The subresearch questions for walking interviews were
- Which urban places in Suvela should be preserved according to immigrant women?
- Which urban places in Suvela should be changed according to immigrant women?
The reason why I decided to use walking interviews (or guided walking tours as I called them at first according to their exact translation from Finnish and their Swedish counterpart ’gåturer’) was to find out, which features in the built environment of Suvela would bring conscious or unconscious positive reminiscences from their home country.
I planned the walking route before the previous sections of my case study based on what I presumed to be everyday hubs for immigrant women who have children: home, kindergarten, school, shops, playground and child health centre. I added Kirstinharju pedestrian street and Kirstintie to them, because I wanted to know, which one immigrant women would use, Kirstinharju pedestrian street or Kirstintie when passing to the centre of Espoo, for example. Their mutual relation has also been decisive for the development of the whole housing area. The last addition was Suvela park, because I wanted to find out, whether greenspace is as important to immigrant women or not. All the stops along the walking route were:
- Residents’ park of Suvela (meaning the playground)
- Suvela kindergarten (and Kirstintie)
- Kirsti school
- Community centre of Suvela (including the child health centre)
- Shopping centre of Suvela
- Yard of blocks of flats (representing home)
- Kirstinharju pedestrian street and Suvela park.
We stopped in each place and I asked there immigrant women to observe, think and discuss together with the support of the following questions and instructions that I delivered and read to them (the original text was in Finnish):
1. Are there this kind of places (buildings or spaces) in your home country?
2. Is there something in this place which looks like in your home country /
reminds you of your home country?
What differences do you notice in this place between Finland and your home
3. How could this place be modified or what could be added here to remind you of
your home country / connote with your home country?
Is there something that you would like to bring here from your home country?
If yes, what?
Observe the following issues in each place where we stop:
(number of floors, roof form, building material, colouring, windows, doors,
balconies, gates, fence, etc)
– plantings and other natural elements (stones, sand, water, etc)
– street furniture (benches, dumpsters, shelters, fences, etc)
– covering of passageways and areas
The research material consisted of my notes that I had written about the discussions with the immigrant women during the walking interviews as keywords and later on as complete notes.
I found the 8 attendants for the walking interviews during the earlier phases of my case study. They represented the following nationalities:
- 3 Vietnamese
- 3 Somalians and
- 2 Estonians.
Because it was very difficult to find the participants in the first place and because communication would be easier within one ethnic group for the second, I ended up arranging three separate walking interviews for each nationality: on 25th September for the Estonians, on 2nd October for the Vietnamese and on 16th October for the Somalians. all in 2011. Each one of them started at 2 p.m. and lasted for two hours.
In this section of my case study I did not have any reference group of Finnish women, because my original aim was to use walking interviews for the comparison of cultures in order to define, how the built environment could be modified to make it remind more of immigrant women’s own culture to ease their integration process.
However, the walking interviews showed soon that this was a very naive presumption for two reasons. Firstly, immigrant women’s cultures represent such a vast spectrum that it is impossible to produce a built environment that would have features equally from each of them. Secondly, immigrant women focused spontaneously more on general development of the built environment than on comparison of cultures during walking interviews.
The reason for immigrant women’s lack of interest in cultural differences lied in a phenomenon which I call the integration paradox. Those immigrant women who participated in my walking interviews had all immigrated in Finland for 15-20 years ago, which meant that they were already well integrated or assimilated in the Finnish culture. This, in turn, made them more blind to cultural differences compared with those who would have come just recently. On the other hand, the newly-arrived are only in the beginning of their integration process and have often such problems with the new language and culture, that they do not have enough language skills or other resources to be able to participate in city planning.
Furthermore, the walking interviews showed that these immigrant women who had lived in Suvela already for long, had a lot of tacit knowledge of their housing area just like any other Finnish dweller in Suvela.
I have therefore divided my research data into three groups:
- comparison of cultures
- development of the built environment and
- tacit knowledge.
COMPARISON OF CULTURES
Some of the places along the walking route do not exist in immigrant women’s home country at all or they did not exist at the point of their departure. All the attendants had immigrated to Finland from a country where the GNP is lower than here and where many of the basic municipal services are therefore lacking. This made it impossible to compare residents’ park of Suvela and Suvela community centre and even Suvela shopping centre and Kirstinharju pedestrian street with its Suvela park. When comparing the rest of the urban places attendants mixed their physical circumstances and social activities together.
