A city that roars for gender equality
Umeå is the kind of city that chooses to place a work of art against sexual harassment right in the city centre. The reason lies in the city's history, the time now and a progressive look ahead. When Umeå grows with a goal to become 200,000 inhabitants in 2050, gender equality is an obvious perspective in sustainable urban development.
We let three local voices give their views on the matter.
In the heart of Umeå's public space, a red-painted feline with powerful muscles has broken out of her cage. Several meters above the ground, it opens its golden gape, bares its teeth and roars out over Rådhustorget. The monument marks the municipality's stance against sexual harassment and is a manifestation dedicated to those who together broke the silence during the metoo movement. It is no coincidence that the artist Camilla Akraka's work Listen has been given a central and permanent place in the city. There are several reasons why Umeå is often described as a progressive, conscious and equal city.
ART DOES NOT OCCUR IN A VACUUM
In Umeå, there is a great commitment and a will to break power structures. The idea that women and men should have the same power to shape society and their own lives is a politically accepted goal.
When Umeå Municipality's culture committee in April 2018 called for a public design of a Metoo- monument on Rådhustorget, the process led to the assignment being awarded to the artist Camilla Akraka. She chose to give the artwork the name Listen, as a call to listen, act and change. The work shows a conscious play with conservative and power-associative materials that meet a story of liberation. The monument, as far as we know, is the first Metoo monument in the world, commissioned by a public organisation.
Linda Gustafsson is Umeå Municipality's gender equality strategist and coordinator for the municipality's commission for social sustainability. A role that makes her see the work in a larger context in a natural way.
- A work of art like Listen does not occur in a vacuum, but is the result of a historical movement in a certain direction over a long period of time. The municipality took the initiative, but this would never have happened if the people in Umeå were uninterested in gender equality issues.
- An initiative like Listen, with a unanimous committee, says something. Putting a roaring feline in the town square is not the first thing you try in a municipality if you have not done the ground work.
As for the response from the Umeå residents, Linda emphasises that people naturally have different views on public art and the work's design.
- There are always opinions about public art and artistic interpretations. That's how it should be and the experience of art is your own. However, there is a reason why the stance taken behind Listen is not a particularly great provocation in our city.
Linda emphasises that the implementation of Listen indicates experience and knowledge in matters of power and gender, in both society and the organisation that worked with the matter. Her view of what makes this type of investment possible is a mix of the site's history, the municipality's work, the city's various initiatives, active associations and a committed population.
Sara Gustavsson is the CEO of Visit Umeå, whose task is to develop and market the Umeå region as an attractive visitor destination for both business and private travellers. She focuses on the journey of change that Listen signals. It’s a clear signal that enough is enough, that we must move forward towards new goals, towards change and improvement. The work of art, which some call the "cougar" or "Metoo monument", is an effort completely in line with the brand that Sara works with on a daily basis.
- The Cougar is a powerful symbol of what Umeå has long stood for and wants to stand for going forward. How a frustration turns into an enormous force.
In her role as marketer of Umeå, she proudly states that not all cities can boast such a work of art. During tours for visitors, Visit Umeå usually talks about the gender perspective in urban development. For a city that takes a position as a destination, a conference city and an event city, gender equality and sustainability are very much central.
- Umeå has worked long and hard with all sustainability issues, has a small lead and high aspirations. Looking forward the need I see is to continue this work and focus on us further maintaining our position.
Mona Lidén, works as a centre manager in the central mall Utopia, which is located right by Rådhustorget and the work of art.
- It is physical proof of what Umeå wants to convey as a municipality and brand. So smart! The location right in the heart, in the living room of our city, is of course just right. The design as such, with a feline roaring and breaking out of a cage, I think provides a powerful symbolism of the gender equality issue that is still being pursued.
Mona states that even though we may think we have come a long way, there is a lot of work left until we have a completely equal world.
- I would like to say that it is a brave move by our municipality, but really it is rather the case that I almost demand it.
It is clear that Mona's values rhyme with the meaning of the work of art. She explains why she has even chosen to tattoo Listen on her upper arm.
- I felt it is both a symbolism for the very liberation of women, that we are not pushed back anymore, and also of course a tribute to Umeå.
Mona was not born and raised in the city, but has one foot in the inland of Västerbotten. She laughs when she describes her relationship with Umeå and at the same time states what is important to her.
