Education – making you see with new eyes

Architects and urban planners from Vračar in Serbia and Veles in Macedonia visited three towns in Sweden as part of ICLD’s international training programme in what was not only an opportunity for training, but a chance to swap experiences with their Swedish colleagues.

And after two days in Malmö, they arrived in Borås, before heading to Stockholm to complete their training.
“We realised that we have some things in common,” says Agnes Sandstedt. “Like us, they’re experiencing population growth and the challenges that come with that. We asked each other some searching questions as part of our discussions because getting a different perspective on things is always beneficial.”

Agnes Sandstedt has worked as an urban planning architect in the Borås’ Urban Planning and Community Development Department since 2013. She is very interested in international influences and believes she benefitted greatly from the time spent with her colleagues from Vračar and Veles.
“The two days we spent together were brilliant – they really taught me to see things with new eyes, to get out of a local rut, and we came up with new ideas and new ways of viewing the challenges we face. Plus, of course, there’s the pride you feel in showing off your town’s success stories.”

The City of Borås is working in partnership with the Indonesian city of Palu as part of an ICLD municipal partnership, and the exchange with Veles and Vračar came about as a result of the work with Palu.

Is Borås good at urban planning?
“Well, we are facing some challenges: Borås is, for example, growing rapidly and we expect to have 30,000 new residents by 2035. That obviously means we need to build new housing, new infrastructure, new municipal services, and new workplaces. You might say we have our hands full…”

What are the biggest challenges you face?
“Organising housing to handle the growth in population, providing the necessary additional public services, infrastructure and workplaces – and doing this in a sustainably qualitative way.”

The people moving into Borås come from both nearby municipalities and other parts of the world. Borås also has a high-profile college of further education specialising in textiles that attracts students from all over Sweden.
Agnes and her colleagues make a point of listening to these young people when they are planning Borås’ growth:
“During the visit, we discussed how we’ve got young people involved in planning a new sports facility that we’re developing in Borås. It’s exciting, and it’s important in terms of building democratic support for and ownership of different projects, not least from a public health perspective.”

The City of Borås’ aim in getting the college involved in the project was to get comments and suggestions from the young people affected, including ideas on the way in which different activity areas should be structured.
“This information is an important foundation for out work, ensuring that we invest wisely. People’s experiences, know-how and input mean we can plan more effectively. After all, the local residents are the experts when it comes to how their day-to-day lives work.”

Agnes says that the discussions with her colleagues from Macedonia and Serbia were fruitful for all concerned.
“They found the way that we’ve transformed streets and carparks into places for people particularly interesting. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut – to do things in the same way because that’s how you’ve always done them – so it’s brilliant when someone comes along and asks questions and offers examples of alternative approaches from their own experience. A different perspective is always good.”

For Agnes Sandstedt, her job is her life, even when she’s on holiday. Whenever she visits a new town, she sees it through the eyes of an urban planning architect.
“That’s the way I am – I walk round, I check places and buildings out, think about how their infrastructure works, how they make the public transport system work… I even think about how their legislation works sometimes!”

She likes Berlin, in particular, and finds it inspirational to see how the city’s mixture of the old and the new have coalesced into one, how they have worked to heal the wounds of a war-damaged city that was once divided by a wall.
“I also think the way Amsterdam and Copenhagen have worked with bicycle traffic and sustainable transport systems is fantastic and genuinely inspirational. We have a long way to go yet in Borås, but we’re learning and taking inspiration wherever we find it.”