Built environment and identity 

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Built environment and identit

Choosing where to live

In order for municipalities to keep their population they need to be better at creating environments for people in the ages 18-35. Instead of only providing an opportunity of work, a complete lifestyle needs to be offered.
A theory of how people choose where to live has been presented by the economic geographer Maria Wikhall. According to her research, the choice of home region should be considered as a part of a process and not as an isolated decision.13 Wikhall explains how culture could be used as a tool to make a place more attractive both on a local and regional scale. By investing in culture, new meeting places could emerge which can provide a socially more valuable life quality and also strengthen the view of the area. By investing in culture, she means that less youths will be willing to move from their home municipality and more companies are willing to establish in the region.
Another important aspect related to how willing young adults are to return to their home municipality is related to how much they as youths have felt a part of the development of the area which is related to how they perceive it. The more influence the youth have had in the development, the more likely they are to return after moving away.
The situation with youths leaving Lycksele is something Malin Ackermann, rural activist, sees as problematic for the development of Lycksele as few are returning. The pattern of youths leaving is something unavoidable, it has become a rooted norm and is not so much of a question relating to if as much to as when.

Place as a part of our identity

There are different aspects that influence how we perceive a space, it is connected to personal experiences, but the built environment also plays an important part as it can help to create the conditions which makes a space into a place. Architects should consider how emotional and functional qualities affect spaces, designs should not only respond to facilitating everyday activities. In order to attract more people to a place, designs should also respond to the affective and symbolic qualities as it can help establish an emotional connection to a place.17
In a TEDxTalk from 2017 an American architect, Louis Smith, discussed the possibilities of architecture as a tool to revive identity, community and purpose in an area. Smith talks about the importance the built environment has for our identity and why community involvement is important for a building to be successful. He claims that identity is directly linked to architecture and sustainability. A building which is not responding to community needs can not be considered as sustainable as it is not programmed to its full potential.18 A space becomes a place as we get more attached to it through lived experience and the values we apply to it.19 The importance of a place is not just related to one’s own experiences but also to social interaction and functionality which means valuable leisure time, work opportunities and housing.20 How well a place meets our needs is an important factor for how we perceive it.21 For some, the place where you grow up can be an important part of your identity, this is because we start to identify ourselves with the place especially if we have lived in the same place for a long time. 22
When the attachment we feel to a place and our ability to make places authentic is lost, a population decline is caused. To strengthen these places and remake them attractive, the attachment we feel needs to be redeveloped. Conditions to strengthen the feelings people associate with a place could be supported through designs. In order for people to be able to feel attached to the place, designs need to respond to local structures and site specific conditions. When a design is considered by the particular activities of a place and local situations, groups and individuals are more likely to make the space into their own place and give it a new authenticity and significance.23 An example of this can be studied in a commercial, Every other week, by IKEA from 2016. The commercial portraits a child whose parents are separated and he lives every other week with his mom and every other week with his dad. The viewer gets to fol-low the child as he moves between his parents and how the dif-ferent rooms at both his parents are decorated in a similar way, see Image 4 and 5 on page 13. The commercial shows how similar materiality and objects provide a safe space for the child.24 The commercial was a part of a campaign where products from IKEA were presented as part of the solutions to everyday problems that can occur.25 In this case, the notion of home is used by IKEA as a commodity, but even though there probably are underlying motives relating to profit, the commercial itself emphasizes how recognizable factors can enhance how a space is perceived and the feelings we associate with it.
The emotional relationship between people and places is what defines the meaning of sense of place. Physical attributes and activities are two factors which are important when it comes to what feelings that are associated with the place. The experiences and memories we possess in combination with our personality, motives, age and beliefs influences how we perceive a place. The more connected we feel to a place, the more likely we are to contribute to social activities taking place.
The places that have a strong sense of place, encourage people to live and dwell there as opportunities for social interactions are easier to find, both temporary and permanent events.26
Identity and the built environment are aspects which are closely related, the role of the architect is to consider the place and the elements which gives it value for a wider crowd. In order for architecture to be successful, as mentioned by Louis Smith earli-er in this paragraph, it’s a necessity for it to respond to local needs. Even though place attachment is related to personal experience, it’s still important to design places which allow for it. In the context of Lycksele, this needs to be done from the perspective of the youths with the aim to give new light on how youths can be involved in shaping the built environment.27

