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Citizens Participation 
Through Storytelling

Stubbekøbing has during the last decades faced a steady decline in industry, services, and an aging population. The upcoming culture-driven revitalization project Projekt 4850 will likely change the image and urban condition of Stubbekøbing by transforming the abandoned industrial spaces near the harbor into a space for art and culture.   

 

Through the method of ‘storytelling’, our project highlights the potentials and challenges of reconciling the ambitions of a privately-funded cultural revitalization project with the expectations of a local population in the context of planning. 

Introduction

Planning and urban development operates through stories. That is, specific imaginations of what places are and what they could become. In turn it shapes planning interventions.  

 

Our aim has been to focus on local citizens´ stories to catch the intangible aspects of everyday life in Stubbekøbing which is often missing in traditional planning approaches. Through focus groups we gathered stories on perceptions of the towns past, present and future. This method provided locals with the opportunity to articulate their perspectives about their community and town beyond dominant outsider narratives. 

 

Working with stories as a tool to understand the condition of a space also requires critical reflection on which stories get heard, which stories get told and which ones receive attention. Applied appropriately, storytelling can be used as a method within citizen participation in planning and contribute to a more democratic planning practice.  

Storytelling as a Method

The locals’ stories about Stubbekøbing portray a very lively city in the past, whose older inhabitants are nostalgic of, as it has since then seen a decline due to broader structural elements, i.e. deindustrialization and a national reform of administrative centralization.  

 

The locals’ stories depict a town that today bears the scars of this downfall in terms of being a commuter town that is stigmatized in the public eye and has been abandoned by public authorities, particularly in comparison with its neighboring town Nykøbing Falster. For these reasons, some locals express a need for outside help while others express the need to fend for themselves to bring about change.

Citizens’ Experience of Urban Decline 

Despite that, the locals’ narratives about Stubbekøbing also convey a town that has significant qualities such as access to nature, cheap housing, attractions, to which inhabitants are attached, and in which there are many citizen associations. Through storytelling, the locals attach a strong emotional value to the harbor area, which is central to Stubbekøbing's collective history and to their everyday lives today. The harbor area is described as a place they visit regularly but it is also shown as part of their memories.  

The Town's Current Assets and Local Attachments 

The citizens fear that the city will be emptied because of the fall of the remaining institutions, the spread of flex homes, and the risk of Stubbekøbing becoming a town with a solely residential function. Their attachment to the place appears through their concerns of a privatization of the harbor area and the disappearance of their sense of belonging in the town.  

 

All these concerns echo the desire they have to recreate a lively town through new cultural offerings. Overall, locals just want Stubbekøbing to be a place where people can live a happy and fulfilled life. To be a place that regains dynamism with an emphasis on community, economy, and activity in the city that is not only commercial. They see a potential in Projekt 4850 to fight the decline, or at least a starting point for a greater revitalization of the town.

Visions and Concerns for the Future 

To develop a more democratic and place-sensitive strategy for cultural revitalization in Stubbekøbing, Projekt 4850 must take into account these concerns, hopes, and desires expressed through the locals' stories and visions for the future, as well as their place attachment. This can be done through encounters with the citizens, knowing that project actors already host regular info meetings in the town’s library. It is important that this responsiveness and openness towards the locals’ inputs develops and lasts throughout the project. 

Recommendations for Cultural Revitalization 

These testimonies are indeed valuable for Projekt 4850, but also to gain insight into the town’s condition. Approaching Stubbekøbing with knowledge of its measurable economic, demographic, and educational situation shows a town in decline with few resources for change. However, a qualitative approach reveals a highly committed and active community of citizens, in whom the project actors see a potential resource for developing Projekt 4850. 

 

This finding underlines that quantitative assessments do not adequately reflect the full reality of rural towns. In our context, storytelling emerges not only as a means of expression, but also as a tool to illuminate the nuanced facets of the town. Through storytelling, we can therefore aid in closing the gap between perception and reality. 

Conclusions

Célia Pierrette Marie-Claude Baldet, Laura de la Fuente, Adam Robenek, Luis Tibó Zappe, Christopher Luke Robins & Paula Charlotte Lohse 

Content was developed by students of the Masters in Nordic Urban Planning Studies at Roskilde University:

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The Community as a Partner

Creative Placemaking

Storytelling

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