Aalborg East has for several years been called ‘Denmark’s Chicago’ and was known as a very socially vulnerable city district in the north of Denmark. The unemployment rate, as well as the crime rate, were high, and all shops and businesses were closing. Because of this, it has been challenging to attract new tenants to the area which resulted in the area isolating itself and becoming increasingly poor and it developed a very bad reputation.
The physical surroundings further increased the problems. One of the areas in the city district (with approximately 1.100 residences) had earth banks around it so it was cut off from the rest of the world. There were 73 identical residential blocks, which were grey, sad, and worn out. There has been a rise in empty residences and most of the local shops were closed. Action had to be taken.
Instead of just giving the area a visual upgrade with a new architectural style, to attract new tenants, they decided to make the tenants active co-creators. The project consisted of both a physical change as well as a comprehensive social effort to ensure a lasting change.
The planning started in 2008 and the first step was taken by tearing down three residential blocks to create a medical centre and community centre for tenants and the city’s residents. Tenants voted to approve this by a vast majority and all families in the three blocks were re-homed. The medical centre was an important step to make the city district accessible to all people and to show the residents that investments were going into their area.
Concurrently, an overall physical plan was made, and three building committees were created with tenants being on an equal level with the housing organisation, entrepreneurs, architects, and advisors. The renovation of the residences was split into three parts and lasted between 2014-2021.
The challenge was that the area was not serving many purposes and consisted of identical residential blocks. The way this was resolved was by giving the three roads different looks. The tenants were involved so they decided on the solution which they believed best suited the needs of their street.
During a renovation, it was extremely important to ensure that tenants are treated with respect and listened to throughout the entire process. They are there to ensure ‘social awareness’ and then it is the employees’ role to create safety and security. Among the solutions that were found by Himmerland Boligforening were the engagement of the local business network for job integration or directly tutoring students in mathematics or Danish.
Himmerland Boligforening does not believe that renovations alone can change a city district and furthermore, or that as a housing organisation, have all the answers. Therefore, it has been important for them to integrate the tenants in the strategic city development as well as authorise them as active city planners.
The goal of the renovation has been a physical conversion of a vulnerable city district with the aim to create a better life for the tenants. Several social initiatives have been implemented to support the process.
As a housing organisation, their philosophy has been to use a bottom-up approach where everyone involved helps to better each other. In this case, they have brought together tenants, local businesses, associations, and the municipality to work together to create a city district which can accommodate everyone’s needs and wants.
When Himmerland Boligforening talks about ‘the good life’ there are several parameters they want to measure themselves against. They have a mission to create better opportunities for the tenants, and believe that they have some good ideas for how we steer the community in the right direction. Additionally, the tenants are also impacted by businesses’ interest in investing in the area and by welfare from the municipality and activities from various associations. The social housing provider’s ambition, on behalf of the tenants, is that, together with the beforementioned stakeholders and the tenants themselves, they create a better city district with a better quality of life and strong relations.
The results have been successful both from the technical parameters and the sociodemographic data. The building is designed to have multiple functions. The social housing provider has gone from three building types to over 30 types. This means that a three-bedroom flat can vary from 65m2 to 110m2 over two levels with a roof terrace – the architecture has become diverse and quality materials with a long-life expectancy have been used. It is important to have a variation in sizes.
In relation to sustainability, there was up to 50% reduction in energy use after the renovation. The area has also been upgraded with more green functions. They have focussed on local diversion of surface water [a natural or constructed drainage feature used to divert surface water] and increased biodiversity. Previously, the area had large grass areas.
The sociodemographic numbers speak for themselves:
Strategic partnerships have been an important tool to drive innovation throughout. Collaboration with research and knowledge institutes has been instrumental so Himmerland Boligforening could use the newest methods and create new knowledge. One example is the recycling of concrete, IoT energy management, low-temperature heating systems and modern waste disposal machines.
The way they have worked with stakeholders was innovative for us. A process based on an informal and straightforward way of working was developed and the social housing provider wanted to position itself ourselves as a collaborator and not rigid builders.
Furthermore, the innovating factor can also be found in the way that a bridge has been built between the physical changes and the social initiatives. With this in mind, the winner in this category has been able to create the desired changes quickly but in such a way that the existing tenants can see how the changes relate to them and are aware of the extensive ownership over the improvements.
Himmerland Boligforening has worked closely with universities and researchers to ensure that our methods and tools can later be reused.
An example is their contribution to the community partnership REBUS (Renovating Buildings Sustainably). Here, they have focussed on green, healthy, and effective renovations. The aim of this partnership is to achieve:
Throughout the partnership, different materials were developed, such as a guide to strategic partnerships, an indoor climate evaluation tool, or a complete catalogue after the finished project.https://www.abhim.dk/