Reinventing local neighbourhoods from “the schools up”

Oh no, the construction work is finished!” is the title of a workshop Sharing.Lab attended just before the Christmas break. Focusing more specifically on renovation and construction of new schools in Denmark, the event highlighted big challenges for the Danish capital and paved the way to innovative services and processes both for the building industry and the civil society as a whole.

Copenhagen is growing quickly and has a hard time keeping up with the need for schools and other institutions, despite a great focus on building and expanding schools and daycares all over the City.

The workshop was facilitated by Smith Innovation as a part of BloxHub’s program. BloxHub is a building under construction in Copenhagen, whose goal is to become a hub for all urban actors (architects, urban planners, urban tech organisations, etc.) in Copenhagen. Sharing.Lab is hopefully going to work further on the questions raised during the workshop, but before we do so, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.

BLOXHUB’s co-working space will welcome the first residents in the center of Copenhagen in 2018

Copenhagen, like many other cities, faces a huge pressure, due to its rapid population growth, and cannot keep up with the construction needed to accommodate all the demand, whether for housing or, in this case, places for schools and daycare. Over the next 20 years, it is estimated that more than 33,000 children between 0 and 15 years will need place in such institutions. In order to seek and match this demand, Copenhagen has built 7 new schools between 2010 and 2017 and opened 5,000 new places in institutions.

The new school Kalvebod Fælled Skole, in the Ørestad area, opens its doors in 2018. It is built to facilitate interactions between indoor and outdoor, encourage active days for students and host other activities out of school hours.

Focusing solely on new buildings is however not possible. Not only due to limited financial resources, but also lack of publicly owned grounds and construction’s time (it takes between 3 to 5 years to build those institutions). It is therefore necessary for the Municipality and schools to explore alternative solutions. Optimising existing square meters, sharing facilities between schools, using outdoor spaces and, generally speaking, using the City as a classroom are some the tracks which are currently tested. Outdoor classrooms, which we have mentioned in an earlier post, builds upon a local tradition dating from the 19th century and have been rediscovered in Scandinavia, the last 10 to 20 years for students aged 7–16. But extending the classrooms out of schools’ buildings requires new facilities, like the 7 “eco- and nature basis” in Copenhagen Municipality, where school students can develop new skills in open surroundings.

This mobile base can be booked by institutions, who want to provide opportunities for students to try different crafts in natural surroundings.

Though this form of teaching is receiving greater and greater attention, many questions still need to be addressed, both in terms of design, capacity building and work tools for the teachers, impact assessments for students, etc.

Another exploration, that tackles the lack of space and adapts pedagogy to contemporary needs, is the sharing of local resources around schools. This was the theme my workshop group had its hand on and we have developed a concept for a pilot project taking advantage of data and shared facilities in a local neighbourhood. The purpose of this initiative is to benefit from and better integrate all common spaces in a local area, not only to optimise existing square meters, but also to strengthen local communities. The project is based on a vision we’ve been discussing before in our posts, namely this idea that publicly owned facilities could be apprehended as indoor public spaces. Moreover, Copenhagen Municipality is already rather innovative in its use of public buildings, which are more and more equipped with smart locks and accessible to the general public out of opening hours, thanks to the social security card. We consider that there is a greatly undervalued potential for the Municipality to become a truly OPEN CITY, where outdoor and indoor public spaces are fully utilized.

The five key features of the initiative we suggest are as follow:

  1. Public facilities as indoor public spaces: Identify criteria for what constitutes an indoor public space and map all of them in a chosen area. Make them visible, so that the people living, working, or passing-by the neighbourhood know of their existence. The Nolli map is an inspiring example from the 18th century in Roma. It represents public space inside buildings, as part of the urban realm. In this way it offers a deep understanding of the neighbourhood fabric of the Eternal City.
The black masses are the private spaces of the residence. The front and side porches, in grey, fronting the public realm, are rendered as a part of the public space.

2. Evidence-based planning and a third part gathering local data: Use sensors to collect, during a limited period of time, data about the use of the schools’ facilities as well as the pre-identified local indoor public spaces. The data give a picture of the use of the space, and provide an indication of underused resources. Making the data visible should help revealing possible synergies between local facilities. Some years ago, the FING had similarly explored a futuristic scenario about “architecture as a service”. Called “zero excess capacity”, the scenario presented a vision where real-time data monitoring of space use, would help optimise the use of each square meter by granting access to different users (info is in French, contact us if you want to know more about it).

3. Sharing common facilities in a neighbourhood: Building upon initiatives such as Flextila in Finland, shared public facilities in Seoul or Amsterdam (see this post for more info), or even services like OfficeRiders, we discussed the opportunities to use different public buildings, such as culture houses, museums, sports stadiums, etc. as temporary “classrooms”. In parallel, schools are more and more open to their neighbourhoods, as the recent school reform challenges them to do so.

4. Social onboarding and a local host: Creating better and more regular interactions between several institutions and other organisations in a neighbourhood, cannot happen only online. Though digital tools will be necessary, we see a real need for a local host, who could work as a connector, a facilitator and a person who will help “onboarding” new actors. Inspiring examples are local concierges like “Conciergerie-Labo de Quartier” (French).

The Conciergerie-Labo in new urban development îlink in Nantes (France) serves as a meeting place to discuss and envision the future services for the area. It offers different activities for locals to meet and provides practical help to inhabitants. In many ways it is a social “onboarding platform” for a neighbourhood under development.

5. Value creation — beyond optimising existing facilities: Sharing resources like offices, parking spaces, roof tops, etc. is a growing trend in Europe and several experiments can be used to assess best practices. New metrics also need to be developed to document the impacts of such programmes on different target groups in a systematic way.

With these key principles in minds, the reinvention of local neighbourhoods from “the schools up” can now get started! I think it is a pretty exciting ambition for the new year :-)

Happy 2018 to all of you, full of great projects to make our cities and neighbourhoods even better places to live in!


If you have any ideas or inspiring examples to share, please feel free to leave a comment or write to caroline(a)

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