Aalborg East: How a strategic masterplan can turn an area from isolated to inclusive
Once a deprived residential district in Denmark's fourth-largest city, Aalborg East is now safe, with redesigned outdoor spaces, improved public lighting, new services and shops. Social housing has been renovated while remaining affordable and other homes have been built to develop diversity in the neighbourhood. Tenants, local associations, businesses and their staff were involved in the process from initial ideas to implementation, making this redevelopment a model of co-creation.
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
As a representative of an organisation
Name of the organisation(s): Himmerland Boligforening Type of organisation: Non-profit organisation First name of representative: Ole Last name of representative: Nielsen Gender: Male Nationality: Denmark Function: CEO Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Rendsburggade 22 Town: Aalborg Postal code: 9000 Country: Denmark Direct Tel:+45 96 31 52 43 E-mail:email@example.com Website:https://www.abhim.dk/
An isolated an deprived residential area in Denmark's fourth-largest city had, since its construction in the 1960s and 70s, experienced increasing decline and negative spiral. The shops closed, people were unhappy, there was crime and unemployment. But there was also potential - and hope. Something had to happen, and therefore more than 2,000 affordable homes were included in a major urban transformation project, where homes were renovated, new shops were added, private homes were built and a number of social initiatives were adopted. The unique thing was that the residents have sat at the table as urban planners. All the way from strategy to implementation, there has been a focus on those who lived in the city and otherwise went about in their everyday life.
And it has succeeded. Now Aalborg East, as the district is called, is an area of well-being with safe areas, no crime and great economic growth. The driver has been affordable housing and resident democratic processes. In this setting, we will focus on how we have built up methods that can be transferred to other projects throughout Europe - and hopefully help to create inspiration and well-being for others in difficult situations.
Project planning started in 2008 and construction began in 2012 - finally completed in 2021. No homes have been demolished, no residents have been displaced. Good, safe solutions have been found and life has changed for the better.
Himmerland Boligforening, which is a social housing association with a non-profit NGO segment, works with a wide range of sustainability themes in Aalborg East. These themes include the rights of the tenants to stay in their residence during and after extensive redevelopment of the neighbourhood, cocreation of new health and welfare services in the city district, energy renovation of the dwelling stock into low-energy buildings and the modernization of quality residences with rent determination.
Noteworthy initiatives include:
• Ahead of all neighbourhood redevelopments a democratic process took place, where everyone has been able to participate and contribute. A vote showed that an overwhelming majority of all tenants supported the redevelopment. A redevelopment without rehousing has not been possible due to the scale of the redevelopment. The housing association’s total budget for the redevelopment of Aalborg East during the years 2012-2021 was €300 million.
• During the rehousing process no tenants have been forced to move to other districts against their will – everyone was offered appropriate accommodation based on their economic situation and the need to maintain their social network in the local area.
• Before the redevelopment the district consisted of 2000 low-income residences with a high degree of wear and poor accessibility – but with a low rent. The residential offer has been widened: Space has been created for 500 condominiums and the low-income social housing residences have been transformed from big and worn residences with low accessibility to both large and small modern and well-maintained residences with an accessibility degree of 60%. The high accessibility standard ensures that the elderly, people with mobility issues and disabled citizens can live in the residence (for example lifts, step-free access etc.). This has created diversity.
A wide range of well thought out redevelopment initiatives of the Aalborg East district has created a cohesive and safe city district. Previously the area was closed off by large ditches along large busy roads, there were large and unsafe parking spaces, lack of light and very few safe meeting places. There were 73 identical and worn-down residential buildings. Additionally, there was a lack of identity and recognition.
The space was opened up by removing the ditches. Side by side the architects, the advisors, the housing association, and the tenants were included on the building committee. This ensured that the tenants took ownership of all solutions. Some of the improvements include better outdoor lighting, renovations to increase safety which includes gable windows that allow for more light, as well as parking between residences. Several parking spaces have been sold as building sites for private developers, which has resulted in new private rental properties. This has provided a mixture of ownership types, which supports the paradigm of the mixed city where the middle class can move in and the less privileged can stay – side by side. This is a rebellion against the separated city. Social housing and project properties in the same area, same cluster, same block.
The innovative example we set is founded in our approach to working with people. It is important that we listen to the ones who are supposed to live in the area. This includes tenants, as well as staff in the area, local businesses and clubs and associations. By doing this we ensure a safe and inclusive city district, where you want to spend time. It has become a pet project for the tenants, and we are very proud of their contribution to the development. This method can be translated directly to other EU countries.
