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In this paper we investigate Nya Hovås, a completely new neighbourhood in Gothenburg, where the construction has been accompanied by an extensive and expensive advertising campaign. For this purpose, we draw upon a multi-pronged theoretical framework that brings together Lefebvre's notions of conceived, perceived and lived space, with current sociolinguistic work on scale (Carr and Lempert 2016) and Harvey's critical insights about urban development as produced through public-private partnership. With the help of these theoretical tools, this paper analyses the processes of naming, branding and signing used by the entrepreneurs in order to increase Nya Hovås' value and attractiveness. The argument of the paper is that the 'newness' of the neighbourhood is conceived and perceived on three different scales: (1) on a spatial scale Nya Hovås indexes international flair and globality through textual, graphic and architectural resources; (2) on a temporal scale, Nya Hovås is created as a new and liberal form of the old and conservative high-end Hovås, and (3) on a socioeconomic scale, Nya Hovås is conceived as a mixed-use urban neighbourhood. However, the perceived and lived space signals exclusivity and cultural homogeneity. Ultimately, the entrepreneurial place-making of Nya Hovås is both profiting on and contributing to urban polarization.
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Preprint to appear in The Economy in Names. Values, Branding and Globalization, proceedings from
the conference Names in the economy 6” celebrated at Uppsala University in June 2019.
Entrepreneurial Naming and Scaling of Urban Places: the Case of
Nya Hovås
Johan Järlehed, Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Gothenburg,
Maria Löfdahl, Institute for Language and Folklore, Gothenburg, Sweden
Tommaso Milani, Department of Swedish, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Helle Lykke Nielsen, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark
Tove Rosendal, Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Gothenburg,
In this paper we investigate Nya Hovås, a completely new neighbourhood in Gothenburg, where the
construction has been accompanied by an extensive and expensive advertising campaign. For this
purpose, we draw upon a multi-pronged theoretical framework that brings together Lefebvre’s notions
of conceived, perceived and lived space, with current sociolinguistic work on scale (Carr and Lempert
2016) and Harvey’s critical insights about urban development as produced through public-private
partnership. With the help of these theoretical tools, this paper analyses the processes of naming,
branding and signing used by the entrepreneurs in order to increase Nya Hovås’ value and
attractiveness. The argument of the paper is that the ‘newness’ of the neighbourhood is conceived and
perceived on three different scales: (1) on a spatial scale Nya Hovås indexes international flair and
globality through textual, graphic and architectural resources; (2) on a temporal scale, Nya Hovås is
created as a new and liberal form of the old and conservative high-end Hovås, and (3) on a
socioeconomic scale, Nya Hovås is conceived as a mixed-use urban neighbourhood. However, the
perceived and lived space signals exclusivity and cultural homogeneity. Ultimately, the
entrepreneurial place-making of Nya Hovås is both profiting on and contributing to urban
Keywords (5): urban entrepreneurialism, Nya Hovås, place-making, signing, onomastics
‘Linnégatan in the countryside’, ‘Sea and nature, and the best of the city’ and ‘The
advantages of the big city and the small-town’. These were the initial slogans for Nya Hovås,
a brand new neighbourhood built in the wealthy and racially white southern suburbia of
Gothenburg. Since the creation of this new urban area began, when few people knew about
this place at all, an intensive marketing campaign has aimed at locating this new place in
people’s imaginary. In this process, references were frequently made to existing places,
ranging from the popular Gothenburg neighbourhood Linnéstaden with the high street
Linnégatan, to international metropoles such as New York and Dubai. As the neighbourhood
was being created outside the actual city borders, the initial slogans tried, on the one hand, to
connect it to the city, and on the other, to underline the qualities of the countryside and
closeness to the sea. As a result of this tension between the urban and the rural, Nya Hovås
has been conceptualized very differently by different constituencies: as an urban
neighbourhood by some entrepreneurs, as a highway juncture by the municipal authorities, or
as a shopping mall by Google.
It is precisely the multiplicity of (often contradictory) representations of Nya Hovås that we
aim to investigate in this paper, focusing in particular on the relationship between the creation
of meaning, the production of value and the negotiations of power relationship. For this
purpose, we draw upon Henri Lefebvre’s well-known tripartite distinction between
conceived, perceived and lived space. More specifically, we are inspired by Giorgia Aiello’s
operationalization of Lefebvre’s ideas to a case of “urban regeneration” in Leeds. Indeed,
Aiello discusses the refurbishing of an existing urban neighbourhood, the deindustrialized and
depopulated waterfront of Leeds. In contrast, the case we discuss here is the creation of a
completely new neighbourhood situated 12 kilometers south of Gothenburg city center. These
differences notwithstanding, the semiotic processes of place-making can be captured through
a similar analytical toolkit that distinguishes between (1) conceived space, which is produced
by the communicative strategies and tools used by the entrepreneur to produce a new top-
down vision of place, (2) perceived space, which accounts for the actual and physical
materialization of the place, and (3) lived space, which describes the meeting point of the
planned vision and its materialization in the daily life of the neighbourhood (adapted from
Aiello 2013:2, 6). Needless to say, while this distinction is analytically appealing in order to
flesh out different semiotic processes of place-making, the three dimensions of space are
bound together in a dialectic relationship. As David Harvey (1989:5) puts it, ‘urbanisation
should, rather, be regarded as a spatially grounded social process in which a wide range of
different actors with quite different objectives and agendas interact through a particular
configuration of interlocking spatial practices’.
