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The Normviz project: new cityscapes that break norms

The vision for cities of the future is open, inclusive, diverse and lively. However, the images that visualise future city districts are often stereotypical and give a one-sided picture of environments and residents. For whom is the city actually built? Normviz is a research project on norm-creative visualisation in urban development conducted by Visual Arena at Lindholmen Science Park.

Attractive illustrations are drawn when new buildings or areas a planned. The images often depict people in motion - and usually the same type of people. They have the same skin colour, age, clothing style and do the same activities. But how does this fit in with the cities of the future, where we want to include, integrate and create conditions so that there is room for everyone?

Visual Arena is conducting Normviz, a research project on norm-creative visualisation in urban development, where images should help to break norms and establish an urban environment based on equality where everyone feels welcome. The upcoming residential projects Pedagogen Park and Välen Park will be test arenas. Skanska has worked with architects to develop norm-creative visualisations with the support of researchers.

Critique and creativity

'First we apply norm-critique, which involves being aware when social norms discriminate or exclude groups of people. Norm-creativity is when you take the analysis and do something good with it by creating something better and more inclusive that gives new opportunities to more people,' says Marcus Jahnke, head of urban development at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. He applies his experience in the project and evaluates the lessons and solutions that are developed. Marcus is convinced of the importance of the images.

'Images are ubiquitous in our existence. They are the first thing you see when you open a newspaper about the city. Maybe you don't even read the text. The images are often very realistic, so it is easy to think that that is how the city will look.'

Power to change

'Images are power,' says cultural geographer Lisa Wistrand at White Arkitekter, who is contributing to the project. She sees good possibilities of breaking stereotypes.

'We can put in a wheelchair and lower the perspective in the image: how are the surroundings perceived from there? We can avoid images where boys are actively playing and girls are sitting off to the side and watching. We can show people who are working instead of the usual images of people who are consuming. And we can vary the family constellations within the residences that show how you are expected to live your everyday life.

For Skanska, Normviz is a welcome opportunity for a developmental journey from a traditional contractor to a community developer, according to Christina Ingelsten, business developer at Skanska Nya Hem in Gothenburg.

'We want to create a city for everyone. We were familiar with the sector's stereotypical visualisations and began to consider how images contribute to cement the norms - and how we can break them. The trend is that we are shouldering a greater responsibility for urban development in the developer-driven planning processes. Then it becomes extremely important that we have an understanding and tools to introduce more perspectives early in our project development.'

Images start discussion

Skanska first tested guidelines developed for Normviz when contracting architects for the two residential quarters and challenged them to develop norm-creative illustrations. The architects chosen during the project development continue to develop images that promote discussion of matters relating to accessibility, safety and a child's perspective.

'When a visually impaired person is in the image, we think "How can we help them?" Do we have Braille in the lifts? A wheelchair provokes the reaction "Oh, have we planned for a paved surface where it is possible roll between the buildings?" If the image shows the quarter on a rainy evening instead of bright sunshine, we can ask "Does it feel dark and unsafe? Then we'll add more lighting." The discussion relating to the images helps us ensure the quality of the residential quarters and influence what we leave behind.

The objective of Normviz is for many more companies to learn to think norm-creatively. A handbook and training material are being developed along with guidelines and good examples for more diverse images. This helps us to stimulate more inclusive urban development on a broad front.