Inclusion is a basic condition for a strong and socially sustainable district, and therefore it is important to consider it in the transformation. Previously, none of the homes were accessible, whereas now up to 60% have been converted into accessible homes that are suitable for seniors and the disabled - however with an eye to the flats being suitable for all types of residents.
We have been very aware that rent increases when renovations are carried out, but it has been a goal for us that no one has been forced to move. Therefore, we have now gone from approx. 3 different housing types to over 30, so there are many more varying apartment typologies to suit every living situation and budget. The residents have also been important in this process, as they have a good knowledge of needs.
All residents have been to personal rehousing talks with a local employee, where they have received a minimum of 3 offers for either temporary or permanent rehousing. This means you can either return to your newly renovated apartment or get a new one that better suits your living situation. In this way, we have taken a great deal of social consideration.
In relation to the more social measures, job creation offers have had a large focus. An example is job matching through the business network, where an employee arranged company visits to companies with a labor shortage. With the help of a bus tour, job matches were organized and citizens got jobs. In general, we have challenged the usual public models for welfare provision, so that it has to a greater extent been based on the individual resident.
As part of the redevelopment, we have developed a unique cocreation model where the housing association, local businesses, clubs and associations, the municipal, and the tenants have been involved. In this model the housing association is the facilitating centre which ensures financing, progress and strategic direction across all contributors and stakeholders. The housing association is a not-for-profit NGO which offers social housing where the rent is lower than the market average.
The tenants’ involvement includes voting on the redevelopment. Ahead of this the tenants were presented with the project plan, future rent, and design.
The increase in rent as a result of the redevelopment is <20%. Knowing that a large amount of the tenants did not have the income to pay a higher rent the housing association completed a big piece of work to create incentive for the tenants to move to a cheaper, smaller residence. However, it’s important to say that the rent is still below market price in Aalborg.
The local businesses are included through a business hub, which the housing association is a founding member of. As of 2023 180 businesses from the district are members. Social programmes, initiated by the housing association, have been put in place to create a connection to the businesses.
The municipal has been included on a board along with the business network and a social economic business.
Additionally, an advisory board, with prominent names, has been connected to the project to ensure that the project has been supported all the way through from the big strategic thoughts to the basic down to earth decisions which influence the everyday life of the tenants. This way we have ensured that everyone is included and that all stakeholders are steering in the same direction, because they have been sitting at the same table with the same goal.
Himmerland Boligforening has had several different strategic partners during the project’s planning and execution.
In relation to knowledge about social relations, sustainability and energy planning the housing association has had several collaborations with Aalborg University and Aalborg University Copenhagen. For example, there has been co-financing of PhD programmes.
Transnational, bilateral partnerships have been established with not-for-profit housing organizations in Holland, Scotland, and Sweden. As part of this collaboration the boards and staff have visited each other, sought inspiration, and established common platforms for development.
A housing association in Denmark’s fourth largest city must seek alliances across the borders of Europe – and domestically in the country – if a redevelopment like Aalborg East is to be successful and stand as an example of European scale.
It is imperative for the scale of the redevelopment as well as its social and business-related success that research institutions and social housing in Denmark and Europe have been involved with Aalborg East.
The project has been interdisciplinary with focus on urban planning, architecture, engineering, social sciences, energy planning as well as creative subjects in design and decoration of urban spaces.
The housing association has been the driving force to get different fields to work together: during the planning, construction, and execution of the individual neighbourhood redevelopments, but also in relation to the many parallel projects, which have developed throughout the past 10 years.
The cocreation of this model is found in the way different initiatives feed into each other. One example is, when the gas and heating company announced that they would move to sustainable low temperature district heating. The housing association created a research project with the university and the municipal about the sustainable future of heating in Aalborg East. Based on this project the housing association could create a developer strategy to support the optimal sustainable heating system – without any significant increase in the rent despite the big investments in installations and education of own staff.
The results have been realized based on both technical parameters and social demographic data. The build has been designed so that it has far more functions than previously. We have moved from three different types of residences to over 30 different ones. This means that a 3 room flat can vary from 65m2 to 110m2 duplex with a rooftop terrace – the architecture has become more diverse and quality materials with long life expectancy have been used. It has been important to vary the sizes of residences as this means we can offer current tenants a residence which fits their current need.