Nya Hovås presents a particularly interesting case of urbanization because we are following
in real time the discursive process through which different social actors compete with each
other in making Nya Hovås a place with specific meanings and values. The focus of this
paper is on the main stages of the place-making process as it manifests itself on the naming,
signing and branding performed by the principal entrepreneur, Next Step Group. In other
words, our analysis concentrates on the conceived and perceived spaces in Lefebvre’s
typology. We are cognizant, however, that new inhabitants and visitors to Nya Hovås will
shape and mark the place with their lifestyle and participate in the negotiation of its identity,
value and function. The lived space will eventually change the perceived and conceived
space. This is however going to be investigated in a following paper.
In what follows, we begin with presenting the conceptual and methodological framework that
underpins the paper; we then move on to analyse the naming, signing and branding of the
neighbourhood; we end with some concluding remarks and a discussion of how the creation
of Nya Hovås should be seen in relation to the development of Gothenburg as a whole and
then risks contributing to urban polarization.
Conceptual Framework and Note on Method and Data Collection
The notion of urban village originally described poor people moving from rural areas into
cheap inner-city quarters that had been left after the middle-classes had relocated to the
suburbs (Crow 2009). However, ‘the distinctive quarters of cities that have been created to
service the consumption patterns of the service class, constitute the most notable
contemporary expression of the urban village’ (Crow 2009:104). As will be demonstrated by
our analysis, the ‘urban village’ of Nya Hovås appears to be constructed principally for white
Swedish (upper) middle-class people. This applies to both younger generations leaving the
inner city for a family life in the ‘countryside’, and older generations of villa-dwellers that
seek an urban ambience and lifestyle without leaving the ‘countryside’.
In this paper, we argue that the creation of Nya Hovås as an urban village or a new urban
neighbourhood shall be seen as an expression of urban entrepreneurialism and Harvey’s
(1989) idea that urban development increasingly is produced through public-private
partnerships. Previous work on urban entrepreneurialism in Gothenburg shows how such
partnerships have contributed to the creation of a new public image of post-industrial
Gothenburg, and a redistribution and repurposing of public space in line with the interests of
investors and middle-class consumers (Franzén, Hertting & Thörn 2016). Building on this
work, we suggest that scales and scalar work are relevant conceptual tools for analyzing how
such partnerships work to increase a place’s value, attraction and competitiveness. Drawing
on Carr & Lempert’s (2016) account of scale, Järlehed & Moriarty (2018:30) define scalar
work as ‘the social practice we engage in when we imagine something as something else
(newer-older, better-worse, etc.), as well as when we position something or someone on a
scalebe it spatial, temporal or socioeconomic and ascribe particular meaning to this
position’. In this sense, scale offers a fine-grained analytical tool through which to
operationalize Lefebvre’s theoretical ideas of conceived and perceived space. More
specifically, our analysis will show that the entrepreneur’s production of the conceived and
perceived space of Nya Hovås involves the very imagining of this neighbourhood as ‘new’,
both in relation to the existing close-by neighborhood of Hovås and in the sense of a ‘new’
form of urban settlement and life-style. Moreover, scale helps us capture the positioning of
the area in spatial and socioeconomic terms: at the same time as local and
international/cosmopolitan, and as wealthy and safe.
Scale-making hence produces certain ways of seeing and being, and excludes others. Or, as
argued by Blommaert (2007), scale always operates as a stratified and stratifying mechanism
in social interaction. The analysis of the production of the conceived and perceived space of
Nya Hovås clearly shows how the scalar work builds on and reproduces patterns of social
inequality, as well as dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. The multimodal communication
we analyze demonstrates how a wide range of semiotic resources are deployed within this
process. Furthermore, we suggest that the purpose of what we term entrepreneurial scaling is
to upscale and increase the value of a place, its inhabitants and activities by constructing a
new public image. As already said, it takes the form of public-private partnerships and
Franzén, Hertting & Thörn (2016:25) identify two principal motives behind these
partnerships: an economic motive is to make profit and, linked to it, a symbolic motive to
strengthen the attractiveness and competitiveness of a certain place and its trademark. The
two motives are thought to reinforce each other. The property owners coordinate the store-
keepers so as to make them contribute to the production of a common public image of the
neighbourhood. This is supposed to increase the value of the properties and businesses. The
attractiveness for the city lies in increased tax revenues from both housing and commerce.
