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Copenhagen 1

Cultural Identities: Copenhagen (Denmark)

Neighbourhood Revitalisation

JØrgen SprogØe Petersen

In 1997 the Danish Government's Urban Committee entered into an agreement with the city of Copenhagen and other organisations to carry out a new form of urban renewal designated as 'Neighbourhood Revitalisation' - in Danish known as 'Kvarterloeft'.

Background to the project
In the urban renewal undertaken in Copenhagen up until that time, the focus had been on physical measures, which, from the 1950's to the 1970's especially, typically consisted of large-scale demolition of dilapidated and densely built-up estates, and to a certain extent also new construction projects. From the 1980's onwards, there was a shift in favour of preservational urban renewal, such as that seen in Vesterbro - a densely populated and community-oriented district that was built just outside the old medieval ramparts circa 1850, and which by the 1980's was characterised by slums, speculation and mounting social problems.
Copenhagen's current housing policy seeks to provide housing that can compete with the modern housing development projects currently underway in the suburbs. The capital's housing stock consists predominantly of old properties containing many small flats, which makes it difficult both to retain and attract families with children and people on average incomes. Consequently, as part of the programme for Vesterbro, the strategy is to remove party walls to extend the size of individual flats.
Although both central and local government have invested huge sums in this district, urban renewal has been met with resentment and opposition. One of the principal objections has been that the efforts to counter the complex problems of a district have been tackled by purely physical methods of urban renewal. There has also been great concern that the social problems in a district were being solved merely by exporting the problems to other parts of the city. For this reason, among others, a desire has emerged to revise the methods of urban renewal to incorporate a more holistic approach with greater emphasis on the direct participation of citizens.

Neighbourhood revitalisation
In 1997 the Government's Urban Committee and the city of Copenhagen entered into an agreement on the implementation of three neighbourhood revitalisation projects in three of the capital's most vulnerable neighbourhoods, each of which, with its own distinctive urban paradigm, has been characterised by higher unemployment than the rest of the city - and, indeed, the country as a whole -, mounting social problems, and a dire need for improvements to living conditions, the standard of accommodation and the reputation of the neighbourhoods.
The aim of this programme, which is scheduled as a limited-term action over a period of 6-7 years was formulated as follows:
"The principal objective is to implement and support a positive trend in the neighbourhood; to empower and support its residents and create a positive image for the neighbourhood by means of visible physical measures and social and cultural facilities." The neighbourhood revitalisation projects feature three core components:
The action area is a small urban district - a neighbourhood
The approach is to be holistic and cross-sectoral
Actions are to be based on residents' aspirations and proposals.
At the project launch, an adjustable budget will be provided by central and local government, whilst the project will be prioritised in ongoing government and municipal investments. The budget will be limited in relation to the above-mentioned investments in urban renewal in Vesterbro.

Neighbourhood revitalisation in the Holmsbladgade neighbourhood
One of the three Copenhagen projects is dedicated to the Holmsbladsgade neighbourhood, an area of some 2km2 close to the medieval city centre.
With the industrial boom in the 1800's, a number of companies moved into the area, since their extensive land requirements and environmental impacts prevented them from finding sites within the ramparts. These firms included dye and glue factories, metal works, chemical plants and Denmark's largest ropewalk (which in the 1960's was converted into a shopping centre).
From the end of the 1800's, many 5-storey blocks were erected on the site, and these still account for a significant proportion of the neighbourhood's housing stock. In the 1920's and 1930's, a number of new housing blocks were built, and the 1970's and 1980's saw the advent of larger housing estates, predominantly on former industrial sites.
In the Neighbourhood Charter, the participating citizens set out their rationale as follows:
"As the basis for proposals for physical changes and refurbishments in the neighbourhood we have sought to draw on the existing contrasts and diversity of dimensions, lines and architectural features as a source of inspiration. In our opinion, these are fundamental to the dynamic and strengths that characterise the neighbourhood of Holmbladsgade. With its mixture of housing, industry and public institutions, the neighbourhood possesses attributes that are unique in a city such as Copenhagen."

