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Copenhagen is considered one of the cities with the highest standards of quality of life. The Municipality has an Office responsible for promoting the public life of the city where the human dimension and social conditions are its main priorities. Starting in 1960, public strategies and policies around people’s welfare and quality of life began to be integrated into local governments and institutionalized at different levels. It was a movement promoted by the famous architect and professor Jan Gehl that sought to rescue the basic human needs for interaction, inclusion and intimacy that were forgotten during the urbanization process leading to the creation of high-rise buildings, industrial estates and elevated roads.
This theory has proved to be important in the evolution of Copenhagen as the city for the people and through the methodology proposed by Gehl. The city is constantly in the process of measuring, evaluating and creating new objectives seeking to evaluate its performance in order to refine and adjust them, incorporating values and the perspective of people at all levels. This process has made Copenhagen an inclusive city that involves all citizens in the formulation of public policies, seeking to respond to their needs in an intelligent and open manner, and also fostering a culture of participation in which everyone is involved with the growth of the city.
According to the United Nations Program for Human Settlements (The Global Campaign for Good Urban Governance, 2000), inclusive cities are the “space where all people, regardless of their economic condition, gender, age, ethnicity or religion, can participate productively in all the opportunities that cities offer.” In this sense, it’s important to understand that cities have social, economic and cultural aspects that are intertwined with the daily lives of citizens and, at the same time, it’s in through these aspects, along with the physical space of the city, that urban challenges are tackled to achieve inclusion in all dimensions.
The development of inclusive public spaces allows for a healthy public life where planned and spontaneous social interactions can occur on all platforms like bus stops, parks, fairs, urban plazas, outdoor concerts and around public facilities. All the public spaces of the city should seek to unite the entire population and create and support opportunities for individual well-being, inviting to stimulate citizens through creativity and achieving an important role in the promotion of equitable, healthy and committed communities. In this sense, the planning, design, and development of public spaces must be a process that is embedded with fundamental principles that guarantee the inclusion of citizens.
The methodology developed by Gehl Architects provides a framework of approximately 158 indicators to guarantee the design and valuation of public space projects, as a tool to facilitate change and to look beyond the physical space, according to four principles:
- The context, which seeks to recognize the current situation of the community seeking the knowledge behind their experiences and existing conditions.
- The process, where it is essential to support inclusion in shaping the public space through an increase in civic trust, participation and social cohesion.
- The design and programming of public spaces for equity that seek to improve quality, access, security, and invite diversity.
- Sustainability, through fostering social resilience and the capacity of local communities to participate in changes in the long term, guaranteeing the stability of implementation.
A) ISLANDS BRYGGE HARBOR BATH
During the last 40 years, Copenhagen has been considered as an urban laboratory example for the rest of the cities of the world where its initiatives and strategies have been focused on the development of public space. Currently the concept of “Street” in the city is the space where all the inhabitants live and interact with each other through different activities and rhythms, understanding that this is a space that responds to the needs of all.
One of the city’s most recent challenges has been to channel the flow of public life to the port and to build a maritime highway as another type of public square. During the last 16 years, Copenhagen has built facilities that allow people to swim directly in the water of the port, starting with a decade of efforts to clean the water of the area, strategies for the diversion of wastewater, the construction of overflow barriers, the creation of underground water storage tanks and the daily monitoring of water quality. After this process, the adaptation of the spaces began so that citizens could enjoy and access the water that is no longer contaminated.
In this process of transforming an industrial port and a traffic junction to be the cultural and social center of the city, the bath of Islands Brygge Harbor Bath became an architectural icon of Copenhagen. This development has happened in addition other projects such as the Fisketorvet, Kalvebod Waves and Sluseholmen baths, which are all within a distance of two miles within a city of just over 600,000 inhabitants, offering citizens different swimming experiences with a port urban landscape surrounded by piers, cliffs , playgrounds, children’s pools, platforms to jump into the water, and areas to rest and enjoy the area.
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B) VESTERBRO AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF SØNDER BOULVARD
Vesterbro is a district of Copenhagen to the west of the center of the city that is densely built with narrow streets and small squares. Its limits are marked by the railway lines of the central train station and by a line of lakes that mark the west side of the city center. Previously Vesterbo was known as a working-class district, not only for the railroad but also for the food markets that promoted the development of commerce and surrounding restaurants.
In the eighteenth century, Vesterbo only had a small number of houses along the roads. Military defense was the main reason: The development of buildings in the area beyond the walls and the ditch of water as a defense of the city was not allowed. However, during the second half of the nineteenth century, as the city grew, this area was one of the first areas that developed outside the city walls with new houses, apartment buildings, shops and churches built on both sides.
In the 20th century, Vesterbro had an unfavorable social reputation due to the rise of prostitution and the sale and consumption of drugs. Partly due to the fact that there were densely populated and low-quality housing, and also because of its proximity to the central train station, where the emergence of the red district of large cities was common. Although this situation could have promoted large-scale demolition and massive redevelopment, particularly in the period of the city’s growth in the 1950s and 1960s, planners made the decision to retain and restore Vesterbro’s buildings and restrict the demolition of the worst properties, combined with a significant improvement in the streets and squares that sought to reduce traffic and create new open and green areas.