In Nya Hovås, the principal entrepreneur Next Step Group owns all commercial buildings
and decides which commercial actors can establish their businesses in the area; the retailers
need to sign a document called ‘Nya Hovås Kvaliteter: En småskalig blandstad i världsklass’
(The Qualities of Nya Hovås: A world class mixed-use city in small scale). This document
establishes the values that the store-keepers are supposed to reproduce and transmit. The
commercial vision is formulated in the following way: ‘a “Linnégatan in the countryside”
with small personal specialist shops cooperating with retailers on a slightly larger scale and
a number of exclusive stores. This commercial mix in combination with the city environment
as a whole will make Nya Hovås a local center, a destination even for people from other
In order to implement the motive and vision, a common set of strategies has been developed,
and these are ‘strikingly visual’ (Franzén, Hertting and Thörn 2016: 25). For our analysis of
Nya Hovås we concentrate on the choice of names and languages, visual design and
thematization, selection of commercial establishments, architecture and advertising
Methodological considerations
Since this study investigates the relationships between public language displays, on the one
hand, and social actors, structures and processes of change, on the other, we have made a
photo documentation of commercial enterprises (such as companies, shops, restaurants) in
Nya Hovås during the period 2016-2019. Based on a multimodal approach to signage (Kress,
2010; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996, 2001), all visible inscriptions and graphic design of
totally 81 storefronts have been analysed, within the frame of ethnographic linguistic
landscape studies (Shohamy, Ben-Rafael, & Barni, 2010). This approach allows us to give an
account of how public language displays interact with socioeconomic structures and the built
environment. We have also analysed street signs in the Nya Hovås neighbourhood, in
addition to advertising and official documents distributed by the entrepreneurs, both in public
space and on web pages. Furthermore, we have taken part of decision minutes from the Name
Drafting Committee of Gothenburg regarding decisions on names in Nya Hovås. The names
displayed in the area are analysed within the frame of onomastic studies (cf. Sandst 2015,
Puzey 2016).
Along with participatory observations in the neighbourhood, we have conducted situated
recorded interviews with different categories of informants. We have interviewed
storekeepers of five businesses, and in order to voice people’s lived experiences of languages
in public space and their experiences of the new area, we have conducted open interviews
with five, both young and old, residents in the area. We have also interviewed the architect
from the City Building Office who worked with the original planning of Nya Hovås, two
representatives of the main entrepreneur, Next Step Group, and Löfgren branding, the brand
development agency that initially was contracted for marketing the project, as well as one
representative from the Name Drafting Committee of Gothenburg and another from the local
history society.
Analysis of the Urban Entrepreneurial Strategies Used in the Production of Nya Hovås
In order to realize the vision of Nya Hovås, a set of strategies have been developed.
Blurring of boundaries and roles
In an initial plan of the area (provided to us by Löfgren Branding), the municipality and the
private entrepreneurs have divided the different building sectors between themselves. The
municipal authorities are only part of the building plan dedicated to building ‘housing’. The
other part of the plan is projecting ‘commerce and culture’ and only involves private
entrepreneurs and the housing cooperative HSB.
However, the public program of the co-working-office ‘The House’, which in the plan is
presented as a place for culture, basically includes a series of talks about entrepreneurship,
social media, design and mindfulness, plus kick-offs and after-work events (The House). In a
newspaper piece from 2016, one of the two owners of Next Step Group, Jacob Torell, further
refers to schools, together with offices and shops as ‘commercial space’ (cited by Mark Isitt
in GP 2016-08-20). This signals that the private actors are taking over some of the
responsibilities that in Sweden normally are ascribed to public authorities. It can further be
seen as contributing to what Leeman and Modan (2009: 338) describe as the ‘blurring of the
boundaries between culture and consumption’: ‘Culture is used both to frame public space
and to legitimate the appropriation of that space by private and commercial interests (Zukin
1998). As cities and themed environments become sites of “shopertainment” (Hannigan
1998), consumption becomes culture, and culture becomes consumption’.
According to the representative of Next Step Group whom we interviewed in 2017, Next Step
Group maintains a continuous dialogue with both the local district council Askim-Frölunda-
Högsbo and the city council. At the same time, however, she said that ‘the municipality isn’t
visible in this part of town…’ and that ‘since we [Next Step Group] are so public… we have
become some sort of a civic office’. According to Franzén, Hertting and Thörn (2016: 45) the
possibility to hold the public authorities accountable for the development of public space is a
central democratic function. Although Next Step Group see themselves as a civic office, they
are not entitled to take over such responsibility from the municipality. As a result, when
something goes wrong or a new inhabitant in the area wants to file a complaint, there is no
established process for this.
What’s in a name? Nya Hovås
Since the neighborhood was created from scratch, it is unsurprising that the choice of name
became an issue of paramount importance. By naming, space can be given meaning and
become a place (Cresswell 2015). Moreover, the naming of a place is always a socially
embedded act that involves power relations (Vuolteenaho & Berg 2009:9). Hence, tracing the
process of naming can shed light on power negotiations and contestations. The naming of
places is furthermore one of the primary means of attempting to construct demarcated spatial
identities. Toponyms convert and stabilize geographical localities into places with values and
capabilities. The analysis of which toponyms are selected to identify and locate a place, and
which places are selected to be identified through different kinds of public and commercial
signs, allows insight into the dominant forces at play in the landscape (Mitchell 2008:43).
