This PhD thesis was conducted in collaboration with the City and Development Department at Kolding Municipality and Design School Kolding. Kolding Municipality´s motivation for entering into the project was founded on ambition for increased knowledge regarding social sustainable city development. Design School Kolding’s interest in the project is rooted in the school’s strategic focus area regarding Social Design, and the thesis will contribute to strengthening the school’s already strong research focus on Social Design and ‘research through design’. The thesis, therefore, contributes to both research and practice.
The PhD thesis is rooted in the growing challenges posed by segregation in the modern city. This issue is related to the increased economic disparities, but also to a heightened intolerance towards ethnic minorities, which makes segregated cities a serious social problem.
The subject matter of this thesis is ‘public urban places on the edge between deprived housing neighbourhoods and the surrounding city’ and aims to contribute with knowledge about pivotal design parameters for developing public urban places that support interaction between people and a coherent city.
The thesis contributes to research with knowledge about the underlying social phenomena’s influence on the physical surroundings (public urban places) through an investigation and discussion of their mutual interaction and dependence. The investigation likewise contributes with a definition of ‘social sustainable design of public urban places’, aiming to highlight the need that public urban places be designed through an approach with an equal focus on the social phenomena and the physical objects.
The definition of ’social sustainable design of public urban places’ includes a conceptual separation in terms of the aim of a potential design project and its position within the two research approaches – Social Design and Design for Social Innovation. The positioning within the two approaches and the definition of ‘social sustainable design of public urban places’ likewise includes an argumentation of the role of design as well as an approach to navigating within the complexity. These issues are discussed through the empirical studies which illustrate how social phenomena, such as power or ‘place attachment’, appear in public urban places, and how design, as interventions or artefacts, can strengthen the identification and the involvement of these issues in order for ‘opportunity spaces’ to arise.
The thesis contributes to practice through the development of a Matrix for Mapping Collaborative Places as a tool for structuring the mapping of public urban places with the aim to identify important actors that influence the place. This mapping of the public urban places is further developed through the use of the concept of Collaborative Urbanism, which contains four categories supporting an increased operationalisation of the interaction between the social phenomena and the physical surroundings.
The research approach is Research through Design, where I have used my competencies as an architect and a designer in the production of empirical material. The empirical studies were conducted at two locations in Denmark:
• The public urban park Superkilen in Copenhagen on the edge between the deprived housing neighbourhood Mjølnerparken and the surrounding city.
• The deprived housing neighbourhood Skovparken/Skovvejen in Kolding.
In Skovparken/Skovvejen the area around the local shopping centre was identified as the most important edge zone in the neighbourhood regarding potentials and challenges for interaction between citizens and a coherent city.
The two locations have acted as case studies within the thesis, supporting the investigation of social phenomena in a real-life context, where they appear when the line between the social phenomena and the context is less evident. Using case studies for my empirical investigation enables me to triangulate my investigations of the same locations and their immanent social phenomena.
The PhD thesis is positioned within ‘Constructive Design Research’, where something tangible is constructed to generate empirical data. The thesis has used design artefacts and design interventions, working as ‘mediators for knowledge’ between the respondents or the place and me. The last design intervention, Words Upon a Place, moved from ‘Constructive Design Research’ into ‘Action Research’, when the ‘mediator for knowledge’ (the interactive benches) was destroyed and a negotiation about the place began.
The research approach is ‘grounded theory’, where all knowledge is grounded on data from the field. The theoretical scaffolding has been built up during the entire PhD process based on findings from the field, and the empirical material has been revisited several times.
Lab for Social design