THE PUBLIC MEETING POINT AND ITS IMPORTANCE FOR SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY

Published 2020-01-15

Historically we've learned that attempts to predict the future more often than not turn out to be wrong. It is important to keep in mind that the future is something we create through conscious and unconscious choices. Therefore, our studio suggest that instead of focusing on what kind of future is likely, we look to what kind of future we wish for. 

"If we want a society where everyone feels that their ideas, engagements, and opinions are being taken seriously, we need to promote meeting points where everyone is welcome", says Karen Austen, in a report from Folkets Hus och Park (The People's House and Park). She is one of many who describe the value of a public sphere where people can meet on equal terms. It is especially evident in the ongoing debates in media regarding the importance of future social sustainability since we in Sweden have the highest number of single-person households in Europe, and where a growing number of people experience an increase in mental illness and segregation.

The transformation of the meeting point
We've always had a need to meet other people. In the past, the community centre was a natural meeting point, where one could share experiences with new and familiar people in a context outside the daily routine. Today's meeting points are physical and virtual, global and local, and there is a need for them all. However, they need to adjust to and meet the needs of people with completely opposite backgrounds. The society is constantly changing and new requirements and challenges emerging.

Our challenges
The development and impact of digitalisation. Our ability to establish and implement ideas is driving the development forward and is the engine in innovation. Today we are standing before a digitalisation that is influencing our creative process, which very likely will have a significant impact on our future development and also our public meeting points. The generations born when the Internet already played an integral part in society are able to use intuition to navigate the digital world. Those born before will always be more or less integrated 'digital immigrants'. These people will represent a large part of the population during this century. 

The evolution and effects of demography. In the same way that technological changes impact our daily lives and society, our changing demography also has a big impact on the way we live, meet, and develop. In the year 2028, Sweden's population is estimated by Statistics Sweden to surpass 11 million people. An increasing number of people are born, immigrate, and more reach 100 years of age. People aged 80 years or older make up the group with the highest percentage increase. Two large age groups stand out statistically — those born in Sweden in the 1940s and 1990s. During the 2020s and 2030s, these groups will be between 80 to 100 years, and 30 to 50 years, respectively. 

These are two essential challenges for everyone in the property sector, for property owners and infrastructure planners, as well as urban planners and architects.

Civic participation 
Property owners with a mindful focus on social sustainability exist, and more are needed. As a property owner, there is a big profit to be made, economic as well as civic. By planning for a public meeting point, investing in civic participation, and making room for already established organisations, a more substantial local engagement can be created and eventually generate a more sustainable property and neighbourhood. 

We've spoken to Amin Barkhadle at Folkets Hus och Park (The People's House and Park) whose concept is to create meeting facilities where the local engagement can be manifested. They do not control the activities; instead, it is the local area and its organisations who decide what the facilities need. 

For property owners interested in investing in, and contribute with space and resources for public meetings, a nonprofit space within the People's House movement, there are several grants to apply for from local governments and from the state. 

Listening to the residents' and users' wishes and needs is essential to create well-functioning places since we do not yet know how these should be operating. That is why it is our duty as architects to be responsive and made conscious and well-founded choices when we create new, future public meeting points.