The entrepreneurs contracted the brand development agency Löfgren Branding, who
introduced the name Nya Hovås. Johan Löfgren at Löfgren branding (interviewed in October
2017) sustained that the name's connotation is sometimes more important than the actual
denotation. He emphasized that the associations that a name raises are important for the
neighborhood's identity and brand. According to the map and the city authorities, the place
where the new area is built is called Brottkärr or Brottkärrsmotet (‘Brottkärr junction’). So
one would have expected the new neighbourhood to be given the same name, but, according
to Löfgren, this would not have been viable as a selling name because it did not sound ‘fancy’
enough. Another possibility would have been to connect to the neighboring but quite
unknown areas Kopparkärret or Lyckhem.
Yet, the brand development agency chose the name Nya Hovås in order to connect to the
prestigious and older neighborhood Hovås, north of Nya Hovås, and thereby imbue the new
neighbourhood with ‘the sense of luxury’ associated with Hovås, as Johan Löfgren put it.
Morever, while the affluent area of Hovås is well-known in Gothenburg and Sweden,
Brottkärr or Lyckhem are unknown to a broader audience. Put differently, through the
(synechdocic) relation to Hovås, the new neighbourhood of Nya Hovås is filled with high
values and connotations. Proof of this is that brokers immediately started to use the name and
advertised housing objects in nearby areas as situated in Nya Hovås (Hemnet).
However, the Name Drafting Committee of Gothenburg rejected the name with the argument
that there is no such name as Gamla Hovås (“Old Hovås”). It should be mentioned for
contextual purposes that the Name Drafting Committee in Gothenburg comprises a group of
local politicians that suggest and decide upon official names for urban places, and to
understand their reasoning, it is important to be familiar with the Swedish name law, a part of
the Swedish Historic Environment Act. In Swedish state and local government operations
‘good place name practice’ is to be observed. Emphasis is placed on linguistic correctness,
but even stronger on the importance of preserving place names as part of the nation’s cultural
heritage. The result of the committee’s decision led to a conflict between the consortium and
the Name Drafting Committee, in the sense that the name Nya Hovås now exists on a
commercial level but is (still) not accepted as an official name. This kind of tension between
two identical names is well known in Scandinavian context where an explanatory supplement
has been used to distinguish localities, cf. Jørgensen (1977).
Nya Hovås as Trademark: Privatization of Public Space
An important challenge for entrepreneurial place-making and branding is to achieve a
stabilized and naturalized popular understanding of the place that is in line with the
entrepreneurs’ vision. Medway and Warnaby (2014) contend that trademarks and brands
work in a similar way to place names in the sense that both contribute to simplifying and
fixing a complex and fluid social reality. They further say that: ‘Whilst place brands per se
are far more than their logos and slogans, it is these that represent the most visible aspect of
place marketing efforts’ (2014:153).
In 2012, Nya Hovås was one of the first Swedish neighbourhoods to register its place name
as trademark (PRV). As a general tendency, we interpret this as a sign of an increased
privatization of public space (cf. Sassen 2016).
Figure 1: The registered logo of nya Hovås (left) and the non-registered but used logo (right).
The name nya Hovås was registered with lowercase but is now generally written with a
capital N: Nya Hovås. This signals an increased social recognition of the place name. At the
same time, however, in 2012 the consortium registered a logo that after a couple of years was
replaced by a new one which was never registered (Fig 1). This logo was designed by Milk
and consists of a white heart with nya hovås written in red small letters. According to Next
Step Group, the heart was chosen because it is ‘inviting and friendly’ and ‘for making
reference to New York’ (interview December 2017). In a second interview, they added that it
corresponds to the idea of Nya Hovås as ‘a destination’, where ‘everything fits into the heart’:
service, businesses, flats and inhabitants (interview May 2019). These ideas are consistent
with Jaworski’s (2015: 228) description of the widespread graphic and visual play with the
heart as a semiotic strategy ‘linking commerce with affect’. However, surprisingly, Next Step
Group was not aware of the fact that the heart logo in use is not registered as a trademark.
Neither did they know that the one registered is running out in 2022 if it is not renewed.
These shifting writing practices and logo designs indicate that the status and value of both the
place name Nya Hovås and the brand nya Hovås are still somewhat open to debate.
Selective historicization as place-branding tool
The conflict between the consortium and the Name Drafting Committee escalated when
names were needed for new streets and housing areas in the neighborhood. This disagreement
illustrates the often contested nature of scalar work (Järlehed & Moriarty 2018), when
different constituencies are reimagined and repositioned in temporal, spatial and
socioeconomic terms. As mentioned by Azaryahu (2009), street names and the version of
history they introduce into the public sphere, belong to the semiotic makeup of local and
national identity and the structure of power and authority. They inscribe an official version of
history into the cityscape, and introduce this version of history into networks of social
communication. They connote a certain ideology about what should be remembered and
where, and contribute to the production of conceived space. In other words, street names
express the structures of power (Azaryahu 1996: 321).
