ How does the project challenge current master planning perspectives and ambitions on the mixed-use city?

CSAM The concept of mixed-use is persistent in contemporary urban development, which aims to offer habitats for different interests and needs with a variety of functions, designs and experiences. Mixed-use often appears as both an explicit goal in vision documents and as an implicit goal in argumentation for solutions and priorities regarding the city's development. Here in Malmö, the term is central to the city's General Plan.

The question is what happens when an urban planning ideal such as the mixed city meets a specific, occupied and used place. Due to, among other things, a need for sustainable land and resource management, our cities now grow for the most part within their borders. The contemporary urban front, the places that are earmarked as the next step for development of the mixed city, are increasingly found in previously physically or experientially peripheral parts of the urban fabric. These peripheral locations have long provided space for both functions and people who, for various reasons, have not found a place in the more central parts of the city.

In many ways, the idea of “the mixed city” is a utopia, an idea of a city where there's room for everything and everyone. When this utopia meets the geographies of the urban front and their existing structures, conflicts of interest inevitably arise. How can existing structural, economic, political, social and cultural networks and interests be woven together into a mix that suits a larger public? How can we capture the visible and invisible aspects of a place in order to have an informed and inclusive conversation about said place’s future?

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The "mixed city” is a utopia, an idea of a city where there's room for everything and everyone. When this utopia meets the geographies of the urban front and their existing structures, conflicts of interest inevitably arise.

KOOZ The project develops as an Atlas of the neighbourhood. What kind of data were you keen on mapping? How did this inform and lead to the drafting of the “kulturljudzon” by the City of Malmö?

CSAM The component that is Sofielund Neighbourhood Atlas presented a new way to explore the city’s transformation and challenge the constraining narratives guiding development. It highlighted the accessible and adaptable character of the existing urban fabric as key to the area’s future development. The atlas used methods from economic and social geography as well as urban planning to identify what existed beyond the headlines. In doing so it laid the groundwork for another way of planning the neighbourhood’s future.

Based on this knowledge the formal plan for Sofielund was designed to safeguard the existing spaces, social networks and business of the area. The aim is to facilitate a development that can happen in collaboration with local stakeholders at a pace that does not spur displacement. Even if the tool that the formal plan introduced to meet this aim - the cultural sound zone - can be perceived as drastic, it is fully based on existing legal and policy frameworks applications as they are intended to be used.

The atlas used methods from economic and social geography as well as urban planning to identify what existed beyond the headlines. In doing so it laid the groundwork for another way of planning the neighbourhood’s future.

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KOOZ Whilst your backgrounds span between economy, architecture, and urban planning, the project was also developed in collaboration with White Arkitekter, the City of Malmö and local artists. How did this multidisciplinary diverse set of skills inform the approach to Noisy Neighbours and ultimately ensure the success of the project?

CSAM The atlas itself was devised as a regular research-oriented planning project that White Arkitekter did on behalf of the City of Malmö and the local BID. In the formal planning process the city of Malmö made a brave statement to build their planning on preserving the existing urban fabric instead of building new housing.

With the “Kulturljudzon” (cultural sound zone) introduced by the formal planning as a framework, CSAM invited a group of local artists to discuss the mixed city and the role and space of culture in the development of the city in general, and Sofielund in particular.

During the process, many questions were asked and explored:What can we discover, capture and learn if we give ourselves more time to understand a place and its life? Can artistic readings of the city invite more voices, eyes and experiences? Can these open up other ways of talking about, experiencing and describing a place that is in a formative stage of the development process? Who is allowed to interpret and who gets to highlight or withhold when the story of the future city's mixed living environment is written? How should the language and drawings of urban planning be interpreted? What tools and media can we use to try to capture an experience, an interest or a phenomenon that raises questions and feelings?

The new sound zone means that manufacturing, repairs, bread baking and more can carry on and be developed, yet culture takes centre stage. What role does art play in the development of the city?

The artists reacted to the fact that it is precisely the sound of culture that is highlighted in the current planning as something symptomatic of our time. The new sound zone means that manufacturing, repairs, bread baking and more can carry on and be developed, yet culture takes centre stage. What role does art play in the development of the city? Who are the authors and recipients of planning and development? How should artists as “value creators” relate to the elevated role of art and culture? How do cultural actors’ actions affect others’ opportunities to participate and be seen?

The result of this collaborative exploration was a group exhibition on site in Sofielund of seven original works inspired by the questions of language, time, power and authorship. Seven new layers of interpretation of the neighbourhood. Together, they offer the audience a deep dive into the city's sounds, materials and tactile expressions. They recount the architectural history of the neighbourhood and articulate invisible urban boundaries. Five of these works were part of the Noisy Neighbourhood exhibition.

This layering of approaches and purposes from different actors over time are united because they all, in some way, represent a reaction to and are in conversation with the material produced in the work that came before. This is what gives Noisy Neighbours such a rich and complex content.

KOOZ The project is exhibited within the context of the Oslo Architecture Triennale, what is for you the potential of exhibiting projects as this within these kinds of cultural settings? How and what can we learn from projects as Noisy Neighbours?

CSAM We are, of course, very proud and happy to be chosen as one of the exhibitions during Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022. It feels very important to contribute to lifting the value of small-scale cultural operators and businesses getting to take up space in the city of Oslo.

We want to highlight that areas of business, together with cultural- and recreation businesses/non-residential areas are as important as residential areas and need to be treated as such in the planning process. These ingredients are necessary for an exciting and lively city, but also for business life development etc. In the increasingly denser city, centrally situated manufacturing- industry- cultural- and recreational functions are important so that people from different districts are able to meet.

We need to be brave in the planning process and challenge the template image of the “mixed city”. Partly through taking our time to analyse and evaluate what is in place, partly through zooming out and viewing this in a bigger context and thinking about what the city and its citizens need.

Bio

Centrum för studier av markanvändning (CSAM) is an independent cultural think tank and gallery/work space located in Augustenborg, Malmö, Sweden. CSAM’s work is focused on the intersection of art, public policy and architecture. The aim is to challenge current modes of urban development and the narratives that support them through community engagement and utilising art as an investigative tool. By engaging local artists and artisans to problematize the unjust allocation of urban resources CSAM works to visualise the implications of big geopolitical shifts on the local conditions in southern Malmö. CSAM in its current form was founded by longtime partners Victoria Percovich Gutierrez, economist, Åsa Bjerndell, architect and Karl Landin, urban planner in 2019.

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Published
21 Dec 2022
Reading time
9 minutes
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