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60. Miljardprogrammet (The Billion Programme)

60.1 Short description

The background to “Miljardprogrammet” (The Billion Programme) can be traced to the so called “Million Homes Programme” (“Miljonprogrammet”) and the political consensus about the need to upgrade these areas both in terms of the physical buildings and environment, and range of services, but also dealing with the negative connotations that many of these areas are beset with.
The Million Homes Programme was launched in the mid-1960s to combat the housing shortage. A million dwellings were built over a period of 10 years. Many of the large housing estates that were built in the suburbs of the big cities during this time are today associated with segregation and social problems. Refugees and immigrants, primarily from outside the OECD region, have been directed towards these so-called “under-privileged” suburbs.

In a report published in 2006, measurements of segregation and social exclusion were described based on a summary of four factors: rate of income, education, immigration and employment. The conclusion from this was that 8 per cent of neighbourhoods can be defined as “socially vulnerable to a high degree”, and 19 per cent as “partly socially vulnerable”. Many of the areas that are classified as socially vulnerable were identified at the end of the 1980s and a conclusion in the report was that there have been no significant changes in segregation in the late 1990s and early 2000s (USK 2006; Nordfeldt 2012).

The idea of Miljardprogrammet is to unite and inspire the people living across the different Million Homes programme areas in Sweden to take action and start positive processes, or innovations, in order the change the million programme areas in the direction of what the citizens want (Miljardprogrammet 2012). One could say that it functions both as a meeting place and as a think-tank for ideas and for innovative processes. However, it is also supposed to function as a platform for negotiations with relevant politicians and civil servants. It is an initiative that strives for communication across the more than 100 or so different million programme areas in Sweden. At the core of the Miljardprogrammet lies a sharp critique of how decisions about the areas are taken at municipal and state levels. According to the initiator of Miljardprogrammet, political decisions are mostly based on the way that the Million Homes Programme areas are depicted in the media: as run down, deprived areas whose residents are mostly unemployed people without opportunities (interview 7). The initiator says that the politicians rarely live in the Million Programme areas themselves, and therefore, they are easily manipulated by the negative picture they get from the media. However, for the citizens this picture can become absurd when they cannot identify with what is said about them and about the places where they live. He argues further that decisions based on the negative media picture, becomes an obstacle to entrepreneurial ideas and engagement that exists among the citizens in these areas (Interview 7).

60.2 Concept and ways of addressing users

The project started in 2011 after the initiator had made a survey on the types of changes required by citizens in the Million Homes Programme areas. This survey was in itself a response to the many political discussions about different ways to change the status of the Million Programme areas, from costly renovations to special job projects aimed at providing more job opportunities in the areas. According to his survey, the main change requested by the citizens was better service in the centre. (The Million Homes Programme areas, as well as most suburbs, are built around a centre with shops and municipal facilities that can include libraries, public swimming pools and sports facilities as well as health care-centres.) The citizens also requested enhanced security and better housing standards and public environments, as well as better police, education and health care (interview 7). In 2012 the ideas of Miljardprogrammet was put into print:

The core aspect of Miljardprogrammet is that we who want to change things are often stopped by others, who do not want the same things as us. The way things normally work is that you get an idea of something that you want to do. You apply for money to do it from the municipality or somewhere else. If you get the money you move to action but if you don’t you don’t and that is where things go wrong.(…) No matter if you get the money or not you will take action; you will just have to figure out a different way. Almost everything is possible and what it depends on is whether or not people are doing things; if they put their time into it (..) Those who have the power over money or allowances are very seldom people from the Million Programme areas (…) In the end, the result will be that the status of the Million Programme areas will be viewed with respect, and we who live here will be viewed as resources and people that are needed in society. And when we and our areas get the respect that we deserve, a lot of other things will change too – our chances of getting a job or something as central as our self-confidence.

Miljardprogrammet, 2012 (authors’ translation)

The document also gives very firm practical advice, such as how to organise a start-up meeting (“you will need a flipchart”, “papers to distribute for people to write their ideas” and “you will need to take people’s email addresses” etc.), how to see possibilities rather than problems, and how talk to the media with a smile (sic) without confirming their negative view of the Million Programme areas. There are also recommendations about which other organisations to approach, for example, to hire a venue for meetings, and thorough advice is given on how to draw the attention of the local media to the start-up of Miljardprogrammet in each area (Miljardprogrammet, 2012).
Miljardprogrammet uses the networking ability that is provided by Facebook to communicate. Miljardprogrammet is a programme without any leader or board; however, the inspirational role of the person that initiated it is important when it comes to understanding the attention that the Miljardprogrammet has been getting (for example in DN, 18 October 2011, etc.). The initiator is well known for his engagement in the suburbs and clearly his personal position is an advantage. It is, however, uncertain as to how many communities have actually been adopting the programme since the start of 2012. In time of writing there are three groups registered on Facebook, from different Million Programme areas, and these are Vårby, Alby and Jordbro. Around 1,300 people have “liked” the page. It is of course uncertain whether this is a real count of how many people and communities are engaged. Miljardprogrammet is supposed to be running from 2012-2020 (interview 7).

Miljardprogrammet addresses users (or “citizens” as we should say in the case of Miljardprogrammet) in an empowering way, focusing on their possibilities to change things in a desired direction rather than on problems or political hindrance. It is a project that seeks to be a platform for all residents that want to be engaged in positive change in the Million Programme areas across Sweden. It can be seen as an attempt to create a positive identity for the people in the areas, enhancing the sense of community so that it can become strong enough to change the negative media picture to a more positive one. The way to do that is to let the people living in these areas come up with and be inspired by their own innovative ideas, and to get them in touch with other people, neighbours and friends that can support them.

60.3 Internal organisation and modes of working

Miljardprogrammet has an ad hoc organisation based on civic engagement and participation. On their website the project is described as a “true democratic project”, which seems to reflect the fact that there is no formal organisation or representation at all. The initiator and also entrepreneur, is the face people associate with Miljardprogrammet, although he is clear about not wanting to represent the programme more than others that are engaged in it.

60.4 Impact on the governance of local welfare systems

What impact Miljardprogrammet will have on the governance on local welfare systems remains to be seen. At the core of Miljardprogrammet lies a critique of the governance of the local welfare system, which is understood to be too paternalistic and manipulated by the negative assumptions of the media. The ideas behind Miljardprogrammet could encourage citizens’ suggestions and expertise in neighbourhood revitalisation. The programme recognises that the Million Programme areas are in need of (social) change, but it stresses the ideas should be engagement led and from a bottom-up perspective.


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60. Miljardprogrammet (The Billion Programme)