To design a more socially sustainable city, we long for more diverse and nuanced insights about how the city works as a space of belonging – not seen from the professional eyes of those who plan it, but from those who live in it. To explore this, a collective of planners, and scholars in Copenhagen initiated the Urban Belonging project, and started collaborating with the Visual Methodologies Collective and the Public Data Lab with the ambition of mapping lived experiences of under-represented communities in the city.

A catalogue of lived experiences.

Partnering with local community organisations, the project has invited participants who self-identify as ethnic minorities, deaf, homeless, physically disabled, mentally vulnerable, internationals, and/or LGBT+. Using participatory mapmaking and photography, they have been asked to document their relationship to the city.

Over three months, they have gone on 100+ walks in the city, taken 1400+ photos, built 200+ maps, and enriched them together in workshops. The result is a unique catalogue of photos, maps, and data visualizations of Copenhagen that tell individual and common stories. It qualifies what ‘belonging’ means to different people, charts geospatial patterns in where the city creates positive and negative experiences for different marginalized identities, and crafts an intersectional lens on the city.

Data feminist approach.

When addressing diversity in this project, we draw inspiration from Data Feminism; the introduction of intersectional feminist theory and critique into how we work with data shapes our project in at least two ways. First, we use participatory methods to rethink citizen engagement as a process, redefining who is invited to the conversation, and suggesting alternative, more sensitive ways of engaging underrepresented communities. Second, we redesign the way that data is used to tell stories about people’s urban experiences. To change the narrative, it is not enough to rethink the process of engagement, or how we collect data about people. It is also crucial that we replace the binary red-and-blue gender diagrams, and introduce a more nuanced data visualisation language that captures the intersectional complexity of social issues. To do so, we experiment with making maps and visualisations that break hierarchies, challenge binaries and expose power dynamics that shape feelings of belonging in cities.