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Values in designing for youths

To offer possibilities of a certain lifestyle, important aspects municipalities need to consider in order to stay or become attractive is closely related to place attachment. The link between inhabitants and municipal development is important in contexts centered around growth. Even in municipalities with ongoing decrease, growth is commonly strived for in mu-nicipal development. Municipalities in Sweden have adapted to the new conditions to some extent, but the adaptations vary between different regions.28 Areas that have or are experiencing a decrease of population have different pre-conditions, what’s in common for the areas are that they are seen as less attractive in relation to other areas. How attractive an area is can be related to different factors such as geographical location, presence of society services, leisure time activities and job opportunities.29,30 An important group which needs to find the area attractive are the youths as they are the ones who possibly will live and dwell in the area in the future. The public spaces play an important role in youths’ social and emotional well being. Even though public spaces are a main meeting space for youths, they rarely have a possibility to influence the development of it. Built environment in relation to spatial mobility has shown to be strongly related to youths’ health. The built environment is an impediment to support social activity among youths and therefore it is of significance to consider and involve them in the shaping areas.

The city from the perspective of youths

To understand what kind of lifestyle the youth wants to have and what different combined factors that are important in a place for them, I held a workshop at Tannbergskolan in Lycksele where 22 students participated, the students were informed that their participation would be treated anonymously. The aim with the workshop was to identify future needs, ambitions and current meeting spaces in Lycksele which was discussed in groups of four to six students. The raw data from the workshop can be found in Appendix B.
The groups were given a map each where they were asked to mark out what places they use in the city and write what activities there are that relate to the different places. To start the discussions, the students were asked to reflect on the concept of a city and what the combined factors that make a city are. Two central questions the students discussed revolved around where they want to live in the future and the importance of space in relation to their leisure time. The discussions around these topics varied between the groups, but two answers which everyone had in common was how the possibility of work and a valuable leisure time are important aspects for them in a place and also that the built environment is crucial and sometimes also an impediment for the activities they can do. All students had different ideas of where they want to live in the future, still, four common themes were identified, these were closeness to nature, possibility of work, valuable leisure time and sense of home.
Closeness to nature was mentioned as an important aspect in three of the four groups. Some students argued that it was more important for them to live close to nature than living in the heart of a city. Some advantages that were mentioned were the calming aspects nature brings, living outside of the city opens up for a less stressful life. Some other students found advantages in living close to nature related to leisure time activities such as skiing and driving snowmobiles.
The possibility of work opportunities were also mentioned as an important factor when it comes to deciding where they want to live in the future. Some students discussed that they find the job opportunities in the area limited to only a few categories of work and in order to get a job with-in their specific fields of interests, they need to move.
Another aspect the students discussed was a valuable leisure time, one student started to reflect on current meeting places and found that there aren’t really any places for young adults to meet, that in combination with limited work opportunities are two reasons why the student doesn’t want to stay in the area after graduation. Another student expressed the importance of a valuable leisure time and found that within certain fields of interests, the general availability in Lycksele is good, but these respond to limited fields of interests and are often related to sports. If you’re not into sports, you are less likely to find a certain place in the city which meets your interests. Another student expressed how there isn’t really any place for them to hang out, especial-ly not when there is a wish to meet as a group. The school has become an important place for these interactions, and in the summer the soccer field connected to the school becomes a popular place as it is accessible, but as the winters are long there is, in the students opinion, not really anywhere for them to hang out unconditionally.

Table of contents :

Chapter 1 Youths and moving patterns 
1.1 Definitions
1.2 Point of departure & aim
1.3 Moving patterns – the importance of youths
1.4 Thesis questions
1.5 Methodology
1.5.1 Literature studies
1.5.2 Action based research
Chapter 2 Built environment and identity 
2.1 Choosing where to live
2.2 Place as a part of our identity
2.3 Values in designing for youths
Chapter 3 Perspectives from Lycksele 
3.1 The city from the perspective of youths
3.2 Return to Lycksele
3.3 Common themes
Chapter 4 Urban strategies and creativity
4.1 Tried strategies
4.2 Creativity as a platform
Chapter 5 Proposal – an urban strategy 
Chapter 6 Conclusion

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