"We never dreamed that the results would be so good. In the space of a very short time, the students have understood our situation and the challenges we face with impressive accuracy. And the proposals they have come up with have been well received by the politicians. In brief: it has been perfect," says Valderhaug.
Listening to the young people
The NMBU students' starting point was to find a way to involve children and young people in the municipal planning processes. Giske is one of the pilot municipalities in the Norwegian Design and Architecture Centre (DogA)'s project focusing on children in urban landscapes "Barn i by". The idea is that systematically including children and young people in urban planning work will result in better plans.
"The standard approach is usually that a place needs an idea, or that there is a problem that must be solved. Then the landscape architect travels to the place in question and forms an impression. This time we began at the other end – we asked the citizens of Giske what they thought. Our starting point was the young people's opinions," says associate professor at NMBU's Department of Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning, Deni Ruggeri.
In order to find out how the residents envisaged the future development of the island community, the NMBU students organised a workshop with students from Year 10, conducted an online survey, talked to people and used social media via the Facebook page "Vårt Giske" ("Our Giske") and the hashtag #vårtgiske.
"The students worked like professional landscape architects. They prepared a long-term strategic plan for Giske, where they constantly reflected on what would be feasible," says Ruggeri.
Highlighting the opportunities
Giske municipality's motto is "historical and future-oriented". The municipality, which is located just west of Ålesund, consists of four islands – Giske, Vigra, Godøya and Valderøya. In recent years, the islands have evolved to become suburbs of Ålesund. This development challenges the municipality's identity: should it become a fully fledged suburb of Ålesund, or should it continue as an independent municipality with its own unique characteristics?
"Our task was to get the citizens to reflect on the changes that have taken place and what will happen if they do not make a conscious choice. What does being historical and future-oriented mean, for example?" asks Helen Cecilie Stordalen.
One clear message from the young people was that they did not like the way their home communities were becoming built up, with tight-knit communities where everyone knew everyone being replaced by large developments with a higher turnover of people.
"Many of the young people viewed development and immigration as negative. At the same time, they listed all the things they felt the municipality was lacking, such as social meeting places and a decent public transport service to Ålesund. For the municipality, it is important to have a unified vision that can change people's negative views. For example, perhaps it is possible to build in one place and leave other places in the municipality untouched?" asks Elise Rustad Fossnes.
Continuing user participation
The proposals that the NMBU students came up with are now being incorporated into the further planning process. Giske is one of six municipalities in Møre and Romsdal that are taking part in the Directorate of Health's initiative "Local environments and local communities that promote public health", the starting point of which is user participation.
"We in the administration have become better at participatory processes. The NMBU students' proposals provide the politicians with extra ballast because they are rooted in what our young people think," says Valderhaug.
Students who make a difference
This taster of professional life as a landscape planner has whetted the students' appetites.
"I have seen first hand how the field I have chosen is not static, and that there is constantly something new to learn. There are so many subjects I would like to take here at NMBU. I realise that my time here will be too short to let me study everything," says Ole Martin Jøraholmen.
"This project has shown me how important it is to work across traditional disciplines. NMBU is unique in this respect. The subject has a long tradition, providing academic and theoretical weight. We have brilliant lecturers in everything from horticulture and urban planting to lighting design and street design," says Stordalen.
In addition to the Giske project, the NMBU students carried out similar projects in Ski and Bodø.
"Norway is our classroom. We travel to local communities to make a difference and to learn leadership", says Ruggeri.