The Name Drafting Committee suggested creating new street names out of old local names,
such as names of old farms and cottages with the purpose of describing the history of the area
and remembering former inhabitants. Examples are: Kunga-Amandas Gränd ‘King-Amandas
alley’ and Petter-Jons Gränd ’Petter-Jons alley’. The consortium, however, was dissatisfied.
Through naming they wanted to proclaim the beginning of a new urban era and therefore they
preferred names associated with modern global values, for example names with the Swedish
generics allé ‘boulevard’, stråk ‘street, path’ and esplanad ‘avenue’ in order to upscale the
area and to fulfill the commercial vision. Those generics are popular in many new urban areas
in Sweden (Nyström 2013). However, the Name Drafting Committee rejected most of the
consortium’s suggestions. The consortium also suggested that the newly built-up area that
carries the official name Uggleberget ‘Owl mountain’ should be named Hovås Hills (in
English) and wanted to add a sign with the name (similar to the Nya Hovås sign, see below)
on the mountain. Again, this was rejected with reference to good place name-practice, which
includes avoiding anglicisms. However, Hovås Hills is used today by a housing society
situated on the hill, thus existing on a commercial level and used in social media.
Figure 2: The not officially accepted name Hovås Hills is used in social media.
A fundamental idea in the Nya Hovås project was the new commercial center formation,
something that seemed to be lacking in neighboring areas and which would increase the
area’s attractiveness. According to Next Step Group, urban naming should strengthen the
center formation. The socially charged notion of allé (‘boulevard’) became actualized. Here
too, Linnégatan was a model. For this future boulevard the consortium suggested the name
Nya Hovås Allé, which was rejected on the grounds that Nya Hovås is not an official name.
Instead, as a political compromise, Hovås Allé was agreed on. The planning also included a
square, for which the consortium suggested the name Hovås Torg ‘Hovås square’. The name
was not accepted since it was argued that the square is located too far from Hovås and hence
considered misleading. Instead the committee voted for Åsarnas torg ‘The square of the
ridges’, derived from several surrounding names ending with -ås ‘ridge’. This name was
introduced by the local History Society and seems to be appreciated by people living in the
neighboring areas (Interview with the chairperson of the local history society, March 2019).
Next Step Group disliked the name, arguing that people living and working in Nya Hovås use
the name Spektrumtorget ‘Spektrum square’ after the house called Spektrumhuset at the
intended square. Spektrumhuset is supposed to be an architectural icon in the neighborhood:
It houses a private school and, at the street level, a high-end restaurant, several exclusive
shops, a yoga studio, several beauty parlors and a bowling alley. According to the architect
website: ‘As the name suggests, the building accommodates a spectrum (‘Spektrum’) of
businesses, which together creates a dynamic and lively building for all generations’
(Semrén-Månsson). Thus, the naming is well-reasoned and connected to place branding, and
at the same time it reflects the spectacular design of the building: the facade is made up by
lamellas of golden metal with the purpose of regulating sunlight and both naming and design
contribute to a symbolic infrastructure. It is interesting to notice how the use of names -
Åsarnas torg versus Spektrumtorget - is an element in constructing a sense of ‘we-ness’ and
belonging (Anthias 2009), and also mediating the conflict between new and old residents in
the area. These examples underscore what Voulteenaho & Ainiala describe as the ‘blurring of
the paradigmatic dichotomy drawn between the spheres of official and commercial naming’
Nya Hovås’ rural history does not fit into the vision of this new, urban area. Instead, Next
Step Group wants to highlight another, more urban and international, history. The so-called
Kodakhuset is a landmark in the neighbourhood. It was built by Kodak in 1982, but due to the
failing market, Kodak left Gothenburg in 1989. In 2006, Next Step Group took over the
house and asked the writer and photographer Jan Jörnmark to describe the house's roots and
history which resulted in an exhibition about Kodak´s history, the city of Rochester (where
Kodak's head office was located) and also the city planning in Nya Hovås (Jörnmark 2016).
Through this exhibition, Nya Hovås was placed in an urban and international context. When
Next Step Group took over the house, they changed the name to Origohuset. However, that
name was never really used, and in 2018 Next Step Group changed it back to Kodakhuset.
This re-naming was performed as a way to show that the entrepreneur had listened to the
people: in Next Step Group´s advertising campaigns, the change of name is highlighted as an
example of a successful dialogue with the inhabitants (Fig. 3). The public recognition and
symbolic value of the name is further reflected in the launch of the unofficial name SoKo
‘south of Kodakhuset’. Next Step Group is currently using it in social media and it is also
visible on brass plaques on the building indicating the direction to offices.
