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Urban Equipe

Urban Equipe: where urban development roams the neighbourhood

Foto: Simon Tanner
Foto: Simon Tanner

From residential walk to online idea platform: Urban Equipe provides city dwellers in larger and smaller Swiss cities with ‘equipment’ to organise themselves and advance the development of urban space in collaboration. For this, Urban Equipe chooses a language that appeals to as many city dwellers as possible, at the same time connecting them to the discourse of urban development.

Already as a child, Sabeth Tödtli walked through the city and made lists of all the things that comprise a city: phone booths, street lamps, supermarkets, trees and zebra crossings. At home, together with a friend, she drew up plans for the city of her dreams. Today Tödtli is co-founder of the ten-member Urban Equipe. Urban Equipe is all about offering city dwellers the necessary tools – which it calls ‘equipment’ – to help shape their city and support them in their commitment. Its vision is that of an inclusive, diverse city in which accessibility, diversity and learning ability play a central role.

Since its foundation in July 2018, Urban Equipe has been helping urban dwellers in Switzerland participate in the development of urban space. The team held its first events in Zurich, Lucerne and Huttwil, and further events are planned in Bern, for example. From late summer, the freely available equipment in the form of implementation examples, how-tos and “Instructions for Collaboration” or directly usable templates can be downloaded on www.urban-equipe.ch.

Urban Equipe: Tim Van Puyenbroeck, Anna Aigner, Anna Brückmann, Lars Kaiser, Danila Helfenstein, Sabeth Tödtli (from left to right). (Photo: Simon Tanner)

Urban Equipe: Tim Van Puyenbroeck, Anna Aigner, Anna Brückmann, Lars Kaiser, Danila Helfenstein, Sabeth Tödtli (from left to right). (Photo: Simon Tanner)

Urban Equipe in action

In practice, the work of Urban Equipe looks like this: the team creates ‘opportunities’ with city dwellers and ‘accomplices’. In Zurich, for example, there has already been a residential walk through different forms of living in the neighbourhood (together with the Nextzürich association and the city magazine Tsüri.ch), in Luzern there was a pitch night on the subject of urban countryside (with Neubad and the architecture magazine Karton) and in Huttwil a fun event was held at the summer market to encourage the community to take part in the development of their city (as part of a research project at the Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH). Further events in Zurich and Bern are on the agenda, and cities in French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino are also planned. The experience gained on these occasions is used to create equipment that helps city dwellers organise themselves and contribute to urban development. These include practical how-tos, explanatory films, collaborative event formats and open web codes, as well as game instructions for urban development workshops or construction plans for DIY neighbourhood furniture. The team is planning a launch event in late summer, where they will present their equipment to the public. From then on, this equipment will be continuously expanded and available to everyone.

The urban equipment will be tested at specific locations, on specific topics and together with accomplices, and then made available to all committed city dwellers. (Photo: Simon Tanner)

The urban equipment will be tested at specific locations, on specific topics and together with accomplices, and then made available to all committed city dwellers. (Photo: Simon Tanner)   

Language as a factor for successful communication

While city dwellers in Switzerland play the leading role on the stage of Urban Equipe, the development of urban space requires a complex interplay of different players. Politicians, city administrations and planning offices are also becoming accomplices in the implementation of projects and actions. Within this framework, the coordinated use of language is a success factor for joint projects: tone, how to address people and how to communicate are decisive for getting something up and running quickly and purposefully.

“We want to address everyone so they can identify and take on common goals.”

Danila Helfenstein

“Our choice of language corresponds to our vision, is inclusive and very conscious,” reports Danila Helfenstein, who is responsible for communication at Urban Equipe. The main target group comprises urban dwellers in Switzerland who are willing to change, but of course it greatly helps the project if experts and researchers who deal with the development of urban space become aware of it. “Ultimately, we want to address everyone so that they can identify and tackle common goals,” says Helfenstein. The team consciously set wording goals and jointly defined communication requirements that they are now implementing.

Urban Equipe creates opportunities: On an residential walk with Nextzürich, those interested get insight into various forms of living in the city of Zurich. (Photo: Urban Equipe)
Urban Equipe creates opportunities: On an residential walk with Nextzürich, those interested get insight into various forms of living in the city of Zurich. (Photo: Urban Equipe)

A tailored vocabulary

The result is a language that underlines the joy of playing and working together. If you look at the communication of the project, you immediately notice the many verbal images and borrowed terms: ‘equipment’ instead of ‘tools’, ‘accomplices’ instead of ‘partners’, ‘opportunities instead of ‘events’, ‘translating concerns’ and ‘making soft voices heard’. “As in most collaborative processes,” says Sabeth Tödtli, “agreeing on central concepts was a bit of a challenge. This includes the name ‘Urban Equipe’, which is representative of the linguistic diversity in Switzerland and the mix of inhabitants in the cities.”

“With terms like ‘accomplice’, we create something that stands out.”

Danila Helfenstein

“We deliberately looked for terms that convey our values to the outside world,” says Danila Helfenstein. “With terms like ‘accomplice’, we created something that stands out and consciously distance ourselves from language we perceive as ‘corporate’.” Urban Equipe borrowed the concept of complicity from the urban development discourse that Gesa Ziemer helped shape at HafenCity University Hamburg. This refers to a temporary but binding collaboration, which can be dissolved once it’s no longer needed. The accomplice is associated with fewer barriers than the long-term, binding concept of partnership; at the same time, the accomplice is less anonymous than the player. As an accomplice, everyone is invited to come up with ideas for Urban Equipe. Opportunities, i.e. events or actions, are then carried out together. This can lead to longer-term complicity or even to one-time collaboration. “For us, the term is consistent and brings to the point what we strive for better than other, more common terms,” says Sabeth Tödtli.
 

A young project with a history

The idea for Urban Equipe was born in collaboration with its current employees. Various team members had already been active in a variety of previous city-building initiatives: for example at Nextzürich or the temporary Pavilleon. Engagement Migros became aware of these and initiated the foundation of a sustainable organisation. Samira Lütscher, the manager responsible for the project at Engagement Migros, says: “The team is now reaping the rewards of its many years of voluntary commitment and is bringing together people who believe in the concept and have both a lot of experience and high professional standards. This enables them to hit the ground running within the urban development context.” In voluntary projects, it is often the case that the experience gained and the knowledge generated are lost. “As soon as the project is over, you no longer have the resources to network with other initiatives, to exchange experiences or to make them available to others. We want to take on this task. For our own project, but also for others,” says Sabeth Tödtli. From this, the idea arose to further evaluate and process the knowledge from similar projects. So that existing processes can be repeated and reimplemented – for a more colourful and open city.