I am not a native, have not lived here at all times and can not say what is the right side of the river, it doesn’t really matter to me. However, I thrive here and have created my adult self in the city, which makes me confident to put Listen on my arm and feel proud of it. I think that Umeå is a good place for me to raise my children, in a kind of equal world.
THE SOCIAL SUSTAINABLE CITY
Umeå is a city that is growing and aiming for 200,000 inhabitants by 2050. To create change in relation to the city's growth and development, the municipality purposefully strives to build in a gender equality perspective.
Linda Gustafsson's role includes taking part in various surveys, analysing and identifying what is required to increase people's well-being in the city.
- The development of a socially sustainable and equal city is only possible if all people living in the city participate, through the municipality and other public organisations, residents, civil society and business, talking and cooperating with each other.
In Umeå, collaboration is facilitated by short distances, both geographically and between people. Gender equality is on the agenda and the city's active women's movement, universities and the public sector have alternately strengthened each other over the years. As early as 1989, Umeå was selected as one of three municipalities for a government initiative with the aim of investigating obstacles to gender equality and working them out.
The municipality has for a long time worked with gender equality issues in an active, systematic and strategic way.
The work with issues such as inclusion and equality has had an effect. When the inhabitants of a city feel involved in society and trust each other, security and well-being increase. It creates a good foundation for living a good life.
- Umeå is well placed in comparisons of trust in society. Many feel that everyday life is stable and safe. That life is meaningful and that we are involved in the city. It helps us trust each other, which makes people feel good.
Umeå has good conditions to be an equal city, but as for all places, there are also challenges to deal with. To take advantage of good values and develop different districts, the municipality works with statistics, analysis and broad dialogue. Through district dialogue, Umeå residents can describe their district both orally and digitally, based on which places they thrive in and what they want for the district in the future.
CULTURAL AND CREATIVE POWER
When it comes to Umeå's potential as a sustainable, equal city in relation to other cities, there are some factors that stand out. Utopia's center manager Mona Lidén highlights Umeå's strengths in innovation and the creative industries.
- That we have a cultural and creative force in this city is crucial. I believe that these types of activities and brains will make an impression in a way that allows citizens and immigrants to address the issue in a different way.
Visit Umeå's CEO Sara Gustavsson is on the same track.
- Umeå has a combination of creativity and entrepreneurship. There is an openness with natural elements of questioning according to the city's academic spirit.
URBAN PLANNING AS A TOOL
The municipality's strategies for sustainable growth call for the public space to be developed so that everyone can stay there on equal terms. Umeå works innovatively with urban planning as a tool for gender equality. Over the years, the perspective has developed from being about representation, city lighting and fewer bushes to build a city that evens out power relations. The questions concern, for example, how we humans move in the city, who constitutes the norm when the city is built and who is allowed to take a seat in the public space.
Linda Gustafsson emphasises that gender equality is a crucial part of a socially sustainable city. She describes how the systematic work affects the entire city and that it gives concrete imprints, on streets, in parks, in schools and workplaces.
The gender perspective is included when a park is developed or a cycle path is built, but that work is not visible in the same way as a work of art.
PUBLIC ART IN URBAN DEVELOPMENT
In addition to Listen, there are more investments in Umeå in public art and sustainable urban development, where the gender perspective is clearly stated.
The station tunnel between Järnvägstorget and the Haga district is planned and designed with a gender equality perspective to be a safe and accessible place, with large light, rounded corners for better visibility and entrances in the middle.
The passage is a tribute to the Västerbotten author Sara Lidman, where passers-by get to experience the 170-meter-long glass artwork Lev! with various quotes from her.
The public work donated to Umeå Municipality “Nobody puts baby in a corner” looks out over Vasaplan, the hub for the city's local bus traffic, with an encouragement to the city's citizens not to restrict their freedom of movement in the public space.
Umeå's digital initiative “Gendered landscape” shows the city as a venue for gender equality and inequality, to clarify that norms and structures linked to gender play a role.
In Årstidernas park by the Ume River, the municipality has developed the place Frizon after dialogue with young girls about the public space.
THE CORE OF CHANGE
A city's identity is clearly more than its streets and buildings.
Beyond the birches, Umeå offers an urban range in culture, entertainment and food. Around the corner, nature awaits with both forest, snow and sea. The core of Umeå are the people of Umeå who carry the city's soul and history, with a courage that makes both individuals and society grow and develop.
Here we roar with pride and a look into the future. Because believe us, if it's by Umeå - we don't settle for status quo.