Figure 3: Detail from brochure explaining the motive behind the name change from
Origohuset to Kodakhuset.
The toponymic inscriptions in the landscape reflects the conflict between the Name Drafting
Committee and some of the people who already lived in the area, on the one hand, and Next
Step Group and the consortium on the other, and we can observe an opposition between the
urban and the rural, the local and the global, and commercial interests vs tradition-bound
values. Consistently, different visions exist about the history of the area where Nya Hovås is
being built. What existed before the establishment of the new neighbourhood? When we
asked the entrepreneurs if someone lived there before, one of them answered: ‘No. When I
began working here, there was the Kodak house and there was the traffic junction. And then,
there were two villas here, and there, where The House stands today, there was such a
dilapidated small, what everyone called “the drug house”... so it was very easy in that way.
There were no great natural values but just a thoroughfare…’ (interview May 2019).
However, this discursive construction of Nya Hovås as a place without a (valuable) history
does not remain uncontested. An old lady living in the area next to the new neighbourhood,
and engaged in the local history society, told us about unheard protests and families which
had been displaced. Indeed, on the 14th of November 2010, the city’s largest newspaper
published an editorial with the title: Does the building committee have any backbone? The
following day the city’s building committee was to decide on the future of a family living in a
house situated on Björklundavägen in Hovås, more or less where Next Step Group’s
headquarters, The House, is situated today. Consisting of a mother and father with two
children, the family had been living in the house for generations and was now threatened with
expropriation, which was eventually executed.
The Rhetorical and Performative Value of Newness and Mixedness
Above we saw how the first part of the place-name, Nya ‘new’, was chosen to create
expectations for the newly built area, and how it distances the name and the place from the
traditional conservative lifestyle and values associated with neighboring Hovås. The value of
newness also emerges in the interview we made with one of the new residents in the
neighbourhood. When we asked her what she liked about the neighbourhood, she replied:
‘It’s modern, super modern. It’s fresh in the sense that it is not the old stuff that has always
been there.’
From a more global point of view, we see how newness functions on three different scales:
On a geographic and spatial scale, there is an old Hovås situated a few kilometers north of
Nya Hovås. On a temporal scale, this version of Hovås pretends to do away with some of the
qualities attached to the history of Hovås and add new ones. And on a socioeconomic scale,
the neighbourhood addresses and attracts new groups of inhabitants, workers and consumers.
However, as shown in the last section above, newness inherently implies oldness and history.
It is symptomatic that Sharon Zukin begins her work of the gentrification of New York with a
quote from Edward Said’s Beginnings: ‘Is the beginning of a given work it’s [sic] real
beginning, or is there some other secret point that more authentically starts the work off?’
(Zukin 2010 [2011 in Swedish]). When a place is exploited by men, there are always
competing interests regarding what parts of the history should be made visible, and what
should be hidden.
It is therefore illustrative to see how the value of newness was also central when AB Hofås
Villastad was established by private entrepreneurs in 1906. Three years earlier, a new railway
had been built between Gothenburg and the prominent seaside resort Särö, some 25 km’s
south of Hovås, and a group of entrepreneurs saw the potential for exploiting the land in
Hovås and making a profit from selling new houses (Det Gamla Göteborg 2017). However,
both cases of exploitation depended on the prior planning and establishment of infrastructure
provided by the public authorities. The area where Nya Hovås is being constructed today,
was planned for collective housing and communications already in the 1990s (interview with
Barbro Sundström, ex planner of the Gothenburg city council, March 2019; interview with
the chairperson of the local history society, March 2019). The entrepreneurs further depended
on financial resources and good contacts with the local political elite (interview with Barbro
Sundström, March 2019). What we see is how the discourse of newness effectively hides
parts of the history of the place: the public planning work; the former inhabitants; the
economic and social capital of the two young entrepreneurs, which they had inherited from
their parents.
In a similar vein, one of the key words used for describing the neighbourhood is ‘mixed’. The
slogan-like caption ‘En småskalig blandstad i världsklass’, a small-scale world-class mixed
city, is repeatedly used by all of the entrepreneurs involved to take part in the exploitation
and marketing of Nya Hovås, i.e. in the production of its conceived space. The entrepreneur
is here echoing the explicit ambitions of the City Planning Authority. With a view to the
commercial exploitation of the area, the Authority clearly states that it needs to assure social
mixing, offering housing for people with different income, background and age (Gothenburg
City Planning Authority 2011: 8, 2014: 1). However, during our many visits and walks
through the area we rarely saw any people with migrant background or heard any other
languages than Swedish (except for the Polish and Russian construction workers). This
impression is confirmed by both municipal statistics and our interviews with shop owners in
Nya Hovås: the neighbourhood has a very homogeneous population. The percentage of
inhabitants with foreign background is among the lowest in the city at the same time that the
levels of income and education are among the highest.
