In collaboration with artist Stephane Bickford-Smith, I undertook a research residency with the British Council and Creativity World Forum 2017 in Aarhus, Denmark, during the city’s year as European Capital of Culture. During our residency we developed movement based workshop techniques and environment design to encourage creative discussion around urban development. The basic concept focused on utilising movement as an icebreaking tool to unlock creative thinking and conversation amongst a group of strangers.

Our aim was to invite our participants to unpack their preconceptions of the environment they live in, to imagine them from new perspectives and ultimately conceptualise alternative urban futures.

From our research we identified four major characters involved in urban development:

INSTIGATOR’s drive change whilst NON-MOVERs resist, or are just happy to stick with the status quo. INSTIGATORs tend to push things forward whilst NON-MOVERs like to stay comfortable. But change is not always progress, sometimes we need a NON-MOVER.

Urban development creates a turbulence where there are VICTIMs - whose lives are disrupted and broken whilst WINNERs are able to find opportunity amongst the chaos. WINNERs don’t always have to win at the expense of the VICTIMs.

From these four profiles we created a huge floor chart upon which our workshop would take place.

The first exercise asked participants to place and mark themselves on the chart for the different aspects of their life: WORK, PLAY, HOME. Where in the balance between INSTIGASTOR, NON-MOVER, VICTIM & WINNER did they place temselves and why?

After this exercise we introduced a selection of urban textures we had collected from around Aarhus:

The participants were asked to place the textures across the chart to build a picture of urban transition. We challenged them to look at the material quality of the images and consider the impact these environments have upon the individuals who exist within them. 

For instance, with the textures below, which image most suggests progress? (The image on the left is from a construction site in a rapidly developing part of Aarhus, the image on the right shows a rudimentary water & electrics system above the Institute for X, "a laboratory for bottom-up hands-on urban development in Aarhus").

We often see redevelopment and regeneration as progress but what does it mean for the people who live and work around these sites? To feel in a constant state of flux and upheaval where money and expertise is necessary for change? The image on the left may seem backwards to some but when you look at it you understand the infrastructre of the area. Which approach could most people get behind? What material quality really inspires creativity and instigates progress as a society?

At this point we took a short break, during which participants were given their FUTURE CITIZEN roles. We created a randomised process to devise a range of FUTURE CITIZEN characters for the next stage of the workshop. We aren’t experts in future forecasting so we came up with a system to create our citizens of the future - characters our participants could embody to imagine new structures for urban living.

As our equation explains (please excuse our dodgy algebra), for each of the 21 speakers at the Creativity World Forum 2017 conference, we found the top 5 articles posted by or related to them via twitter. For each article we took the 3 most cited terms (beyond the trivial). This left us with 315 words with which we could make a possible 24,649 combinations for our future citizens.

In groups, the participants where asked to take on the persona of their Future Citizen, and amongst themselves imagine an alternative future and create a DECLARATION OF COLLABORATION -
a visualisation of the urban environment and systems of civilisation in which their collection of FUTURE CITIZENS could co-exist.