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From NIMBY to WIMBY in the Sundholm district of Copenhagen

Sundholm shelter

The URBACT USER network launched its implementation phase in Copenhagen on 18th and 19th of April, with a successful seminar on conflicts, dysfunctions and changes in using public spaces. The nine city network, led by Grenoble Alpes Métropole, will exchange experience over the next two years on new solutions to designing and managing public spaces.

The seminar was hosted by Sundholm District Urban Renewal Team who led the group on a study visit of their neighbourhood. Historically the area was a labour camp for undesirables, set up in 1908 for the city of Copenhagen to send its destitutes, vagrants and beggars to live on a self-sufficient farm. This was the city planning solution to marginalised groups of that era. Over the years the area in Amager West has become more integrated with the city, with a social housing estate, schools, public transport connections and cycle tracks. In 2004 an Improvement Plan was created with the message of WIMBY ‘Welcome in My Back Yard’. The idea is to better connect Sundholm to the rest of the city, to encourage more Copenhagen residents to live in or visit the area. Sundholm’s history was to lock in the problems, away from the city. Now they are trying to make bridges and open windows between these worlds.

Building on the farming history and Copenhagen’s culture of urban gardening a new field has been created with raised boxes inviting all locals to come and plant flowers and food. One of the innovations is a bee keeping enterprise involving local schoolchildren and homeless people. As local government representative Andre Just Vedgren commented: “Take alcoholics, take bees, take children. What could possibly go wrong? But nothing went wrong, because somebody dared to try it.” Another innovation that has attracted national media coverage is the construction of shelters alongside urban gardens in the streets for the homeless people to use.

Other inputs to the seminar came from Peter Williams of Better Bankside Business Improvement District in London. He gave examples of a partnership model with the private sector, which has helped to fund both large and small projects such as a pedestrian footbridge, an urban forest, and an urban orchard. Better Bankside has also pioneered temporary uses of public space, such as platforms for performance and making books about local history. Camilla van Deurs from Gehl Architects cautioned on what measures are used for public space. Cities collect data on traffic not pedestrians. Gehl studies people’s behaviour and needs and now has 50 years of data on walking and stationery activity in Copenhagen. She encouraged cities to create flexible spaces as this is often where the magic happens, for instance in Copenhagen when the canal freezes and citizens come out to play curling together.

Each USER partner city has identified a target area to develop or improve, working together with local residents and users, within a shared framework. The next thematic seminar will take place in Riga to be followed by peer review visits of smaller groups of cities evaluating common challenges.

Photo of shleter for homeless: Sundholmskvarteret Omradeloft


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