‘Residents’ Project Bispebjerg’ is one of three master plans for community regeneration currently running in Bispebjerg. The community regeneration master plans ‘boligsociale helhedsplaner’ are nation-wide arrangements. The goal is to create a positive development on deprived and marginalised social housing estates and to improve the living conditions of local residents and the quality of life on the estates. The master plans are thus place-based at a neighbourhood level. In Residents’ Project Bispebjerg, social cohesion is seen as a way of increasing the resources of the residents, which in turn can function as a foundation for gaining social mobility. Social mobility is thus an additional goal of this master plan. Three main themes have been identified as the most important agendas to build the Residents’ Project Bispebjerg around: 1) vulnerable residents, 2) children, youth and families and 3) resident democracy. In general the strategy of the master plan for community regeneration is to take a unified approach focused on the coordination and cooperation between actors, projects and residents of the local area in order to strengthen the already existing resources as well as initiating new arrangements. As a consequence, cross-sector collaboration (between different social housing organisations, the residents and the authorities) is the very foundation of the master plans. The master plans coordinate and facilitate a range of initiatives that improve social cohesion and the residents’ living standards. Thus, several arrangements presented in this report are set within or funded through one of the three master plans in Bispebjerg.
The master plans for community regeneration are a nationwide organisation initiated with a parliamentary compromise agreement on housing policy in 2005. The governmentally managed National Building Fund finances 75% of each of the individual master plans for community regeneration. The resources for the master plans come from the rent of the residents as all social housing associations in Denmark are obliged to contribute to the fund. From 2011 to 2014, € 117 million were granted to master plans for community regeneration (Boligsocialnet, 2014). The local municipality and the social housing associations represented in the area finance the remaining 25% of the projects together. Funds are applied for by the housing associations in close cooperation with the local municipality. Each master plan has a four-year duration period, but extension can be applied for. Residents’ Project Bispebjerg runs from 2013 to 2016, and the total budget of the master plan is € 2.14 million, the main expenditure being the salaries of the seven employees (about 83% of the budget). In Residents’ Project Bispebjerg, the funding from the social housing organisation is co-financed by the residents on the estates through minor rent increases. According to the project manager, this is done “to create more of a sense of ownership amongst the residents towards the master plan”. The target audience of the master plans are all residents in the focus area; in the case of Residents’ Project Bispebjerg this means approximately 6,000 people on nine housing estates. Increased attention is paid to residents affected by one or more of the three main themes (e.g. children and families). The activities within Residents’ Project Bispebjerg include residents’ cafés, counselling regarding conflict resolution, residents’ democracy and home maintenance, a fathers’ network, a women’s club, help with homework for schoolchildren, a holiday camp for children and club guides for children. The work of the project employees consists in organising and coordinating the initiatives as well as doing comprehensive outreach work.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
As the objective of the master plans is to provide good living conditions for all residents, diversity is embedded in its very foundation. The understanding of the concept is positive and based on openness: the objective is that all initiatives are open to everyone, regardless of e.g. ethnicity, age and socio-economic situation. The term diversity is not used on a daily basis, but is an underlying premise for the work, i.e. for the endeavours of obtaining a diversity of participants. What forms of diversity are given prevalent focus depends on the specific situation on the local estates i.e. whether the estates house many different ethnicities, many elderly, many families and/or many socially marginalised residents. Initiatives within Residents’ Project Bispebjerg primarily deal with diversity regarding cultural background, ethnicity, age and socio-economic differences. Gender and lifestyles are addressed too. According to a consultant (consultant A) in ‘BL – The Federation of Social Housing Organizations in Denmark’, economy is a key issue, as poverty is a challenge on many social housing estates across the country.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Cross-sector cooperation is the very foundation of master plans for community regeneration, and a well-functioning collaboration between social housing associations and local authorities is the most important external success factor. A unified approach is crucial for creating a more wide-ranging, but still coherent and coordinated, set of initiatives. The positive results of former master plans have established this form of governance arrangement as an acknowledged and respected governance tool. Three internal success factors are important. First, building a sense of ownership and commitment amongst the residents towards the local community is imperative as it makes both the outreach and the impact of initiatives bigger. Furthermore, anchoring initiatives in the local community is central to the continuation of initiatives and cooperation after the master plan runs out. A strategy to achieve such local anchoring is part of every initiative from the outset. Second, according to the project manager of Residents’ Project Bispebjerg, the structure of the master plans for community regeneration allows for each project to innovate and initiate bottom-up activities, in spite of the top-down organisation of the master plans. Third, networks between staff of different master plans form an arena for the sharing of experiences and the exchange of new ideas and approaches.
A number of external failure factors exist as well. It is a difficult task when undertaking preventive work within the social field to provide the requested justification for the initiatives to the municipality and other stakeholders. Results are often too long-term and difficult to measure quantitatively. A second factor is the difficulties arising from working with a marginalised group of people: Reaching the target audience is a considerable issue when the majority lead very isolated lives. Furthermore, the multi-lingual environment of e.g. Residents’ Project Bispebjerg makes communication problematic (especially written communication). Thus, according to the project manager, the demands for communication and outreach work are very high. The most important internal failure factor is the potential failure of the master plan to establish itself as a familiar and trusted actor in the community: As all initiatives are targeted at the local residents, gaining the approval and support from them and making them participate in the different activities is crucial for the master plans to succeed. Additionally, the positive effect of the initiatives is at risk of being lost after the four-year period of the master plan. To avoid this, creating commitment amongst the residents towards the initiatives is central to Residents’ Project Bispebjerg. This commitment is challenged, however, by the high movement rates on the estates. Finally, keeping the diversity of residents in mind is continuous task for the master plans: Adapting the initiatives to the wishes of the more dominant and active groups can be at the cost of including some of the more isolated or marginalised residents. Some initiatives seem to close around themselves, i.e. the local women’s network in Residents’ Project Bispebjerg is dominated by Somali women thus creating an exclusive attitude in the eyes of other women.
The master plans for community regeneration are innovative in their unconventional organisational structure: They combine public actors on both national, city-wide and neighbourhood levels with associations (i.e. local NGOs), social housing associations and local residents. This innovative construction allows for a more wide-ranging, yet coherent and coordinated, set of initiatives. Furthermore, the unified approach makes room for the hyper-diversity of the residents. Thus, the synergy effects of working together and strengthening already existing resources anchored in the local area are the main innovative contributions of this initiative. However, as the problems targeted by the master plans are comprehensive and the target audience often marginalised and isolated people, the master plans are faced with profound challenges.