Umeå in northern Sweden is the first city to implement the rapid street transformation developed within the Vinnova-funded project Future Streets and will be studied in the new research project StreetForum. Storgatan, a main street running through the city center, now has a new look.
In two citizen dialogues, the residents of Umeå expressed their desire for more space for pedestrians and cyclists and less for vehicular traffic, along with an overall more pleasant green street environment. Taking this as a starting point, Spacescape, Edge, Norconsult and the municipality of Umeå collectively developed a design concept with the guiding principle of “the green thread,” with an underlying idea of highlighting the connection to the cultural center “Väven” (the Fabric). A big thank you to project leaders Katarina Gref and Axel Thorén at Umeå municipality for demonstrating how we can quickly and cost-effectively transform the city’s streets.
Previously, Storgatan consisted solely of wide lanes for vehicles and narrow sidewalks without any other features. It has now received a new two-way bicycle lane, greenery in planting beds and the median strip, benches, and a vibrant ground mural.
Close communication with the city’s contractor allowed for explanations and adjustments to the design as needed. During the construction phase, Umeå municipality was actively present on the street, fine-tuning the placement of flowers and benches based on what worked best on-site. Given that both the approach and material choices were new, this flexibility was of great assistance.
Local media has covered the project, and the municipality has received both criticism and praise, reflects project leader Katarina Gref.
Storgatan also received attention during the summer dialogue about the nearby square Renmarkstorget:
“It would be good if there was a continuous bike lane from Skolgatan to the new stylish bike path on Storgatan.” Woman, 40-49 years old
“Why not paint the square, something artistic like Storgatan. I think we need some color in our lives.” Woman, 70-79 years old
The dialogue revealed a significant need for a bicycle lane, although some still habitually ride on the sidewalks. It takes time for changes to take hold, but it’s clear that this simple and cost-effective type of transformation allows the bike network to expand and connect at a much faster pace than otherwise, paving the way for a comprehensive renovation gradually.
Greenery was also a highly demanded improvement on this stretch. An innovation that proved successful was a simple type of planting where concrete slabs in the median strip were replaced with sand and flowers, quickly giving the street a softer and greener character.
Now, post-measurements are awaiting to study the impact of the changes on flows and the overall environment.
On July 7 and 8, 2023, space and place conducted two #residentialstreetlifes (in German: #wohnstrassenleben) at the Living Lab Vienna. This tool, developed by space and place in 2018, consists of activities in the sense of “Tactical Urbanism” (Lydon/Garcia: 2015) and “Placemaking” (Jacobs: 1961, Whyte: 1980). Residential streets, which are otherwise only used by cars, are used legally within the framework of the traffic regulations. And because hardly anyone in Vienna does this, this “spectacle” seems unusual at first glance.
On the residential street Lambertgasse in Vienna’s 16th district, the tool #residentialstreetlife should now be tested for the first time in the context of StreetForum. This in connection with the negotiation of different interests in the context of a possible transformation of the street. This residential street is very quiet, there are only residential houses and no stores or pubs.
In the run-up to the #residentialstreetlife, we distributed flyers to residents and put up posters. These informed about the research project and the two #residentialstreetlifes. While we handed out flyers, we came into contact with residents, most of whom were interested in our activities or were even willing to bake a cake for our “party”. About a week before the activities, two team members sat down in a free parking space with a folding table and chairs and talked to passers-by. This anthropological approach again allowed us to introduce our research project StreetForum and the planned activities in the Living Lab.
At the first #wohnstrassenleben on Friday, July 7, the focus was on showing what is possible on residential streets without further permission: A DJ put on music at a volume compatible with the location and “dance islands” were marked with tapes on the ground in front of the DJ table. As part of our art and culture activities, visitors could also take tapes and design street sections for themselves. With colourful tables, chairs and deck chairs, the residential street was transformed into a cosy public space. Residents came, curiously asking the “reason” for the activities, drinking coffee with us and chatting with each other. Statements about ideas and visions for the residential street Lambertgasse could be recorded on a post-it wall. These contributions, as well as the conversations will feed into the participatory research activities and subsequent analyses.
The second #wohnstrassenleben on Saturday, July 8, was themed “Playing”. There were board games and street games ready. Also, the public space was again marked with furniture as a special space and there was coffee and cake, especially baked by a neighbour. For the sociocracy game “Keep the Balance” space and place developed questions that focused on local challenges based on initial encounters on the residential street Lambertgasse. During the game, it was possible to discuss, among other things, issues of spatial justice on residential streets. The specific wish of installing a bike station on the residential street could be discussed or a vote could be taken on the extent to which #residentialstreetlife should be organized independently by local actors in the future. The “AR Design Game” of the TU Vienna was also presented, in which one can playfully slip into different roles and discuss, among other things, structural changes on the residential street.
On both days, the activities were well received, and some people stayed for a long time, playing and talking. Especially children quickly lost their shyness to move around in the middle of the street. Good conversations arose about neighbourhood and wishes for the public space residential street. We were able to test the first tools, conduct individual interviews about them, and make audio recordings of a specific play session for research purposes.
We were surprised to experience so much interest and spontaneous participation in our research on these two days and in a quiet Viennese outer district through our flyer activities and the #residentialstreetlife tool. And we hope that even more people will participate in future #wohnstrassenleben. We are curious to see how the situation will be in October in the second Vienna Living Lab in the residential street Rahlgasse, which is located in a busier inner district and where we will design two more #residentialstreetlife.
Contribution from spaceandplace.at | fotos copyright Ákos Burg
The StreetForum project started in March 2023, and the first physical consortium meeting took place on the 12th and 13th of June in Brussels.
The project team visited the living lab in Kuregem, Les Abattoirs market and Cultureghem, one of the local partners, presented the tools they are developing, as can be seen in the picture.