The charming town of Lærdal in Western Norway, the summertime city of Arendal in Southern Norway and Arctic Tromsø in Northern Norway are very different municipalities that all face the same challenge: vacant buildings in central areas. Shops are moving into shopping centres, online shopping is increasing dramatically, warehouse functions are relocating outside of cities and offices are being built in clusters. What were once crowded streets and squares are now deserted.
This trend needs to be reversed. Lærdal, Arendal and Tromsø are pilot municipalities in the Sparkling Spaces project launched by Design and Architecture Norway that are working to find solutions together with researchers and specialists.
Difficult to crack the code
Many Norwegian municipalities are taking the right measures to revitalise their city centres but, unfortunately, it appears to be very difficult to crack the code for lasting solutions,” says Project Manager Marte Dorothea Marstrand from DOGA.
Norwegian municipalities are not unfamiliar with pilot projects, analyses and initiatives with good intentions. Marstrand claims that Sparkling Spaces is different in how it approaches and tackles this problem. On behalf of DOGA, Eriksen Skajaa Arkitekter prepared a report that provides a list of positive measures to activate vacant buildings and spaces in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. This report forms the foundation for the various measures to be tested by Arendal, Lærdal and Tromsø in breathing new life into their vacant spaces. The municipalities are receiving close follow-up from the specialists at DOGA and a reference group with relevant parties from the public and private sectors. The entire project is also being monitored vigilantly by real-time researchers.
Our goal is that the measures taken are well documented and have both a short and long-term impact. We know a lot about what traditionally creates a good city centre, such as the right conditions for not only business activities, but also activities related to art, culture and social encounters. What we do not know as much about is whether the same thing applies to the city centres of the future. Nor do we know how to better facilitate the use of vacant spaces by the various groups that need them. For example, can the temporary use of buildings serve as a tool that can lead to more permanent use in the future?” explains the project manager.
To ensure a good process, DOGA wants to make it possible for the municipalities to use design thinking as a method. This means that, among other things, the users are always the focus, there is room for trial and error and, last but not least, the municipalities learn to spend a long time in the experimental phase, so that they can identify as many good solutions as possible before drawing any conclusions.
We are looking forward to combining the disciplines of urban development and design, and especially to get people from various fields and sectors engaged in dialogue. Hopefully, this will lead to new and better solutions that benefit municipalities around the country,” says Marstrand.
Sparkling Spaces is an urban development project launched by Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA). Its goal is to fill vacant buildings and spaces in Norwegian municipalities and, in this way, reverse and prevent city centres from becoming ghost towns. The project is a collaboration between the pilot municipalities of Arendal, Lærdal and Tromsø, a reference group consisting of relevant advisers, specialists and organisations, real-time researchers, KORO (Public Art Norway), Association of NGOs in Norway and DOGA. Together they are developing a set of strategies and tools that can be used by Norwegian municipalities to transform their vacant buildings and spaces. The Sparkling Spaces project runs from 2016 to 2018.
See also (links to press reports in Norwegian)