Attractiveness in Urban Design : A study of the production of attractive places

Abstract: This research project investigates the production of attractive places, through theory form and everyday life. The research study was originally sprung from practical questions regarding the extensive use of the term attractiveness in urban planning and design. What is the term intended to address? How is the term understood in local contexts? How is the term transformed to built environments? The term is rarely scrutinized and criticized and the understanding of the term, its meaning and implications is diverse. Starting from critical urban theory, the research project critically scrutinizes the term and contrasts it with local citizens perspectives of attractive towns. The research project proceeds from the idea of that places are produced not only by planning and urban design professionals, but also by people living in and visiting a place (Lefebvre, 1991). The research question addressed is How is the term attractiveness in built environments understood and designed in the perspectives of architects/urban designers and local citizens, and how can the term be explained to inform future planning of attractive urban environments?The research design consists of four sub-studies to investigate planning and local perspectives of attractiveness, its presentations and urban forms. The research design was set up in Kiruna and Gällivare, two mining towns in the sparsely populated Swedish north. These towns are undertaking major urban transformations due to the mining activities. Both municipalities explain the transformation processes as opportunities to become more attractive for people to settle as permanent residents. The term was investigated through discourse and qualitative content analysis, whilst the local citizen perspective was investigated through urban living labs.The conclusion was that the urban planning and design sphere of place production defines the term attractiveness according to their challenges. The term addresses the contemporary situation of place competition where places compete about labour, companies and capital on a global market (Harvey, 1989; Brenner et al. 2014). A discourse of attractiveness can be formulated to focus on three interest areas: urban economics, social wellbeing, and urban townscapes. The term can further be explained as an approach of reinventing places as attractive through urbanization and agglomeration.The local citizens idea of attractiveness is produced through societal challenges, local opportunities as well as practical experiences. The production of attractiveness is affected partly by everyday experiences and partly by assimilated knowledge about the place and society, from among others media reporting and official urban planning documents. As produced through knowledge, pedagogical processes also affect the idea of attractiveness. Physically, the attractive town is described as a place someone has cared of designing, including a legible town plan, locally distinct character, clear borders between built up areas and nature, and coherent connections between neighbourhoods.Some reflections drawn from the studies. In order to create truly attractive places, the term attractiveness should be inclusive to perspectives of local citizens. There are, among others, an ethical concern and a potential in this statement. The ethical consideration is that the term attractiveness has different meanings by different communities and individuals; the use of the term is persuasive with the potential to hide agendas seen as attractive according to only some viewpoints. On the other hand there is a potential in acknowledging attractiveness as being produced by everyone practicing place; it opens possibilities for a more diverse and inclusive term with richer ideas of attractive places.