Inom samhällsplaneringen, där begrepp som makt, demokratisk legitimitet, konsensus och dissensus analyseras och där misstro gror, kan tillit [trust] skapa förståelse för varför vissa projekt och beslut leder till hätska debatter. Det menar Sofie Rådestad som nyligen avslutat sin licentiatavhandling på temat, med särskilt fokus på ombyggnadsprojektet Slussen. Den långvariga processen och polariserade debatten om Slussens framtid har skapat en oppositionsrörelse som argumenterar emot den officiella beslutsprocessen, men vad är det oppositionella röster egentligen upplever som brister – och anledningar till misstro.
Sofie Rådestad är utbildad samhällsplanerare från Stockholm som erhåller en Teknologie licentiatexamen från Kungliga Tekniska högskolan inom ämnet Planering och Beslutsanalys.
[This article is based on the study Rådestad, S. (2016). Engagement in urban planning as a consequence of trust: an explorative study of the Slussen redevelopment project opposition. Stockholm: Kungliga Tekniska högskolan.]
Citizens become the norm
There are no frictionless discussions or changes in urban planning. Each decision is the result of wishes that never came true and strategies that won over unsuccessful visions and ideas. Common points of departure for telling the stories of turbulent discussions concerning urban changes in central Stockholm are the events that took place in 1971. The still popular public park Kungsträdgården in Stockholm’s central business district was intended to pave way for an entrance to the new subway line, which would lead to an underground shopping area. People would not have it. On May 12 in 1971, as the machines and manpower came to put the shovels in the ground and cut down the elm trees, people took action. Up until this breakthrough event, referred to as the Battle of the Elms, content – rather than dissident - citizens were the norm. Decision-makers had for decades renewed Stockholm’s cityscape, but had failed to show any well-defined interest in citizen participation. It all came to a head at Kungsträdgården, where citizens were now physically protesting in hammocks from the branches of the elms, organizing themselves and confronting city workers as well as police. Finally, City Hall representatives capitulated. The plans were revised (Passow, 1973, pp.23-25; Hall and Rörby, 2009, pp.152-153).
The importance of trust in planning
What are urban planners up against? This was a question that was posed in an article I was reading through for my own research at the time of my licentiate in Planning and Decision Analysis, which started focusing more and more on concepts such as democratic legitimacy, consensus and dissensus, or, in other words, power. But no matter how much I researched power in urban planning I always felt that something was missing in this approach. Now, I was again reading this question; what are urban planners up against? I wondered: instead of having to overcome some kind of oppositional force, what is it that makes that oppositional force part of the process? The importance of the concept of trust – and its opposite, distrust – started to become clear, and I had found my way in to my research.
To build trust in the context of urban planning requires an understanding of how different actors interpret the city’s collective future in different ways. Historical perspectives, present-day situations and visions of the future thus affect what people expect from proposed change and how people experience debates (De Vries, 2014, pp.108-109). One could, generally speaking, say there are two sides to every concrete urban planning project. On the one hand there is the official narrative of an urban planning project, as established by urban planning decision-makers. These are the actors that ultimately have the representative and executive power to decide what actions are taken. On the other hand – again, generally speaking – there are the combined voices that are dissenting from these decisions. These voices want to change urban plans, prevent them and/or present alternatives and could consist of anything from a lone social actor to a tightly knit social protesting network. Together however, for the purpose of this text, they are described as the opposition. By all intents and purposes, due to them opposing official plans, one could say they have a high level of distrust. Furthermore, if the social pressure on decision-makers is high enough, no matter how authoritative their power, they might change their minds.
In the context of trust, Sweden emerges as a particularly interesting country to study. Its stable and high level of social trust entails a state in which the majority of citizens trust each other, public institutions and the public sector. Peoples’ ability and willingness to trust in each other and institutions is of outmost importance for a well-functioning society. At the same time, research shows that trust levels between people and institutions are declining (Trägårdh, 2009, pp.9-12; Trägårdh, et al., 2013, pp.28-29; Blennberger, 2009, pp.19, and 21). This should therefore worry us.
