Marcus Knutagård - January 2023
Welcome to Urban Interviews, a series in which we will get to know different members of the Urban Arena on a more personal level. What their interests are, how their research is going and what their visions for the future are.
This time we are talking to Marcus Knutagård, Associate professor at the School of Social Work, member of the Urban Arena steering group and one of the heads of the Social interaction, culture and consumption unit.
Where are you from and what has been your path to get to where you are now?
I got involved with research from a totally different angle. It was about how new technology might affect social relationships, that was before the IT boom. We had some projects in Landskrona, where they wanted to put different technological appliances into the million programmehousing. They were probably not thinking that most people living there were retired and not interested in new technologies. They wanted to interact with their neighbors and meet up in the laundry room. From that I shifted my focus to homelessness research, in cooperation with the housing company in Malmö MKB. They wanted to build a village for homeless people called Bostadsbyn Per-Albin. Per-Albin Hansson was a famous prime minister of Sweden, who built up the folkhemmet, the people’s home. So, from new technologies to homelessness as a social problem, back to social innovation and how to solve social problems. I got especially interested in the space in between and moral geographies.
You are part of the School of Social Work, how is it connected to the Urban Arena?
In several ways. It is a big network, and we have two campuses in Lund and in Helsingborg. In Helsingborg we connected with a lot of architects. Many of our researchers focus on sustainable welfare and eco-social work, in that perspective the Department of Social Sciences is connected to the Urban Environment. Mainly focusing on groups that are left behind but also on big social policy issues that might affect certain people.
You said you circled around technologies to homelessness and what are you currently researching on?
I am currently working on both. One research is on solving homelessness issues with a specific type of program called Housing First. We work a lot with municipalities for them to do more Housing First and less of what we call the staircase model, where you have to climb step-by-step to qualify for housing. That has been proven to not be that effective, since people get stuck and are not able to get into the ordinary housing market. Housing First is a sort of direct entry, a precondition, to solve other problems in your life. But we also work with what we call resilient communities in the neighborhood context. We get people living in Housing First apartments to join together and find out other things that they need. Connecting resilience questions about how to make this housing situation sustainable and resilient and how to work with people in homeless situations.
What is a method to understand whom to support first?
In the original American model of Housing First, the ones that are the worst off get housing first. In the Swedish context that does not really work. There are too many that need help and there are too few Housing First apartments. So, they often make queues or lotteries, referring to the social services. Homelessness is often framed as a wicked problem, but during the pandemic you could see that some countries solved homelessness temporarily. They framed it as a public health issue, since people living in homeless situations moved around the city. In the UK they had the Everyone in initiative. Moving people from the street to empty hotels. Creating homes for everyone is a lot about will and political decision making. Many cities talk about the concepts of smart cities and inclusive cities, but they tend to forget about certain people living in the city.
You talk about solving current problems, are there emerging concepts that you would like to research further on in the future?
We have a special initiative in Campus Helsingborg, an LU funding called Urban Social Innovation, a research platform that is also connected to the Urban Arena. The idea of the platform is to tackle emerging problems that cities and society are facing. A lot of this is connected to the eco-social innovation field, but also involuntarily loneliness for instance. Difficulties that people might get living in marginalized positions, but also connecting to society at large.
How come the urban realm is so interesting to your research?
I think the urban realm is very interesting, because of how people come together. Some spaces become, even though it is not planned, a place where people of different social statuses meet and interact. On the other side there is also a lot of architecture in the city that tries to hinder people from being in that space. There is this big tension between public and private and where we are allowed to be. I think this is all connected to the idea of democracy. Using the city as a democratic platform to do things together. I think that distinguishes the urban from some more rural areas that might have their collective ways of meeting.
Another problem of hostile architecture is that it is just pushing the problem to another space. In Sweden we often see people hanging around Systembolaget, the liquor store. By moving the store, one does not actually help the cause, but the people that are around there are just getting pushed to another place. Oslo also had a law that expelled people from a certain area for 24h if they did something against the law and in Hungary it is even illegal to be homeless. There are a lot of hostilities growing in the whole of Europe. I think it would be better if it would be illegal to let people become homeless, because it is a human right to have a home!
The urban perspective is also interesting when we talk about social sustainability, when we think of segregated areas. Research needs to tackle questions about social mix and how to overcome extremely gentrified and filtered areas. There have to be joint actions that bring the actors together to achieve integration in the city.
Do you have a favorite city that is maybe well integrated or that you find interesting?
I think there are many great cities in the world. I like the city where I live, which is Malmö, since it is a very diverse, compact and complicated city in many ways. I also love huge cities like Tokyo. Every part becomes its own city, with different dynamics and ways of living. I think a nice city is an uncomplicated space, where you do not have to be a certain way to be there. When it doesn't matter who you are in order for you to fit in.
What is the Urban Arena for you? Also being part of the steering group?
The best thing about the Urban Arena, which I think is important for universities in general, is the possibility to connect with different disciplines and find new research questions that can be attacked from different angles. In my discipline I look at people but if you want to construct homes, let us say for elderly, then it is good to have knowledge about what elderly want and need. If we do not have interdisciplinary research, we lose a lot of knowledge along the way. Getting to know different experts and research fields that we have at our university is a great tool to get from the Urban Arena.
Do you have wishes for the Urban Arena how it could develop or what could change?
I think a key issue for all is funding. I think we researchers are very good in our fields and projects, we have the skill to bring in money for research projects, but there is very little funding for sustaining structures and networks that connect us researchers. I would as well wish for more acknowledgement that the Urban Arena is something interesting for LU.
This would be the end of our interview, do you have any final thoughts?
I think there are a lot of positive things happening with the Urban Arena and I think great things are lying ahead of us. Letting people know about the Urban Arena and sending them little reminders of what we do is crucial to keep us alive. It is all about using each other's strengths to get forward and continue developing.
You can find Marcus research on the website of his department the School of Social Workhttps://www.soch.lu.se/en/start and his research portal profile https://portal.research.lu.se/en/persons/marcus-knutag%C3%A5rd.