After a period of urban decline between 1970 and 1980, since the 1990s, Copenhagen found itself in a strategic phase of urban renewal (Bisgaard 2010). In this period, the development of public space played an important role not only in the center of the city, but also in the revitalization of residential neighborhoods and, more recently, in the remodeling of postindustrial areas. In fact, Copenhagen was one of the first cities to establish a public space defense regime with the urban space action plan of 2006, which led to the city being named the most livable city in the world in 2008, despite the fact that a financial crisis had hit Denmark with serious consequences for public finances.
Despite this, Copenhagen maintained a proactive policy of urban development and made large public investments during the years of crisis, specifically in the design, construction and maintenance of urban public space. In 2010 the ‘Kickstart Copenhagen’ initiative was launched to “invest in the crisis”. At the same time the Budget for public construction works was raised to continue developing an attractive and growing city; the objective was to create employment opportunities, promote the life of the city focused on people and establishing the development of public space with three main objectives: (i) more urban life, (ii) more hikes and (iii)) more people that stay longer (Copenhagen City 2009, p.2).
Currently Vesterbro has become one of the most popular areas to live thanks to its streets and buildings. The area is not only more attractive, but also incorporates new businesses and cafes, bars and restaurants. One of the main recent changes that have taken place in the city is the transformation of Sønder Boulvard Street into a new recreational park with better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, close to subway stations and surrounded by playgrounds, green areas and flower gardens around small squares.
This project is one of the city’s many urban proposals in response to public policies that seek to contribute to the development of sustainable, healthy and safe cities. Its main objective is to provide an urban park with tree roads that improve the environmental conditions of the city, reduce vehicle traffic, and rescue pedestrian areas and recreational spaces. It seeks to increase the use of public space by citizens, sustainable mobility on foot or by bicycle, and the interaction of all segments of the population, giving a greater sense of security within the city.
C) COPENHAGEN: THE MOST HABITABLE CITY IN THE WORLD
Although traditionally public space is conceived as a public good, in the case of Copenhagen a series of public-private development models for public spaces have been carried out in terms of project organization, financing and ownership. Most of the high-profile public spaces of the city were initiated by the municipality as public projects, but were developed in conjunction with private foundations that have played a decisive role in the programming and design of these spaces. Lokale og Anlægsfonden, for example, which was established by Danish sports organizations, has been at the forefront in the provision of recreational spaces for activities, fitness and play. In those places, greater attention has been given to “establishing the place” through the development of public spaces that encourage greater public life.
In Copenhagen, progress towards better public spaces is demonstrated by an increase in both the facilities and the use of public spaces. Permits to be outdoors increased by more than 100% in inner and central neighborhoods and the number of outdoor events increased between 34 and 80%, depending on the district. This has represented an improvement in the general quality of urban life with attractive public spaces, greater and better possibilities for leisure activities, as well as outdoor urban furniture throughout the city increasing the number of people using public spaces.
The city tries to achieve a balance between public spaces for the entire population and spaces for more specific uses, as well as the need to include marginalized groups in the public space program. The approach deliberately recognizes the multifunctionality of space and that the encounter with “the other” is a quality in itself. Therefore, the city promotes public spaces that not only attract the population in general, but also allocate space for more specific uses. Funding organizations such as Lokale og Anlægsfonden support the design of public spaces that promote a more active daily life through facilities for football, games, fitness, basketball, skating, parkour and other activities. In contrast, there are cases of groups of organized citizens that have been allowed to adopt sections of public spaces such as semi-private urban gardens with exclusive access for adult activities such as bars.
Another important feature of Copenhagen is the effort to involve citizens in the creation of new public spaces. Renewal initiatives seek to develop neighborhood plans and strategies that promote dialogue with residents and neighborhood associations. In the port, for example, temporary projects have been implemented as a way to test and promote new ideas for public spaces and a tool to include residents in their design and creation, fostering local empowerment and new models of collaboration. The political ambition of the Copenhagen community strategy aims to promote greater local commitment and democratic processes, but also to achieve greater citizen responsibility in public spaces. Although it is not explicitly stated in the strategy, there is a goal to reduce the cost of maintenance by attracting more attention from citizens.
The focus of public space in Copenhagen has resulted in understanding the importance of people as the central axis of the city, making the development of public space part of the solution to problems instead of representing a luxury to be abandoned by public finances, even in times of crisis. Additionally, this has also been achieved because local government is not the only direct provider of public space, and the existence of a greater collaborative structure where local actors come together to finance and facilitate public space programs to meet common objectives.
Urban workshop: learning from the Nordic experience
Taking into account these lessons learned from Copenhagen in inclusive public spaces, the IDB Cities Network organized a knowledge exchange meeting, in which mayors and technical officials from sixteen cities in Latin America and the Caribbean learned from the Nordic urban experience. The urban workshop took place from 27 to 29 May 2019 in the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and it was developed in joint with the Nordic Development Fund, the Confederation of Industry Danish, an the Cities of Copenhagen and Malmö. Based on the Nordic urban experience, we intend to facilitate learning in terms of sustainability, competitiveness and inclusion for a better quality of life in Latin American and Caribbean cities.
The IDB Cities Network is an institutional platform for knowledge, relationships and solutions at the municipal level that aims to socialize knowledge, lessons learned and good practices in environmental, economic and social sustainability of more than 160 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. We provide support through meetings that promote institutional support, innovation, good practices and the exchange of knowledge between the public sector, the private sector and civil society to boost the demand and capacities for urban loans and investments able to solve the main challenges of cities in the region.
Agenda and technical documents – “Urban Workshop: Learning from the Nordic Experience”, May 2019.
Edition: Tomás González Ginestet