In relation to sustainability good results have also been manifested. There has been a 50% reduction on energy usage after renovation – this makes a difference both for the environment, the tenants, and the indoor climate.
The social demographic results speak for themselves:
• The amount of people in employment has increased with 56% between 2012-2020
• The average household income has increased with 36% between 2012-2021 – In the same period the personal income has increased by 37%
• The number of people with basic education as their highest level of education has decreased with 26% between 2012-2021. The decrease is seen in young people who have acquired internships or gone into further education.
• The students’ averages in Danish and mathematics have increased and the students are now better prepared for further education
• The average visits to general practitioners, dentists and specialists have increased following the wellbeing initiative and benefits have become accessible
• The average of tenants who have received a criminal conviction has decreased by 52% between 2012-2021. In the same period the number of people who are charged with a crime has decreased by 62%.
The innovative character is our approach to working with people and the way strategic partnerships were part of every step of the urban transformation process. The way we have ensured stakeholder cooperation is quite innovative. We have chosen a tactic where we value the informal and the uncomplicated. It must be easy and attractive to work with us and our role is the coordinating centre rather than a controlling developer.
Besides this the innovation can also be found in the way that we build bridges between the physical changes and the social initiatives which enhance the city district on every parameter. We have achieved the desired changes quickly but, done so in a way where the current tenants can see themselves in the changes and where they have a huge ownership of the changes.
From the beginning our collaboration with research and knowledge institutions has been a fundamental part of our approach so that we have been able to draw on the latest methods and create new knowledge. For example, this includes the recycling of concreate, IoT energy management, low temperature district heating and modern refuse disposal chutes. This process will never end, even though the renovation is completed the innovative and science-based approach will continue, this will benefit research, tenants, and the construction industry.
In general, we have, in the last part of the renovation, focused a great deal on integration – everything, which we create, needs to be able to survive through local means, for example by being run by volunteers, or through local stakeholder contribution, or in some other way. The development must be able to survive without our continued involvement.
It is important that the changes can last and that the area is attractive in 10, 20 and 30 years. This has been a focus in our approach to innovation.
Cocreation is the best word to describe the method which has been used in the redevelopment of Aalborg East.
The housing association has developed from a social housing-hub with 7000 residences in Aalborg to a community developer of national and international standard.
The housing association has explored foreign arenas – with research institutions, the municipal, entrepreneurs and not to forget thousands of tenants. All tenants have a right to their residence and a right to contribute, even though the housing association owns the area. This is part of the Danish model for social housing, where the housing association is both a private company and a private association which cannot do business with profit as a goal.
The housing association has therefore had to create relationships with stakeholder outside of 1) our own sector and 2) the local area in order to complete the extensive redevelopment.
Following the inclusion of various stakeholders, the housing association has been tasked with getting stakeholders to cooperate on specific projects which later would be initiated in Aalborg East.
Alongside this the housing association has had to obtain financial means for the redevelopment – it was crucial that the financial strategy prohibited a significant increase in rent for the tenants. Additionally, the housing association had to handle thousands of tenants who had to move out of their residence while the renovation was happening.
The method, which laid the foundation for the redevelopment, can be copied directly to other projects in other countries just as it can be utilized in Denmark. It is not guaranteed that all initiatives can be identically copied and utilized in all projects as the context and geography is very important. In the beginning we focused on the area’s potential, history and need – this will vary from project to project - but hereafter the design process of model will begin, and this process ensures success. The way we have ensured that tenants are listened to, that local businesses are included, that the municipal is engaged, and that clubs and associations are included, is transferable everywhere. Furthermore, the large amount of research results can be copied directly to other projects.
We believe that the successful element is the creation of this model since this can be replicated. As a developer you can choose your partners based on the model and choose which initiatives will create the most value. The important part is that the developer is the coordinating centre and that all units work together in steering committees and on a strategic level so there is a clear direction.
It is our philosophy that we want to contribute with a solution-based model which can develop cities and change worn-out residential areas. Therefore, the methodology and process has been carefully selected, so that it can be copied by others.
The transferability of this model, as well as our active national and international network, are in themselves reasons for submitting this summary as we want to disseminate this approach.
The biggest challenges we face are climate catastrophes and increased social inequality.
Himmerland Boligforening has together with Aalborg Municipal, private developers, research institutions and last but not least the area’s thousands of tenants created a diverse and approachable city district with focus on payable residences of high quality, optimal energy usage and social progress.