Growing Up Sustainable? Capital, Waste and Critical Utopian Action Research in Copenhagen

Authors: Max Ritts*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Planning Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: youth; Denmark; social planning; sustainable; spectacle
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 26
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this presentation, we share findings from an 8-month ethnography of sustainability transition planning among at-risk youth in Urbanplanen (Copenhagen). There has been considerable government effort over the last 20 years to "educate" Urbanplanen's majority Muslim youth populations into an aspirational and sustainable Nordic multiculturalism. Concurrent to this process, the socio-spatial arrangement of this dense urban neighborhood has been transformed through rounds of economic development, policing, and most recently, sustainability transition. The result is a youth geography riven by partitions, tensions, and creative reworkings of everyday life. In this presentation, we reflect on a series of collaborative efforts involving Urbanplanen youth; situating these efforts within two critical traditions with relevance to discussions in social planning, justice and margainlized groups in Scandinavia. The first is Cindi Katz's (2004, 2008, 2017) ongoing project, "Childhood As Spectacle", which helps us consider some of the layered processes that surround the production of youth experience in Urbanplanen over the past 20 years - neoliberal restructuring, sustainability planning, and Denmark’s notorious "Ghetto Plan". The second is Critical Utopian Action Research (CUAR), a utopian social planning approach, first elaborated in the Danish context in the 1970s. Combining interviews with planners and policymakers (n = 23) and detailed site reportage, we explore how youth (n = 16), working in connection with local academics and social workers espousing the CUAR approach, negotiate these animating discourses as they seek to challenge prevailing social structures, and chart self-affirming futures within a rapidly changing city.

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