An International Masterclass in Urban Challenges and Creativity
It was a very early Sunday morning as I took off from Schiphol Airport, destination Copenhagen. I was travelling lightly packed, which turned out to be in my favour as they simply forgot all large luggage at Schiphol. It was quite a bumpy ride – a storm was passing over the region between Germany and Denmark – which not only affected my journey, as some other participants would soon find out.
Participants to what, you might wonder? Well, together with fifty fellow students from all over the world and with widely varying educational backgrounds, we converged in Aarhus (Denmark) to participate in the DCLivingLab 2017. It was described on the website as an An International Masterclass in Urban Challenges and Creativity, but they did not offer much more information as to what we might expect or what would be expected of us.
It was Sunday afternoon as I climbed the flight of stairs to the sixth floor of the Hallo Hostel, where I was greeted by Craig, the young and joyful host who runs the place. He informed me I was the second participant to arrive, and told me Ditte (the international coordinator for DCLL) had already been waiting all day for us to arrive. I hastily dropped off my luggage and introduced myself. A great conversation ensued, which was from time to time interrupted as more and more participants came and joined in. Most of them had travelled alone, except for the Scottish – whose luggage was also lost at the airport – and the large group of Dutch participants. Two participants got stuck in Germany for the night because of the previously mentioned severe weather.
Next morning, there was an atmosphere of excitement and curiosity at breakfast, as we waited anxiously for Ditte to come and pick us up. Soon, we would finally find out what the next few days would be about! We went for a walk through an industrial area, that showed signs some deterioration but even so new companies were breaking ground. We soon arrived at a building named Frontløberne, which means ‘Frontrunners’ in Danish, where we were greeted by croissants, coffee, and more enthusiastic people.
Next morning, there was an atmosphere of excitement and curiosity at breakfast.
The neighborhood we just walked through turned out to be the Sydhavnen (South Harbor) District: our terrain of operations. As Aarhus is developing at a staggering rate, Sydhavnen will soon be incorporated into the city. However, residential development is not allowed in the area, there is still an old but active slaughterhouse, as well as some substance abusers… So how do you turn such an environment into a living and breathing part of the city and integrate all elements of the district into a meaningful place where every inhabitant of Aarhus feels welcome and at home?
Eight projects were presented and distributed among the groups. The project my team and I got assigned to, was to rethink the very location we worked in: the Frontløberne. They hoped to turn this place into something more than just a venue where concerts could be organized and students, mostly from creative studies, could come and work on their thesis. Torben, the host of the place, dreams of turning it into a harbor to Rethink Activism.
Our team worked till the very last minute, after which Ditte was kind enough to drive us to the Rådhus (City Hall) for a reception with all the Districts of Creativity, especially Flanders DC, whom I had yet to meet. After a networking dinner at the wonderful Godsbanen, STAK (Student Taskforce for Creativity) organized a nighttime tour of the Institut for (X), an independent and not-for-profit culture association.
The Creativity World Forum!
The anticipation for the following day was tangible: we were going to the Creativity World Forum! I don’t know what it is about Danes, but again we were greeted by hot coffee and fresh croissants, so you won’t hear me complaining. The morning session was over in no time, the inspirational speakers blew my mind: because of Stefan Sagmeister, I will never be able to take classic skyscrapers seriously anymore.
We ventured out for our Breakout Sessions, in which we would discuss one of the themes (People, Enterprises, and Cities) in a more in-depth manner. I met Ba’av, a city planner from New-Zealand, and Thorbjørn, a citizen of Aarhus who might be able to get me a job in Denmark. Our session about Future Living was briefly interrupted by what we jokingly started calling Cake’o’clock; the Danes do love their afternoon coffee and cake.
After the Breakout Session, on our walk back to the Musikhuset (the main venue of the CWF), Thorbjørn showed me some parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. There, another four great speakers awaited us to top off an overwhelming day. Afterwards, we went for food and had some lengthy discussions about what we learned that day.
The second day of the Creativity World Forum started off immediately with five keynote talks that energized the whole venue; Steve Vranakis (Executive Creative Director at Google) and Frederik Andersen (CEO of VICE Scandinavia and VICE Media) are just two of them. Time whizzed by, and soon another Breakout Session was waiting for our participation.
Mo, an Egyptian city planner whom I met during the DCLivingLab, joined me to a session titled Creative Cities and Neighborhoods of Opportunities. This, in turn, made this session twice as interesting, as he could offer precise insights on the topics at hand. I, myself, got inspired by some of the presented ideas, such as public artwork using digital technologies.
Even after two intensive days, the energy in the Musikhuset was still impressive, especially when the grand finale commenced.
After the Breakout Session, one last segment of keynote speakers was waiting for us. Even after two intensive days, the energy in the Musikhuset was still impressive, especially when the grand finale commenced. The honor was given to Snask, a wildly creative and amped-up Swedish design, brand, and advertising company, you would almost expect them to light off real fireworks on stage. A banger of an after party was apparently what people needed to lose their energy, and even when everything came to an end and the music died down, some of them still had plenty to go on.
The last day…
The following morning, we had some time to explore this city we had been working and living in for four consecutive days. Small groups ventured out, some went shopping, we went for a walk during daylight. Nobody really wanted to address the matter, but you could things were coming to an end. One last activity was planned: the presentation of the final products we came up with for the Sydhavnen District.
It was a busy reception: the stakeholders, the team behind DCLivingLab, people from the CWF, and so on. The room was entirely packed. Every project came with a unique visualisation, the proposed solutions were well-thought and original, and attracted quite some attention. It was great to see the hard work that went into all the projects, and seeing the finalised products was a humbling experience.
After dinner, the Dutch group had to leave, so our small group stayed behind with some people from DCLL and STAK, thus we spent an evening talking about the experiences we had during the week. The following morning, we said our goodbyes and started going our own way.
On the train back to Copenhagen, I felt tired but satisfied. This week would leave a long-lasting impression: I shared and gathered knowledge, culture, and ideas. I realized some of the people I met and worked with, might be on the stage of the Creativity World Forum in the coming years.