Sharing stories in person and online to strengthen a suburban community
Creating a place for mobilising citizens, fostering civilian power and urban stewardship through raising awareness towards the values of built heritage
Affecting the discourse on built environment and cultural heritage may have striking influence. Audio-visual documentation, storytelling and promotion via internet is a good way to raise awareness and bring visibility to places and people that are otherwise not under the radar of the decision makers.
Sharing stories of buildings brings about the dimension of time in living environment that helps in animating and enchanting the world and community.
Pori has applied the basic idea of the Budapest100 good practice in an innovative way (partly because of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic), transforming an abandoned radio station in the eastern suburban location of the city into a Story Café which offers a cultural, creative and social space, reaching the locals and bringing them together to share stories.
Solutions offered by the good practice
Pori is an old industrial city on Finland’s West coast. The city selected an action area for the Come in! project in its eastern suburbs, which sprang up in the 1950s-1970s in proximity to a copper factory. The area is located 4km from the centre consisting of a park and the nearby residential areas, representing the main trends of post-war architecture in Finland. The park area remains unbuilt because of a shortwave radio station located in the middle, which is owned by the City of Pori and used since 2012 by a local artist community as well as an old vehicle club. With the permission of the city the artists operate the building as a creative space. In the last years, they have opened it to the public several times. Even so, there seemed to be a need for something, bringing together nearby residents, like the good practice of Budapest.
Pori has had various projects in the action area and it has offered funding numerous times to different NGOs to do projects, which resemble the Budapest100 good practice closely, there hasn’t been the level of integration and cooperation between different operators achieved, especially regarding the activating of the local population. All the elements and opportunities for adopting something like the good practice have been present but the impetus for it hasn’t manifested itself.
By 2020 the ULG felt ready to create a community festival highlighting the built environment of the neighbourhood, its character and stories, and introducing the radio station and its potential as a social and cultural space the people could claim as their own. Sadly, due to Covid, these plans had to be cancelled. Instead, a socially-distanced pop-up exhibition showcased the station's history in September 2020 and finally a two week long Story Café in May 2021 opened new spaces in the radio station for public and created a place for histories, stories and art to be shared.
As the society around came to a halt, organisers wanted a new digital approach to dealing with community and a way to highlight the built heritage. They decided to build a website for the history of the building and the local stories relating to it. Stories, photos and different kinds of historical material was crowdsourced with the help of social media, and collaboration with local radios and other media.
The local group members are committed to further develop the radio station and surrounding area into a shared space that brings people together to celebrate the built heritage and take part in active citizenship. The aim is with the development of the cultural use and the digital dimension of the radio station also to reach an audience beyond the boundaries of Pori and Finland.
Sustainable and integrated urban approach
As the city itself has become more aware of the station thanks to the community activities, an interest in its development has grown significantly. Using built heritage to draw attention to a peripheral area succeeded since the municipality started to renovate the radio station and involve the area to the city-level participatory agency project. So, the usage of built heritage helps to gain tangible and visible results that can be communicated both on site in the neighbourhood and online to wider national and international audiences. Many further local actions have been initiated by the community engagement around the area:
- The Väinölä school with over 280 pupils decided to take the area and its multidisciplinary investigation as a theme for the whole school year 2020-2021
- Raised awareness of the international architectural value of Himmeli elderly house
changed the discussion on how to treat the building during its renovation, after a lecture by architect Juhani Pallasmaa (organized by the project coordinator of Come In!) on the heritage of architects Reima and Raili Pietilä who designed Himmeli
- In the end of 2020 the city ordered a master plan for the park area from one of the leading companies in Finland designing smart cities
- Best experts of Finland and students from the Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture from Helsinki carried out a full professional standard historical report on the radio station in May 2021. It will be published in summer 2021 working as a guide book for treating the building as a valuable piece of Finnish, European and global cultural heritage.
For the local coordinators, this building and its surrounding green area seemed like an unused connecting tissue between the suburbs – an urban green space full of history and legends to be discovered to stimulate community spirit.
They built a website to be a platform where not only the official history and unofficial stories and legends, but also the present and ideas concerning the future of the radio station can be shared
The new place means new opportunities also to integrate migrant communities which live in the surrounding suburban locations.
What difference has it made
Too early to say – the place is just now in the process of opening due to the delay caused by the pandemic.
In January 2021 over 600 square meters of new space for culture, art and social gatherings was freed from the radio station when the car club moved away. The same area is part of a new national suburban development project (2020-2022) which offers also investments in infrastructure and so gives sustainability and continuity for the efforts of Urbact.
In May 2021 the Story Café concept proved to be a success with over 750 visitors during two weeks. It demonstrated very well, that a cultural, creative and social space is a very good idea and it has to be developed as well as the overall cultural use of the building.
Transferring the practice
After being awarded the URBACT Good Practice title, Újbuda was able to create the Come In! Transfer Network to which six European cities (Gheorgheni RO, Forlì IT, Varaždin HR, Pori FI, Plasencia ES, Targówek/Warsaw PL) were invited. Equipped by URBACT with a toolkit, the cities could learn from each other. The transfer process was not one-sided, during the transnational meetings the existing practices of some of the transfer cities inspired Újbuda and contributed to the development of ideas to further improve the Good Practice.
At first sight the case of Pori is different from the original practice, insofar it uses a stable place to activate residents from surrounding areas, offering for them new cultural and leisure opportunities. On the other hand, the methods to be used to get the place accepted, are very similar to that of the Budapest100 good practice.