by Priya Logan
As part of The Childrens Wood Committee I was fortunate to have the chance to represent us as part of the InTransit programme in Copenhagen last month. InTransit is an urban development and placemaking collaboration by the Goethe Insititute which takes place across eight European countries. It is an exciting opportunity for many diverse grassroots initiatives to connect and share ideas. We arrived on a Sunday, meeting at midday in the lobby of our hotel in the city centre, ready to commence a tailored bike tour of community projects with our welcoming and friendly Copenhagen host: Jesper of GivRum.
Some of us were more confident than others climbing upon our bikes to commence the adventure but we all found momentum quickly, thanks to a brief crash course in Danish bicycle etiquette….stay left if you want to go slowly was one tip that I made sure to adhere to ! First stop: Folkets Hus, ( literally: The Peoples House ) a communal cafe with a colourful history and an incredibly funky playground outside.
Sunday is an important family day in Denmark and this was in plain evidence in the bustling atmosphere and the depleted lunch supplies. We had a chat and brief introductions over a relaxed meal of eggs and tea where we got to know a little about our fellow participants. Representing their projects were Marisa from Connect The Dots, Dublin; Dagmar from Gaengeviertel in Hamburg; Rian from Our Farm in Dublin and Samantha from Homebaked in Liverpool as well as several representatives of the Goethe Institute and, of course, our host Jesper. We had only just skimmed the surface of learning about each others backgrounds and lives but with lots to look forward to, and a packed schedule to keep, we bade farewell and leapt on our bikes to follow Jesper along the sunny, cold streets. I was very glad I thought to buy gloves that morning as the temperatures lingered in the low single digits. On the positive side this kept us all alert and refreshed.
Our next stop was “container city”. A narrow, long, gap site next to the Metro line, and a gym, that was deemed to be unusable for any commercial or residential purpose. For this reason the Municipality gave use of the land on a temporary, long term, basis to a group of artists and activists with the condition that they provide some cultural benefit to the local area in way of engagement and events. The project was wonderfully inspiring and had oodles of practical ingenuity and productivity per square inch. Tightly packed into this small space there was, among many other things, a recording studio; welding workshop; greenhouse, kitchen; outdoor growing space and the most appealing chicken residence known to humanity – complete with free range feathery residents….
Eventually, after a very thorough tour and history we had to say goodbye to our new poultry pals and Container City and climb upon our two wheeled vehicles once more. On the way to our next stop we passed through Copenhagens famous cemetr: Assistens where renowned philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and fairytale maestro Hans Christian Andersen are buried. Copenhagen streets are wide, clean and open. The car density feels very low while the bikes definitely rule the commuter roost.
Next stop was Øen, a small multifunctional space where we learned again about the collaborative approach of the local Municipality who we were told have adopted a “Yes, and” approach as opposed to a “No, but” one. In an echo to the previous project, the space is given for no cost in return for the indoor and outdoor areas being improved and open thereby enhancing the cultural conditions of the local community. This was a lovely little place which was totally non-profit and volunteer run. I was also impressed with the range in colour the raised beds boasted given the season.
Once we had heard about the project and had a tour we were led away on our merry way again guided by Jesper who ensured he kept a generously slow pace and quite a few glances backwards, at his charge of newly fledged Copenhagen commuters.
After a brisk cycle along a few busier main roads we then found ourself in an unassuming little spot on the other side of the city. Here we learned about ØsterGro which was currently disassembled in pieces due to repairs to fix a leaking roof. ØsterGro is urban rooftop farming at its finest and the team had a familiar cooperative story to tell. A local car dealer had an agreement allowing them to use the rooftop space of his warehouse for their community garden and restaurant. The produce grown there belongs to subscribers and is also an educational area used for local schools to learn about agriculture and also houses a popular rooftop restaurant which hosts many arts and cultural events. We learned more about the project: the ups and downs and long term goals while seated in a large, old car-elevator enjoying some traditional Danish hospitality: pastries and black coffee. They hope to be up and running again by now with all the pieces back together to catch the start of the growing season.
The next day, Monday, InTransit was part of Copenhagen exhibition opening of Welstadt , part of the Copenhagen Architecture Festival. The opening was an all day conference. Here there was much to hear about through amazingly inspiring and diversely different approaches to placemaking worldwide with some wonderful projects being showcased.. Some of the things that I left thinking about, in no particular order, are:
• We need to set our expectations beyond participating in our cities to co-authoring our cities.
• All actions towards community building will be more productive if they are underpinned by the fundamental question: “What makes a good life?”
• Most planning authorities don’t cooperate with people as active citizens because they view them as not co-thinkers or co-authors but as passive consumers. There is also no platform for civil dialogue. This needs to be changed by rethinking our language and working “with” not upon communities.
• We need to beware of the mimicry of the self organised movements which can be hijacked by business and authorities.
• Instead of just asking citizens the question: “What do you want?”, which is too vague, ask instead: “ What do you want from each other?”. This is the basis of real community
• Performative action is a powerful tool for transformation. Realise that every action is a performance and every person is an actor. Use the world as a stage, every person is powerful.
• The physical act of changing a space is a ritual of transition. Doing things yourself and with your community is powerful. This favours grassroots activity rather than top down action and planning.
• The act of naming is also important and needs to be constantly reclaimed and reimagined.
We also heard more from our Copenhagen host Jesper Koefoed-Melson, CEO of Givrum.nu, and of his aspirations to redesign urban development by returning power to those who know their neighbourhoods best, its residents. This innovative approach makes people both stakeholders and key actors in urban design. His vision is to “look more into the people who inhabit the city and change the way they view the city” Here
I gave a presentation to a cluster of interested participants about the evolution and future plans of The Childrens Wood and North Kelvin Meadow which I think gave some inspiration and new ideas, who knows – we may even get some new visitors ! It was a fabulous project for The Childrens Wood to be a part of and it is yet to be seen what will grow from the seeds planted during this time. The closing of the InTransit project is in Germany shortly which will be attended by Emily Cutts and Andrea Fisher