The EU-funded project Metamorphosis aims to change neighbourhoods and, above all, to respond to the needs of children in a sustainable manner. According to the initiators, the success of a public square can be measured by whether it is visited and used by many children and young people. The aim is to achieve structural improvements such as the transformation from car-oriented to child-oriented zones or the increase in children’s mobility, which can also go hand in hand with a positive reinterpretation of residential and living spaces. Seven European cities are currently participating in this research and practical project. Lupo Burtscher is – together with architect Monica Carmen, journalist Katia De Gennaro and the project coordinator Philip Kleewein – active in an advisory and creative capacity for the project partner Merano.
Temporary skate ramp on the Brunnenplatz in Obermais
For the neighbourhood Obermais we realized together with the children and teenagers and in close collaboration with the youth centre “Jugendtreff Obermais” a skate ramp on the Brunnenplatz, the public square of the neighbourhood. The square became a public construction site for more than one week. The idea had been born a few months before in a vision-building workshop with adults and children. In this workshop it had turned out that having a skate ramp in their neighbourhood was something the kids and teenagers had always desired.
For the construction of the skate-ramp we needed as many helping hands as possible. We also involved two young carpenters of a refugee centre in Merano and one of them contributed with an African dance during the official opening ceremony. It was interesting to observe the simultaneity of African rhythms, the cotton candy, the Dj and the participation of the inhabitants of this high-class neighbourhood. This integration of different cultures and generations in the public space has changed also the perception of this particular space and it was possible to assist simultaneously to expressions and rituals of different cultures. For a moment, the image and perception of Brunnenplatz changed in a fundamental way.
Usually the cars of parking offenders occupy the square. With our installation on the square we tried to understand if despite the ramp, which immediately had become an important playing and meeting point, cars would still park wildly around it. Yes, they did – unfortunately – but at the same time the neighbourhood, and especially the children and teenagers, became aware that Brunnenplatz offered a lot of different opportunities: it can be a place to meet, it is an important social space and can also become an open air playground.
And that is and was a very important step and aim for us.
How can urban space as such, with its architectural elements, paths, walls, houses, green spaces, etc., be experienced directly and physically? Parkour can give an answer to this question. This sport, mainly practiced in urban spaces, looks for creative ways from A to B, and uses “obstacles” like stairs, railings or walls skilfully for itself. In the surroundings of a social housing in Merano, a workshop for children was held, which teaches the basics of Parkour. In addition, urban elements and areas such as stairs, stones in the green areas and small walls were painted and marked with colours together. Thus they do not only invite to use them in the sense of Parkour, but in general their perception is changed for the better.
Pedibus stops, Wolkenstein
The pedibus is a “bus on foot” to the school, properly equipped with stops and accompanied by a “nonno vigile” (lollipop man). This is intended to reduce car traffic in Merano. As a communication strategy, the potential of the way to school, the children walking together and the experience of the city are brought to attention. A clear marking of the stops and the realization of street games for the waiting times promote an improved perception of this service in the urban space.
Vigilius Lab, Vigilplatz, Untermais
What do children desire in their neighbourhood? Using creative methods such as drawing, photography, photomontages and interviews, an analysis of the given situation was carried out together over five days and in close collaboration with the educational agency UPAD. The children developed ideas on how to use public space in their neighbourhood in a different way and how to transform them into places where they can meet and play. We decided to work on three ideas and sketch them with cardboard models: a stage for events in public space, an oversize climbing structure and a multifunctional mobile structure on wheels that bakes and sells pizza, but at the same time is an exchange point for toys, a bicycle repair point and can also become a stage. This multifunctional mobile structure was finally implemented. During 2019 we used this mobile urban furniture for three different events: a toy exchange market, the co-creation of a Vigilius-Rap during a one-week workshop and a knödel cooking session in open space.
For the composition of the Vigilius-Rap we invited the musician and song-writer Matteo Jamuno and the theatre-expert Alessandra Podestà. For one week during an open-air-lab we discussed together with the children what it means to be strong, what it means to be wise and what it means to have courage. The public space of Vigilplatz was transformed through wood panels and tabels into these categories and the children built their instruments to fight against their fears and to be strong and wise. First of all we discussed and shared stories together. In a second step Matteo Jamuno wrote with the children together a very personal text about each participant and they presented it in a final concert.
The occupation and use of public space, the creation of situations of social exchange and cohesion, and the individual and collective empowerment of children played an important role in this project.