A new planning model
With its current programme for Neighbourhood Revitalisation, the city of Copenhagen has deployed a radically new planning model.
In the first phase of the projects, citizens in the neighbourhood were assigned the task of drawing up a plan for the future of their neighbourhood and presenting visions for improvements to living conditions and physical surroundings, and for building the neighbourhood's image and social and cultural networks. This undertaking involved residents, businesses, local public institutions, organisations and associations. The work resulted in a Neighbourhood Charter, which was subsequently presented to public officials and policy-makers. For all three of the Copenhagen projects, both central and local government have endorsed almost all the objectives and activities and projects proposed in the citizens' Neighbourhood Charter.
A number of urban planning issues will naturally impinge on the Neighbourhood Revitalisation projects. Consequently, in all three projects, special traffic plans have been drawn up, in which the wishes for local improvements are considered in the context of regional and national traffic plans.
The introduction of planning based on an integrated and holistic approach has, as might be expected, created difficulties in terms of coordination with public services, which are characterised by sectoral divisions and scant tradition for cross- sectoral approaches.

Partnerships, democracy and consensus

The Neighbourhood Revitalisation Project in the Holmbladsgade neighbourhood is to a very great extent a partnership between a local area and the public authorities. This is reflected in the steering group, working groups and project teams, and their representatives from among local residents, businesses, public institutions and administrations.
The project thereby also represents an attempt to map out how Denmark's largest municipality with some 500,000 inhabitants can establish platforms for dialogue and cooperate with the capital's many local districts and local stakeholders.
The citizens' involvement is voluntary and not based on elections as such. Accordingly, the introduction of Neighbourhood Revitalisation also provides a testing ground for models of links between representational and direct democracy.
The Neighbourhood Revitalisation process is therefore distinctive in terms of the consensus it seeks. So far, the model has worked, but the question is whether it will stand the test of severe conflicts of interest.

Cultural and Sports Charter
On the basis of a cooperation agreement between the city of Copenhagen and a quasi-private foundation, a special Cultural and Sports Charter has been drawn up for the Holmbladsgade neighbourhood. In Danish terms, this is a new venture, the aim of which is to identify how coherent and integrated action in the domain of culture and sports for a depressed neighbourhood may be deployed in the revitalisation of the neighbourhood.
The Charter was drawn up in 1998-1999 by an independent team of consultants, and the contents were presented to both policy-makers and the local area.
The Charter is structured around a broad-based cultural principle: if culture in the area is to grow and evolve, facilities must be provided for physical expression, for art, creativity and communication. These four main elements should not evolve individually, but instead be reflected in as many of the specific projects as possible.
Drawing on surveys and interviews conducted with a number of key actors in the neighbourhood, the Charter sets objectives that recognise the neighbourhood as a typical metropolitan district, characterised on the one hand by popular community ties based on tradition, and on the other hand by a more innovative and spontaneous metropolitan dynamic.
The plan seeks to create synergies between this dynamic, the multicultural society and differences in subcultures and lifestyles - these being facets that arise not only in traditional associations, but also in more spontaneous expressions in informal networks.
The detailed plans of the Cultural and Sports Charter proved very much in line with the citizens' own proposals in the Neighbourhood Charter.

The project's achievements and prospects
After close to four years, the Neighbourhood Revitalisation Project can now - finally - boast its first major, visible achievements, these being the establishment of outdoor meeting places and squares, a naturescape playground, and a community centre, around which all the many emerging activities in the neighbourhood will naturally revolve. The community centre houses a library, youth club, projects and voluntary associations and networks. At the same time, properties in the neighbourhood are undergoing a comprehensive maintenance and refurbishment process based on both public neighbourhood grants and private co-financing.
In the coming years, several major projects will also be realised such as the conversion of an old, forgotten boulevard into a thriving parkland and activity precinct, the establishment of a cultural and sports centre and a maritime youth centre.
Concurrently with the comprehensive changes to the facilities for social, cultural and sports opportunities, a number of projects and associations have been established, such as a multi-ethnic cultural café, a creative workshop, a meeting place and mobile site hut for the neighbourhood's alcoholics, youth clubs for young people with no roots and threatened by criminal tendencies, the acquisition of a communal neighbourhood bus, the creation of networks for neighbourhood businesses and more. In the environmental domain, work is underway on ecological urban renewal, green accounting for properties, businesses and institutions, and the involvement of children and adolescents in the debate on a sustainable future.
Outdoor events such as neighbourhood festivities are fostering a local identity and a sense of community, while work is being done on new squares and precincts to promote use of public urban spaces in an entirely new way. With these initiatives, the Holmsbladgade neighbourhood has ushered in some of the trends that in recent years have turned around other districts of the capital, and which to a great extent have meant that the neighbourhoods surrounding the city centre have wrested back their identity, appeal and visibility so that in the future a strong foundation will exist for urban progress and the fostering of social networks that will prevent such neighbourhoods from being trapped again in a downward spiral.

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