Copenhagen’s Public Spaces: the relevance of everyday urbanism in a global context.

For a capital to stay on track in the “Premier League of Cities” several elements are necessary, but undoubtedly and as recent global events have shown us, growing with equality is key.  Whichever is the sector, from tourism to urban infrastructure, equality and enabling diversity is fundamental for successful societies.

In the recent years Denmark has been restraining or rolling back services that made the country and its cities what they are, reducing funding for higher education, limiting the amount of years of it (recently modified) and enforcing migration policies which are beyond rational and far from humanitarian.

“The homeless are people” Banner from demonstration 2019.

Beyond the influence that these policies have on human lives -which should be the first elements for policy makers to consider-, they impact the potential of Danish cities for change, innovation and development. The effects of blind market oriented policies do not only affect those who are newly arriving to the city, but also those who are and have been part of the urban fabric since ever; groups and people who have been systematically marginalized from Wonderful Copenhagen: the elderly, the unemployed, the urban poor and the homeless.

Copenhagen city in its race to the top, with ambitious architectonic planning and projections, has not addressed in an integral manner the needs of the excluded and marginalized, aiming more for an aesthetically and functional wonderful Copenhagen than a city that addresses its deficiencies.

On my research carried out in 2019, I analyzed Copenhagen’s ‘Urban Life Accounts’ and other municipal documents from 2009 to 2018, amidst the ongoing debate of the ‘zone-ban’ for people sleeping in public spaces -aimed and created initially with racial motivations against Roma people, but ending affecting the ‘local’ homeless population-. In these documents Copenhagen Municipality as a form of accountability mechanism, shows their numbers in relation to amount of events on the open air, new developments, new renovations, amounts of people walking to work or driving their bikes and surprisingly the number of privately own café chairs in their public plazas -which, by the way do not pay a permit since 2012-.

Why do I bring up the cafés with their tables and chairs in plazas? I do because they use of public spaces, where the blocking of free transit and movement for pedestrians for which the homeless and the idle have been accused historically and currently in so many cities, is bypassed by the private entrepreneur. This is not a shallow critique, but it speaks of our cities and public spaces as mercenary cities and public spaces, where the uses of space related to consumption are above others, and where drinking and espresso in Kultorvet is deemed as an act of higher priority than sleeping due to need in Købmagergade.

In a city where the debate is ongoing in relation to the effects of policies such as the zone-ban, but the focus is set in mega-projects such as ‘Copenhill’ and BIG’s ‘Hedonistic Urbanism’, it is absolutely necessary to circle back and take a minute to reconsider the micro scales of our cities, from benches in plazas to the nooks in our buildings, cities are made for people and those who depend mostly in our cities infrastructure -sanitation, rest, shelter- are being pushed away from the public spaces.

The mindless race to the top of the premier league of cities, prioritizing aesthetics and market transactions without addressing in a proper form the needs of the excluded is doomed to fail and pay in the long run the price of inequality, which builds up and breaks into a deafening scream.