Lessons from Copenhagen

Dear colleagues, 

As we reflect on the role design can play in moving toward recovery from the pandemic and global racial justice, lessons from Copenhagen might help us set a trajectory. Copenhagen is one of WHO’s Healthy Cities in a country that consistently ranks among the top in the World Happiness Report. The report is produced by the UnitedNations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and it ranks 156 countries, measuring happiness through positive affect, negative affect, and life evaluations (GDP, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and absence of corruption).

As an advocate for healthy and connected communities in which everyone can thrive, what attracted me to Copenhagen were the changes it is undergoing. For much of itshistory, Denmark has beenpretty homogeneous and in 2019, 90% of the population had Danish ancestry–in Copenhagen however, around 25% of the population have immigrant backgrounds. With immigrant communities growing, Danish policy makers have made many controversial decisions, such as planning to relocate “unwanted” migrants to an isolated island and red-lining low-income immigrant areas as “ghettos”. Areas with at least 1,000 residents can be marked as a ghetto when two of the following descriptions are met: having at least 50% immigrants from non-Western countries, at least 40% unemployment, and at least 2.7% criminal convictions. 

Copenhagen has the highest poverty rate (7.6%) compared to the national average of 4.4%. Nørrebro, the city’s most diverse neighborhood, has the highest poverty rate(10.1%) and an employment rate of 48.3% for immigrants and 68.9% for descendants ofimmigrants (compared to 80.2% for Danes in the same area), experiencing health, income, and educationaldisparities.

Below, I share three lessons from Copenhagen. You can find more design interventions when you search “Copenhagen” on the top right of Culturally Enriched Communities. Also, note that we now have over 150 buildings and places from the Twin Cities highlighted in Landscapes of Hope. And, the COVID-19 page is constantly being updated as countries re-open and as more information on vulnerable populations is gathered.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]


A Good And Developed Space

Hanover Research report usesCrime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) methodology to outline the benefits and disadvantages of fencing in schools, a typical security measure in the US. On the one hand, it can provide safety, access control, natural surveillance, and establish the school’s perimeter while at the same time, it can limit surveillance, attract graffiti and other vandalism, restrict access so much that students take more hazardous routes to and from school,
and create the feeling of ‘imprisonment’ for students.

This school in Norrebro uses a low concrete bench to demarcate the school’s boundaries, creating a border around the school while allowing students to sit and rest, cultivating an inviting and welcoming environment that joins the school to the neighborhood and the city fabric.

How are our educational and societal values translated in the designed environment? 

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Importance Of Social Connections

One of Copenhagen’s most iconic and most photographed parks is located in the diverse neighborhood of Norrebro. Superkilen Park brings together different kinds of people, helping break down stereotypes and creating a sense of community and pride.

How can design help instill a sense of pride and connectedness? 

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Janteloven - Unspoken Conduct Rule

Janteloven is an unspoken conduct rule where you are to behave humble and modest no matter your income, educational level, or personal success.

Social and urban environments where housing for all incomes co-exists is a reflection of the idea of janteloven. Close to 70% of housing in Denmark is within a cooperative housing scheme. Anyone buying a house or an apartment pays for the right to use that unit, and their payment covers a share of the wealth of the cooperative itself. The tax structure is designed to keep these units affordable, protecting the residents financially and from homelessness. As people across the socio-economic spectrum can be sharing a co-op, connections can be built between retired workers, young students, doctors, policemen, artists, and so on. Co-operative and social housing for immigrants can be found everywhere in the city,
including this street in Norrebro.

How can  humbleness and humility be nurtured through design? 

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

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