Ambivalent Hopes: Residents' Experiences of Architectural Transformations in Gellerup-Toveshøj

Jonas Bach

Abstract


From the perspective of municipality, housing association administration, architects and media, major renovation projects are often pictured as both prestigious and necessary. In the case of the major architectural and infrastructural transformation project currently taking place in Gellerup-Toveshøj in western Aarhus, Denmark, the stated aim is to “change Gellerup and Toveshøj from a disadvantaged residential area to an attractive urban district” by transforming the area from a monofunctional modernist estate to a multifunctional part of the city. “Through implementing physical changes, we are creating − in collaboration with the residents − the necessary foundation for social improvements”, as it is stated on the homepage of the Master Plan.

But how do the residents temporally experience the physical and infrastructural changes to an area they call home? Through fieldwork in the area, while the physical and infrastructural changes have been undergoing, I have explored the residents’ perceptions of the changes and their hopes and fears for the future.

Residents’ perceptions, needless to say, vary. Some expect social conditions in the area to change for the better, as is stated in the political goals for the area, while others expect little or no change. Some do not place much trust in the housing association and municipality, a lack of trust which influences their perceptions of the future.

Hope, following the perspective of anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano (2003), produces cycles of expectation and arrival, and often also involves a sense of disappointment. Hope can reconstitute the present and the past, and stances on possibility. How can we understand residents’ hopes for the changes and their interpretation of the hopes of politicians and city planners, expressed through visions and master plans? What happens when these hopes are intersected with ongoing construction work and the messiness of building sites, political statements and everyday life, and memories and imagined futures are uprooted? This paper aims to shed light on some of these issues.

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