Small town, big move : Constructions of place in transiting mining communities

Sammanfattning: The dissertation accounts for construction of place in mining communities as they undergo a major urban transformation. In the 2010s, urban centres in the northern Sweden mining communities of Gällivare and Kiruna entered a new execution phase of a large-scale transformation precipitated by ground subsidence caused by mining activities, a transformation that continues. The ambition to make the transition socially sustainable and contribute to more attractive communities resulted in research projects focused on these aspects.The aim of this dissertation is to describe and analyse how place is constructed in established mining communities in transition through the following research questions: How is place constructed in dialogues on social sustainability and attractiveness? How do people of different age groups, professions and gender construct place in established mining communities in transition? What are the possibilities and limitations of different research methods in relation to including residents’ perspectives in the transformation process? The overall theoretical standpoint of this dissertation is that place is socially constructed: place is made by people discussing and describing it, by discourses that are produced, reproduced and challenged in social groups beyond individual standpoints. Residents’ thoughts and ideas about place are an important part of what the communities are, were and will become, along with their reflexive relationship with their place of residence and thoughts on their own and other peoples’ future in the respective communities (See Lefebvre, 1991, Halegua, 2020).  By reflexive relationship with place I am referring to actions where residents consider risk, think about their future, define what makes their life more meaningful and reflect upon changes in their environment; local community is one of the levels of these thoughts, attitudes and feelings.Five studies were conducted to investigate construction of place in the transiting mining communities of Kiruna and Gällivare using mixed methods: participatory action research in Living Labs, statistical logistics regression analysis, GIS 3D visualisation. This included an analytical review of research on established mining communities, a 3D visualisation of social issues in Gällivare, an analysis of Living Labs with residents of Gällivare and Kiruna as well as a group of commuters to Gällivare, a comparative study of three co-creative processes in Kiruna and a statistical analysis of construction of place in Kiruna over time.The results show that residents, while participating in dialogues on social sustainability and attractiveness, construct the transient communities through contradictory storylines. Bearing themes in construction of place were aggregated through the storylines that residents constructed and reproduced, expressed different attitudes towards and referenced. The established storylines with a long history, such as model community, a town constructed as a new establishment planned to be modern and inclusive; nature and the town, the theme of beautiful natural surroundings valued by residents and visitors, including the mountains, forest, rivers and lakes; big city elsewhere, a big city used in the construction of Kiruna and Gällivare to show what those places are not, as a counterpoint; the secure small town, the storyline of knowing “everyone”, spontaneously meeting, helping each other, were all used to re-establish the sense of stability and reframe the new environment by connecting it to the construction of the communities’ past. The storyline, the conditionally inclusive town, was used to question the character of and conditions for inclusion in the local interconnected context. The storylines of hope of a more inclusive and sustainable future and broken promises of a faster transformation, resulting in bigger changes, were used to process the change to imagined futures of place.There were certain patterns in how people of different age groups, professions and gender construct place in transiting communities. The main difference in the way men and women constructed Gällivare, according to 3D visualisation analysis, was that women were less content than men with the built environment, following similar geographical patterns. Construction of Kiruna as a place to live (or leave) over time has shown that while blue-collar workers were less prone than white-collar workers to consider leaving in 2011, there were no significant differences between social classes in 2016 in that regard. Generational patterns were similar - the younger the respondent, the more prone he or she is to consider leaving - but the gap between the youngest respondents and all other respondents has grown. The effect of social bonds that inhibit the will to move went from insignificant to visible for men and from significant to stronger for women. The hope of a transformed Kiruna, so ubiquitous in 2011, was much less pronounced in 2016.Different research methods had different potential in terms of the potential to understand construction of place and were thus included in the planning process: the statistical method gave representative patterns of factors behind whether residents consider leaving and how the patterns changed over time, but this method was limited in its ability to generate an understanding of the contextual meaning of those patterns, Living Labs provided the opportunity to see how place is constructed in dialogues but was limited in its ability to generate an understanding of preferences and individual standpoints, 3D visualisation provided spatial patterns beyond statistics and means for discussion and communication of those patterns with a broad variety of actors but had limited potential for their interpretation.