FoodCooking Up Community: Transforming a Town Square into an Open Air Kitchen

Cooking Up Community: Transforming a Town Square into an Open Air Kitchen

This article is part of a paid collaboration between Urban Future and Pop Up City Amsterdam, implemented in the run-up to UF24 in Rotterdam. The featured “recipe”, the Open Air Kitchen, is one of 20 examples that are presented in the CityChangers Cookbook.

Once a regular town square in Stockholm, a space has been reimagined to bring people together in a unique way. Architect-artist Elin Strand Ruin, working alongside local women, transformed it into the Kitchen Square — a vibrant open-air kitchen fostering a strong sense of community and connection. This innovative project highlights the power of shared meals and cooking experiences to bridge social divides and revitalise public spaces.

From Domestic Duties to Public Engagement

The inspiration for the Kitchen Square sprang from an ancient Greek play where women, seeking a voice in governance, established outdoor kitchens. Elin, drawing parallels to the challenges faced by her Stockholm neighbourhood — unemployment, disenfranchisement, and a lack of safe public spaces — envisioned the Kitchen Square as a platform for community engagement and dialogue.

Poster for The Kitchen Square. Image Elin Strand Ruin

Connecting with a group of women deeply invested in their families’ well-being, Elin set the stage for culinary alchemy. The Kitchen Square swiftly became the neighbourhood’s heartbeat, weaving residents together through shared cooking experiences. These gatherings transcended mere meal preparation; they provided a sanctuary for women to share stories, hopes, and concerns, fostering a sense of belonging amidst the bustle of city life.

A Recipe for Community Transformation

As the Kitchen Square evolved, the women’s networks spilled into the public realm. Their passion for cooking extended beyond culinary creations; it celebrated their diverse cultural heritage. Children, neighbours, and passersby were drawn in, transforming the square into an intimate, alternative public space. A sense of ownership blossomed, as these women became the project’s ambassadors, their presence radiating warmth, familiarity, and a sense of shared purpose.

Image Credit: Ander Bobert

The Kitchen Square’s impact resonated far beyond the sizzle of frying pans. It fostered a vibrant tapestry of community connection. Residents, once divided by social and cultural barriers, gathered to prepare and share meals, forging new bonds over steaming plates. The project empowered women, transforming them from home cooks into culinary guides. They shared their knowledge and passion, creating a melting pot of flavours and traditions that celebrated the neighbourhood’s rich heritage. Diverse culinary creations became a bridge for cultural exchange, tantalizing taste buds and fostering mutual appreciation. The project wasn’t just about food; it was about nurturing the next generation. Young people found positive role models in the active, engaged women. Witnessing their dedication, they were inspired to embrace their own potential and contribute to the community’s well-being. Finally, the Kitchen Square transformed the public space from a place of unease to a haven of safety. The presence of residents actively engaged in cooking and conversation deterred unwanted activity, creating a welcoming atmosphere that embraced everyone.

“As kitchens are familiar to everyone, people seem to naturally relax”

Elin Strand Ruin

Bringing the Kitchen Square to Life

The Kitchen Square’s success lies in its simplicity and adaptability. Elin offers a recipe for replicating this transformative project in other communities:

  • Public space selection: Identify accessible public spaces that are open and welcoming, fostering a sense of inclusivity and belonging.
  • Active network engagement: Connect with existing community networks, particularly those led by women with a strong social presence. Their insights and connections will be invaluable in mobilizing participation.
  • Community ambassadors: Empower key individuals within the community to serve as project ambassadors, spreading awareness and encouraging participation. Their enthusiasm and commitment will be contagious.
  • Kitchen facilities: Arrange cooking facilities that suit the project’s scale and resources. From mobile kitchens to fully equipped spaces, the key is to create a functional and inviting environment.
  • Community engagement: Embrace open participation, welcoming all members of the community with open arms. A public kitchen, by its very nature, fosters inclusivity and encourages connections, transforming public spaces into vibrant hubs of community life.

A Call to Action

The Kitchen Square stands as a testament to the power of food to transcend boundaries, foster connection, and transform communities. It’s an invitation to reimagine public spaces not just as physical locations, but as catalysts for social engagement, cultural exchange, and personal growth.

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