Hence, it is perhaps not strange that Next Step Group hesitated somewhat when we asked
them in what sense Nya Hovås should be seen as ‘mixed’. In our first interview in November
2017, they took a quite defensive stance and stated that ‘the concept of blandstad is overused,
we don’t really like it anymore, it is easy to criticize, we’ll probably phase it out, it changes
all the time and everyone uses it, what does it really mean?’. However, the word mixed has
continued being used and we therefore asked them again in May 2019. This time, they
explained that it should not be seen as referring to the people living in the neighbourhood, but
to the commercial offer and architecture. As pointed out by Loretta Lees (2008), the idea of
mixed(-use) cities and neighbourhoods is used as a key rhetorical device in contemporary
processes of urban regeneration all over the Western world. In practice, however, it rarely
leads to social mixing but rather to increased gentrification and segregation. Our analysis of
the initial stages of the place-making process in Nya Hovås shows how the entrepreneur-lead
production of the conceived space, i.e. Next Step Group’s communicative strategies and
tools, sometimes clashes with the actual materialization of the space, i.e the production of the
perceived space. And how this – as illustrated by the renaming of Kodakhuset and the
comment cited above regarding the meaning of the word mixed sometimes makes the
entrepreneur reconsider their communicative strategies.
Selective Indexing of Globality and Locality - the Symbolic Use of Toponyms
It is striking how already existing well-known place names are used in advertising campaigns
to imagine and position the new area of Nya Hovås. In both traditional and new media as well
as in public spaces, this area is affiliated with global glamorous places like New York,
Hollywood, Marseille and Dubai, thus indicating urban coolness and international flair.
Figure 4: At an initial phase in Nya Hovås this text was to be read: ‘The cranes in Dubai are a bit taller and a bit more
The commercial names in the area are well thought out and shed further light on how the act
of naming is used for commercial purposes. Creativity and linguistic diversity are
characteristic features of this type of names (Moriarty & Järlehed 2019), and the obvious and
expected tendency is that shops and other businesses in Nya Hovås have names in
prestigious, often European, languages in order to upscale the shopping mall. The names are
mainly in English (or names that give an English impression), but in the namescape we also
find commercial names in Italian, French and even Japanese with a more symbolic than
informative value (Spolsky 2009: 33). As mentioned by Sjöblom (2008: 362), the language
choice may ‘convey meanings which are not present in the actual words that the name
includes’. For instance, in Nya Hovås we find Sociale Boqueria designating a new restaurant,
which is a compound of Italian and Catalan. While Italian is carrying high prestige and
symbolic function in gastronomic contexts (Järlehed, Nielsen & Rosendal 2018), according to
the manager of the restaurant (personal communication in April 2019), Boqueria is an
indexical wink to the world famous market hall in Barcelona, Mercat de San Josep de la
Boqueria, this way adding to the cosmopolitan aura of the neighbourhood. However, the
socioeconomic upscaling of the neighbourhood not only involves international markers; some
commercial names deploy Swedish to connect to local values: the name of the fishmonger,
158:ANS FISK (containing the name of the local highway 158) locates the shop as a place on
the Swedish west coast which indicates quality when it comes to food, and in particular sea-
Fig. 5: The commercial names are in prestigious, often European, languages with a more symbolic than informative value.
The Hollywood-sign as Mobile Place-maker
One of the first manifestations indexing that something new was going on in the area, was the
erection of a three meters high and ten meters broad sign, displaying the name Nya Hovås
with huge white capital letters. The size, color and typographic shape of the sign makes an
intertextual link to the world-famous Hollywood sign, thereby establishing a particular
indexicality that includes creativity, entertainment, fame and dreams. The sign was designed
by the Communication Group of the consortium, which is composed by the Marketing
Directors of the housing companies plus the design agency Sturm & Drang. According to
Next Step Group, the aim of using the sign was to ‘stick out a little, to suggest cheekiness,
world class’ (Interview December 2017). Next Step Group further explained that the sign was
going to move along with the building process, and that they were not sure about its final
The Hollywood sign in Nya Hovås can be compared with the parallel and popular initiative to
erect a Hollywood sign displaying the name of Hisingen on Ramberget, a centrally located
hill in Gothenburg. The campaign was driven by a desire to increase the visibility and status
of the island Hisingen, which comprises a large part of the city and a large portion of
immigrant and working class people. Even though the campaign had gathered 10,000
signatures, in 2016 it was turned down by the city authorities on the grounds that the sign
would cause irreparable damages to the hill (GöteborgDirekt 2016-03-25). When we asked
Next Step Group if they had permission for putting up such a big sign, they answered: ‘Have
we asked for permission, I wonder? [laughter] It's our land.’ (interview December 2017)
When first erected in 1923, the Hollywood sign read Hollywoodland. The generic -land was
very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and was ‘referring to a special dreamlike
place’ and ‘a general feel-good association’ (Braudy 2011: 80), capitalized by Disneyland
and many others. The huge sign was put up as an advertisement for a local real estate
development and hence the letters were placed facing east ‘where [according to Leo Braudy]
the buyers would presumably be coming from’ (Braudy 2011: 80). Although the Hollywood
sign today is permanent and considered an American icon, it was first thought of as a
temporary structure with a specific purpose: to draw attention to and market new land for
economic investments. Interestingly, this is very similar to how the Nya Hovås sign has been
Since its first placement along the highway exit, the sign has been moved at least twice to
new places (Fig 5). The logic behind the relocation seems to be the marking of the current
frontier of the exploitation process, and hence the expansion of Nya Hovås. It was first placed
near the southward highway exit, thus addressing potential investors, clients and residents
travelling out of town. The second placement marked the expansion up on the southern hill,
Uggleberget, and served to point out the centre of the neighbourhood for the new residents
the sign was then accompanied by the entrepreneur’s public office. The current placement
indicates that the neighbourhood is expanding eastwards. It also highlights the construction
site of Nodi, a wooden office building that is marketed as the new architectural gem of Nya
Hovås (Lokalguiden).
