Copenhagen Green Capital: #sharingCPH

Update, 8 Dec 2014: CPH hands the baton over to George Ferguson’s Bristol this week at something called Green Capital Days. Looks like it’s largely for the professionals. The whole thing has been rather underwhelming and doubtless passed the vast majority of the population by. Like most things handled by WoCo it feels inauthentic if not to say fake, the first error of a city branding strategy.

The Bristol 2015 website feels rather different from its Copenhagen predecessor; it would be fun to pick this apart, but I’m getting a more people focused approach, dynamic with a ‘can do’ attitude – and way less preachy. Back in CPH, the council is still running the Sharing Copenhagen brand (Facebook), with climate change, nature in the city, the circular economy and mobility its priorities for 2016. Funding available.

Scepticism herfra, but I’m interested in how cities present themselves, not least Copenhagen, which to a resident of eight years still doesn’t feel like home. One of my reasons for exploring urban development is to try to work out why.

On 22 January Copenhagen officially became European Green Capital 2014 with the teeth grindingly awful slogan of #sharingCPH – to me the Danish equivalent, #delditkbh (share your Copenhagen), has a rather different resonance, less “look at us” and maybe more inclusive. Wonderful Copenhagen, the city branding agency, has been doing a great job over the past couple of years getting global coverage for the delights of the Danish capital, but is there really more to it than bikes bikes bikes and greenwashing? Is it really so different from anywhere else?

The European Green Capital opening event was marked by 30,000 tealights forming quotations and 15 concerts in 10 locations, under the headline: “If I say green, you say…”. Note that candles and associated på dansk is levende lys, ie living light, and the tealights were made of beeswax donated by Bybi and sustainable palm oil. Winter swimming was also involved. How all this fits in with the concept of a winter city is interesting to ponder.

This event (invitation) was organised by KIT, hosts of Metropolis 13, and took place from 16:30-23:00. The weather wasn’t kind, but soup, coffee and tea were available on Rådhuspladsen, with the rather more promising attraction of tapas and beer during the launch of the #sharingCPH pics exhibition in Rådhushallen.

Here’s the route and programme for map fans:

map of the opening event for Sharing Copenhagen

On 23 January there was a conference for the great and the good at Rambøll, liveable cities advocate – see my Storify. and also the vid from Rambøll, where speakers at the conference give a more nuanced picture. New hero is Bristol Mayor George Ferguson, who commented that Copenhagen is in “danger of losing the way” in the new areas of the city (cf Ørestad). Bristol, where I studied, is European Green Capital 2015.

Moving on, the Let’s share programme (PDF warning, no links) is set out under five topics. Up first is Good city life of the future (Danglish alert), looking at how the “green transition” and life in “cities of the future” can go hand in hand. This runs from January to April and includes the following, in addition to the Men’s European Handball Championships (tangential, surely) and the whole of Wondercool (no comment):

Some work still needed then. Presumably the calendar will be updated in due course, and not just on Facebook?

Postscript: as reflected in the update above, #sharingCPH was all a tad underwhelming. As an example we have Ecoisland Amager (defunct; see Øko Ø | Facebook), which promised a lot (presentation) but tailed off in a “let’s hope nobody notices” kind of way. Very Danish.


Nørrebro and Superkilen

2018 update: Den Røde Plads finally resurfaced – with red bricks

Update, Nov 2016: three years later, Superkilen is just as tatty and Den Røde Plads is just as bleak (it could have had 20% more greenery and still maintained its unique flavour), but the whole thing kinda works as a linear park, opening up what can be a claustrophobic area – and for fans of street furniture, it’s quite a treat (see Flickr album)

Took a drift along Nørrebrogade yesterday. One of central Copenhagen’s old ‘bro’ or bridge districts, a long way from our greater CPH suburb, today Nørrebro is characterised by multi-ethnic types, high density housing coupled with a lack of green space and a range of other inner city issues.

Points of interest include Assistens Kierkegaard, LiteraturHaus and a Jewish burial ground. I find I still have to adjust to the lack of cars on the streets in some areas of Copenhagen – it all a bit echoey with a post-nuclear holocaust flavour while you dodge the bikes. There’s little hustle and bustle, it feels lifeless and nondescript, in particular during the grey autumn and winter. It was only when I got to the foot of the street where it opened out onto the Lakes, that I got any feeling of grandeur or of being in a big city. (Walk round the Lakes drift?? Must have been done.)

On Blågårdsplads I spotted a sign for, an initiative inspired by the Winter Cities Institute with the aim of embracing winter rather than pretending it isn’t there by lighting yet another tea light and hiding inside with the hygge. Interesting.

The pièce de résistance aimed at revitalising the area is Superkilen. Feted in the urban design press, this ‘urban park’ is a classic top down scheme which doesn’t seem to have quite worked. Visit Copenhagen’s places we like series has the details:

  • award winning 750m long park in a former freight marshalling yard
  • by Superflex in collaboration with BIG and Topotek1, opened June 2012
  • runs between Nørrebrogade and Tagensvej in outer Nørrebro, part of an urban renewal project
  • three areas, each with a different function and differentiated by colour: Den Røde Plads (Red Square), Det Sorte Marked (Black Market) and Den Grønne Park (Green Park)
  • finalist in the Financial Times/Citibank Urban Ingenuity Awards for its ability to bring different cultures together

Yes it really is that colour…

the Red Square on Superkilen

Where to start? Is taking the need to brighten up the city literally the answer? The Generøs By boys (qv) acknowledge that it is not aesthetically attractive, but that it’s ‘fun’. This fun thing is going to get old pretty soon, like gameification and BIG’s childlike approach, playing with the city, as it was described to me by Copenhagen Cool. Notice how the trees look like plastic trees and the whole thing resembles a model.

Den Røde Plads (Red Square; comparisons with the real thing are odious) is designed for outdoor activities, concerts etc. I missed the chessboards at the Den Sorte Marked, but apparently it could be used as a market by local shopkeepers – don’t think so. At the far end is a neon sign from a drive-in doughnut shop, if only….I really have issues with these forced efforts to create life, it has to be there already in the form of culture, history, nature…creating its own momentum. They seemed to have the hang of it around 50 years ago – almost tempted to start a Pinterest board with little gems like this:

Vällingby, 1955

Vällingby, 1955 (from Generøs By’s Facebook timeline)

The concept is intended to include the 60 nationalities who live in the area, primarily by using 108 objects as street furniture, including bins from Blackpool. The Superkilen app reveals the ‘stories’ about the different objects…no doubt this was great fun to put together (see video), but it’s classic over-thinking and a bit of a non-event. Better is the Jeg er Nørrebro audio walk, put together by local residents.

Have local residents embraced the vision? Not on a November Saturday. I overheard one girl telling her companions:

They’ve put in benches but no one sits on them.

The paint is peeling and the whole thing looks very tatty, in a rather post-Soviet way. Other issues include the trees, with the two biggest cut down in August 2012 (see Red Byens Træer), and the slippery surface on Den Røde Plads, which means it will be cordoned off in summer 2014 for repairs.

Going forward, the Superkilen website (Facebook) has details of how residents can obtain funding for activities such as a Somali culture day, cross fit workshops, street football.

Den Røde Plads took the form of a  pop-up community centre during Metropolis 13:

Embrace your urban grit!

More: Classic Copenhagen takes stock of the Superkilen treesNathan Romero Muelas isn’t a fanCNN sort of is4/6 from Politiken