Trust and demolition in the Slussen project
Slussen, one of Stockholm’s most debated contemporary urban planning projects, is currently undergoing an extensive redevelopment. Located in the heart of Stockholm it has throughout years of city expansion served as an important lock and traffic node through which countless boats, buses, cars, cyclists, horses, pedestrians and trams have passed (Lindgren, 2011, pp.242, and 250; Lindgren, 2012; Hall and Rörby, 2009, p.124). The contemporary discussion about Slussen’s redevelopment has since the 1990s been a topic of debate in the context of planning Stockholm and throughout the years various people of the public have expressed concern regarding the public’s possibility to affect the outcome of the project. Oppositional associations have communicated their concerns through meetings, articles and films, of which one spread like wildfire in 2014 before the Swedish elections, where Stockholmers are reminded about the city’s planning past.
The oppositional forces against Slussen’s redevelopment has led to the creation of several associations, among which critique is expressed towards decision-makers, as well as politicians, public officials and members of the public. The initiation of Slussen’s demolition in 2015 was thus the end of an over 20-years long discussion about change, which, one could say, is a defeat of alternative visions and ideas that will never be implemented.
To study the trust phenomenon is challenging and however well we individually and subjectively define trust there is a need for an analytical structure. In an attempt to do so in my research I turned to professor (theology doctor and research leader) Erik Blennberger at Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College in Stockholm. Blennberger describes trust in six analytical themes (presented in Table 1) that, in the context of my study, constitute the base through which experiences of oppositional voices have been analysed (2009, pp.58, and 22).
What are then the most notable takeaways from analyzing voices of the opposition with the concept of trust? After conducting in-depth interviews, focusing on the interviewees’ experiences of, or participation in, opposition against the Slussen redevelopment project, three factors appeared as prominent; (1) Slussen as a unique space, (2) Debate character, (3) Authority.
First, Slussen is seen as a cultural historic functionalist design that is worth preserving. Second, the debate steered away from policies and plans, to include harsh personal attacks. Communication from official authorities was perceived as not being straightforward, which has led to an almost automatic disbelief in any official communication. The role of the media in this – though often seen as a way to balance information and hold power accountable – was also felt to be too small. People were simply disappointed in the amount of coverage the media gave the redevelopment project. Third – and going even further than distrusting the dialogue established between the authorities and the opposition – the opposition simply expressed concern that authorities have not been honest in providing information by actually withholding information. For instance, seeking more information about authorities’ wrongdoings proved to be difficult due to the lack of transparency of authorities. It was assumed that, in the environment where a lack of transparency was ingrained, any outside experts aiming to get more clarity by addressing wrongdoings were afraid of possible repercussions. Furthermore, the opposition sees the Slussen redevelopment project as just another example in a long history of bad urban planning projects in the city. As a result, if urban planning processes continuously provide further reasons to distrust, these tendencies will continue to sprout.
- Blennberger, E. (2009). Att tolka tillit: begrepp och grundfrågor. In: L. Trägårdh., E. Blennberger., C. Reinhold Bråkenhielm., J. Grosse., S. Lundåsen and T. Pettersson, ed. (2009). Tillit i det moderna Sverige: den dumme svensken och andra mysterier. Stockholm: SNS Förlag. Pp.19-58.
- De Vries, J.R. (2014). Understanding trust: longitudinal studies on trust dynamics in governance interactions. Wageningen: Wageningen University.
- Hall, T. and Rörby, M. (2009). Stockholm: the making of a metropolis. London: Routledge.
- Lindgren, M.H. (2011). Christopher Polhems testamente berättelsen om ingenjören, entreprenören och pedagogen som ville förändra Sverige. Stockholm: Innovationshistoria Förlag, Nielsen & Norén Förlag.
- Lindgren, M.H. (2012). Kulturdebatt. Därför byggde Polhem Stockholms största sluss. Dagens Nyheter, [online]. Available at: <http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/kulturdebatt/darfor-byggde-polhem-stockholms-storsta-sluss/> [Accessed 14 September 2017].
- Passow, S.S. (1973). Stockholm’s planners discover “people power”, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 39(1): 23-34.
- Settergren, O. (2014). Stoppa vansinnet! Rädda Slussen English subtitles. [video online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJskLrXdGVo> [Accessed 30 March 2016].
- Trägårdh, L. (2009). Inledning. In: L. Trägårdh., E. Blennberger., C. Reinhold Bråkenhielm., J. Grosse., S. Lundåsen. and T. Pettersson, ed. (2009). Tillit i det moderna Sverige: den dumme svensken och andra mysterier. Stockholm: SNS Förlag. Pp.9-18.
- Trägårdh, L., Wallman Lundåsen, S., Wollebæk, D. and Svedberg, L. (2013). Den svala svenska tilliten: förutsättningar och utmaningar. Stockholm: SNS Förlag.