Figure 6: The strategic replacing of the Hollywood sign.
The Hollywood sign is perhaps the most spectacular of all the different urban entrepreneurial
resources deployed by Next Step Group. It fully qualifies as an expression of the consistent
preferences for ‘quotation and fiction rather than invention and function, and, finally, for
medium over message and image over substance’ (Harvey 1989:11) that characterize urban
Discussion and Concluding Remarks
We want to conclude going back to Harvey’s seminal piece on urban entrepreneurialism, with
which we opened this paper. One of his central arguments is that ‘the activity of that public-
private partnership is entrepreneurial precisely because it is speculative in execution and
design and therefore dogged by all the difficulties and dangers which attach to speculative as
opposed to rationally planned and coordinated development” (Harvey 1989: 8). Next Step
Group’s use of different resources such as names (Nya Hovås, Kodakhuset), toponymic
references, the Hollywood sign, the logo, and the notion of blandstad ‘mixed city’ is
speculative and lighthearted. The use of these resources is not planned and coordinated with
the public authorities; rather, they are used as Next Step Group see fit for each situation.
Throughout the analysis above, we have seen how the performative value of newness is
crucial for the making of Nya Hovås, and how it permeates most of the naming and branding
work. However, as Lefebvre (1996:151) argues, ‘the architect, the planner, the sociologist,
the economist, the philosopher or the politician cannot out of nothingness create new forms
and relations’. What is presented and seen as ‘new’ always builds on existing forms and
relations. In this paper, we have highlighted some of these, such as the entrepreneurial work
that lay ground for the ‘old’ neighbourhood of Hovås already a century ago, the municipal
planning work of the 1990’s and the (small but real) protests expressed by a family living in
the place where Next Step Group’s headquarters are based today. These are all silenced in the
entrepreneur’s marketing work, which instead highlights the successful processes of dialogue
with inhabitants in the surrounding area that have accompanied the production of the new
At the same time, the entrepreneur-generated conceived space is adapted to their
interpretation of changes in the perceived space (Lefebvre 1991; see Aiello 2013). We see for
instance how Next Step Group adapted the second round of construction to the demand for
smaller flats, how they renamed Origohuset to Kodakhuset, and how, in an interview, they
considered doing away with the notion of blandstad or mixed city.
We also see signs of dissolution of the boundaries between private/public and
culture/consumption and how Nya Hovås’ image is built upon a ’handpicked’ selection of
material and immaterial promotional and design resources. Along with the location and the
housing prices, these choices indirectly regulate the selection of inhabitants, store keepers and
visitors. In the end, this is a place for a selected few, an ‘elite sink’ (Tonkiss 2013:80) in a
city plagued by segregation (Andersson, Bråmå & Hogdal 2009, Göteborgs Stad 2017).
Importantly then, the different neighbourhoods that make up the city of Gothenburg are
interlinked by a fine network of socioeconomic relations. This is also how the City Planning
Authority conceives the different areas of the city that are subjected to planning for future
development and exploitation: ‘Coming development schemes and decisions on infrastructure
investments within The planning area not only affects Askim but also affects the Gothenburg
region and thus has significance for the expansion of the whole of Gothenburg. (City
Planning Authority 2011: 1). With the words of Tonkiss (2013:80) ‘the spatial geography of
urban affluence […] is characterized not simply by the segregation of the poor, but also by
the sequestration of the rich. This “bifurcated” model of urban polarization produces ghetto
effects at both ends of the income spectrum’. Hence, a critical examination of the
entrepreneurial place-making of Nya Hovås needs to look at it as both profiting on and
contributing to urban polarization, where the financial and planning resources spent on this
neighbourhood risk undermining the development of other poorer areas.
To conclude, on a spatial scale Nya Hovås indexes international flair and globality through
textual, graphic and architectural resources. On a temporal scale, Nya Hovås is created as a
new and liberal form of the old and conservative high-end Hovås. On a socioeconomic scale,
finally, Nya Hovås is conceived as a mixed-use urban neighbourhood. However, the
perceived and lived space signals exclusivity and cultural homogeneity.
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