#bymidte2650: seconds out!

Update, 5 March 2018: the Risbjerggård can has been kicked down the road a couple more times, and firms of architects have been tasked to present again…in effect, nothing has happened for three years other than the installation of one bench and some dubious public art, giving at least somewhere to sit and something to look at, and a clearing of any greenery behind the car park. Better not get in the way of the Friday petanque players, when it’s very much their space.

A lot of all this is driven by the idea that Hvidovre is a by in need of a midte, but its proximity to CPH and the terminal decline of local shopping make this dubious. Gone are the days of post-war optimism when estates such as Bredalsparken and Strandhavevej provided top modern housing for those fleeing the cramped conditions in the city with local employment opportunities, but a dormitory suburb can’t be turned into a village. Embrace the space!

Nearly 18 months ago, around the time of the local elections, I wrote about the lack of a town centre in Hvidovre, the suburb to the south of Copenhagen proper where I live. Now something is stirring!

An area around the town hall has been earmarked as Hvidovre’s new centre. Back in November the council held a workshop as part of a consultation and co-creation process to run until September 2015, with the area then sold for development in September 2016. They’ve done this dance a few times (see preso), with this effort actually kicking off in June 2013, but now something might actually happen. There’s a logo and a subcommittee and everything – see Projekt Hvidovre Bymidte (Facebook).

While the process is conceived as community driven, the issue of Risbjerggård, championed by Risbjerggårds Venner and not least the Risbjerggård/Hvidovre Bymidte Facebook group, is extremely sensitive. An old farmhouse dating from 1850, rather rundown and currently managed by volunteers as a social centre, Risbjerggård is at the heart of many local residents’ memories and hence the area’s cultural heritage.

On 10 March draft ideas for two scenarios, one including Risbjerggård and one without, were presented by two firms of architects at a workshop which I attended. Both sets of presos were effective, drawing on all the contemporary urban tropes, with much talk of mellemrum (the space between buildings) and fortætninger (increased density), which it was taken as a given would create byliv (city life) and bymæssighed (an urban quality).

One firm went so far as to propose creating a new landsby (village), a way down the road from the original, traces of which still remain. This area, the other side of the motorway which has been cutting across Hvidovre like an open wound since 1976, is currently a building site due to the development of a new railway line, and will remain so until 2018.


slide: BCVA

While Hvidovre is firmly on the left hand side of the order vs chaos scale, there is a balance to be found, which needs to take account of local conditions rather than blindly following fashion. Can you really turn a suburb into a village? And, why would you want to? Modernism gave Hvidovre space, air and light – this is something to build on, not to throw away. You don’t have to look too far to see more nuanced views of the area – study visits to Bredalsparken and Strandhavevej, Søren Ulrik Thomsen praising Berners Vænge, and not least Bjarne Reuter:

Man kan se mange fascinerende ting fra sin cykel på Hvidovrevej.

The suburban lifestyle of villa, Volvo og vovse (car, house and dog), is not something to be apologise for – it’s still what many people aspire to. Parachuting in some narrow streets won’t alter Hvidovre’s DNA. Let’s move on.

The proposed development area is fairly central geographically speaking, almost as big as Copenhagen’s town hall square, and pretty much empty – never mind space between buildings, here there’s just space. Moreover, communications are poor, with the roads network drawn with a ruler and the proposed town centre sitting inbetween two stations.


slide: Vandkunsten

Improved connections, in particular for walking and cycling, would be a start, breaking up the 4.3km Hvidovrevej corridor. Much was made of creating s/p(l)aces for people to meet, building on the active foreningsliv in the area (clubs and associations are big), but what is really needed? Basically the proposals come down to building some sort of trophy attraction, a museum, a theatre, a tower…and filling things in a tad.

But can you really create a town centre?

Urbanists have for some time now been drawing attention to the ‘over-scripting’ of public space in modern urban regeneration schemes, so that all conflicts and loose ends are designed out of the development, and people are subtly organised and choreographed into patterns of use and timetables decided by others. This disallows for that sense of wandering, of going off-piste, and of discovering a neighbourhood or district by serendipity. (source)

A third scenario from Idéforum Hvidovre 2025, a local citizen’s group, put together by bl. a. Ole Pihl (“let’s put a stop to just being a suburb”) and locally resident architect Ask Hvas, is also on the table, resurrected from an earlier round of discussions and hence less subject to current fashions. Including a curved lake behind the town hall it is a variation from the build, build, build meme, and I like it!

An email of 19 March from the council states that feedback from the workshop was in the direction of more green and water – lip service was paid in the idyllic pictures in the presentations, but in the scenarios, not so much. Trees are, of course, my thing, and it would be nice to see the council taking the opportunity to develop a træpolitik so it is clear what’s going on. One easy answer to some of the town centre questions – just plant some greenery in the road!

road layout

slide: Vandkunsten

A committee will sit in judgement over revised scenarios on 21 April, with the full council meeting for discussion on 24 June. A further workshop will be held on 27 August to discuss the chosen scenario. The Risbjerggård issue, originally presented as a binary option, still dominates, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – one of the firms came up with some imaginative yet realistic solutions maintaining a ‘sense’ of the building.


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