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URO LAB 1: Urban youth and outdoor space in Gellerup

The first URO Laboratory focuses on the relationship between ’outdoor’ spaces and youth in the Gellerup Park on the western outskirts of Aarhus, Denmark.

Built between 1968-1972, the Gellerup Park on the western outskirts of Aarhus, Denmark, was imagined as an ideal city and home to the growing middle-class in Aarhus; a modern environment for modern citizens. During the following decades, it became increasingly clear that the ideals associated with the Gellerup Park were not easily realized. Today, the Danish Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Affairs defines the area as ‘particularly vulnerable’ (ghetto area). 88% of its residents are identified as having an immigrant backgrounds. 13 % of youths between the ages of 15 and 24 have faced criminal charges, and 53 % of the residents are younger than 25 years of age (compared with 35 % among the general population in Aarhus municipality, (see Ministeriet for By2014 , BocSoc 2015). Since 2010, the area’s population has decreased by 10% and a qualitative study has shown that former residents cite ”disturbances and high crime rates” as key reasons for leaving the area (Aarhus Kommune, 2014).

The youth’s use of the outdoor spaces between the area’s high-rise blocks is considered as particularly problematic or even criminal by a wide majority of stakeholders, such as the Aarhus Municipality, the Gellerup Park Housing Cooperative, the local police, civil society associations and the residents themselves. Numerous initiatives have attempted to “get the youth off the streets” and control the problematic behavior of youths in Gellerup’s outdoor areas, while also encouraging children and young people to participate in public life in positive and constructive ways, e.g. through community clean-up initiatives and organized sports activities.

Among the many stakeholders involved in or affected by the Gellerup project, numerous and often inconsistent ideals exist about what constitutes appropriate living and behavior in Gellerup and, in this regard, it seems that the urban youths in Gellerup are not fully living up to these ideals. Why is that? And why is it that young people seem to be transgressing the accepted ways of using shared, public spaces in particularly problematic ways?

In order to create an integrative and viable urban environment in the Gellerup Park, it is crucial to consider the potentials and strengths of the area – including those of the youth. What are the untapped potentials and resources that exist in Gellerup and, in particular, among its youth? In order to explore these dormant potentials, we need to examine in greater detail how outdoors areas are used and also what kinds of physical and social orderings these practices give rise to; both in relation to existing outdoor spaces as well as in those planned as part of the Helhedsplan.

At the URO Lab, we thus want to explore the following crucial questions:

How might the urban youth’s use of outdoor spaces be converted into an asset for the future of the Gellerup Park? Where are the potentials and limitations in current initiatives that seek to solve these issues? How can effective solutions be created; and who should be involved in these processes?

As preparation for this first URO Lab, we pose these critical questions:

  • What are the causes for the current problematic relationship between the urban youth in Gellerup and their use of outdoor spaces?
  • What resources and potentials do the Gellerup youth possess?
  • What spatial practices do ’outdoor’ areas give rise to?
  • How is proper behavior and public conduct imagined and enacted by stakeholders and initiatives targeting children and youths?
  • What (architetural, social, technological) changes should be made in order to harness the potentials of the urban youth in Gellerup?

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