Because the attendants represented very different cultures, some of their notions were contradictory with each other: What was similar for some, was different for others. This shows how heterogenous a group immigrants are and how difficult it is to take their needs into account in city planning.
The attendants discoursed the cultural differences of their built environment by dividing them either to similarities or to divergences in the following way:
- the same kind of elements of the buildings and yards
- the scale of the school and kindergarten building
- informativity and openness of commercial buildings
- certain materials of the buildings
- clearer opening of buildings towards outer space
- bigger size and openness of yards
- lacking adults’ activities outdoors
- schoolchildren’s passiveness in the maintenance and cleaning if the school
The attendants presented most of their notions without valueing the divergences. However, the attendants started valueing some spontaneously outside the question and instruction framework. According to the attendants the following features were on average better in the built environment of Suvela than in their home country:
+ building kindergartens
+ organizing parking: adequate amount of parking places and their numbering
Correspondingly, the following features in the built environment of Suvela were on average worse according to the attendants:
– unformed and untidy wastelands which do not seem to belong to anyone and which
generate undesirable behaviour (littering and urinating)
– special so-called drunks’ bars, even though it was also considered good for dwelling that
drinking is concentrated in certain building.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Even though the questions and instructions for the walking interviews tried to guide attendants’ observations and discussions towards the physical circumstances of the environment, the attendants saw the social activities as an inseparable part of the built environment also here.
The scale of development proposals varied highly from small structures and details to whole buildings and areas. The development proposals aimed at improving either security, general athmosphere or cleanliness of the housing area. Immigrant women suggested different kinds of means to achieve these aims. The means can be classified based on the grade of changes in the following way:
- Abolishing or removing the present structures or activities
- Development of the present buildings, structures or activities
- Adding new structures or activities and
- Restoring former activities.
Attendants’ most important development proposals concerning the physical circumstances of Suvela were:
– reducing the amount of gates at school; abolishing the dog dumpsters from the residents’ park of Suvela
– plastering or painting the walls more colourful
– tidying up the rose bushes along the walkways
– thinning out trees and undergrowth along the Kirstinharju pedestrian street and the Suvela park
– adding conifers, ground covering plants and lawn
– building shelters, fences and a gate in yards
– building a speed bump or an elevation to the Kirstinharju pedestrian street for the crossing of Kirstinmäki
– placing useful plants in wastelands
The most important development proposals concerning activities in Suvela were:
– removing the playground area of the kindergarten away from the proximity of the street
– enlargening the small children’s area and the field for informal playing at the residents’ park of Suvela
– launching a special cleaning campaign for yards
– more guarding to the shopping centre of Suvela
– adding a separate dog park in connection with the residents’ park
– adding a family cafe or a restaurant at school or the shopping centre
– allowing sale on the streets in connection with the shops
– placing a trail, a sitting and picnic area to the woods of the Suvela park
– returning the children’s library back at school or at the emptying chapel
– returning the youth centre back to the Suvela community centre as a special space for girls
Tacit knowledge means here all the information about the research area which is not directly searched for but which is nevertheless gained during the walking interviews either from the attendants themselves outside the framework of questions and instructions or with the help of my own observations. Thus tacit knowledge is sort of answers to questions that have not even been made.
Tacit knowledge came up in places where we stopped and also elsewhere in situations where the discussion seemed to go on the sidetrack outside the actual framework of questions and instructions.
The tacit knowledge included either
- clear arguments for the development proposals the attendants had suggested or
- the kind of knowledge which could be used for formulating new development proposals that had not been mentioned earlier.
The tacit knowledge can be divided into three groups: the physical, social and cultural environment experienced by the attendants.
The most important tacit knowledge related to the physical environment of Suvela was about
- unofficial meeting places
(for example sun bathing and picnic places est of the residents’ park of Suvela)
- unofficial routes
(for example schoolchildren’s moving from school to the Suvela shopping centre through the broken fence)
The most important tacit knowledge related to the social environment of Suvela was about
- single incidents
(for example children’s escape through the many gates of the school)
- repetitive incidents
(for example youth’s drinking along the unofficial passageway between the Suvela community and shopping centre)
The most important tacit knowledge related to the cultural environment of Suvela was about
- usability of the physical environment
(for example the experienced redundancy of balconies and their dangerousness for small children and missing shelters against bad weather at the yard of the residents’ park of Suvela)
- disturbance of activities
(for example urination in public in the bushes of wasteland).