Places Within A Place

Copenhagen: Day Thirteen

Copenhagen is a city that, from a planning perspective at least, has largely stuck to it’s convictions. What has come to be known as the Copenhagen ‘finger plan’ was first devised nearly 60 years ago, and has allowed the city to contain its pattern of urban development along transport routes that radiate from the centre of the city. By loosely complying with this pattern of development and growth Copenhagen has succeeded in retaining complimentary ‘fingers’ of public parkland and open space reserves (I’m deliberately avoiding the phrase ‘green wedge’ because this represents something in Melbourne that is almost unrecognisable when compared to what we saw today). The irony is of course, that whilst the City of Copenhagen is busy codifying the plan that has led to the retention of it’s open space ‘fingers’ as it did in 2007, the Victorian State government has summarily scraped the preexisting urban growth boundary for Melbourne. I wonder who has the better ‘plan’ for the future?

It’s easy to read about the Copenhagen ‘finger plan’. Instead, we saw it for ourselves in style. We arrived at Kopenhavn University in the late afternoon after many of us had endured a very early morning train departure out of Berlin. Compounding this, many of us had fresh memories of our afternoon at Charles University in Prague only a few days earlier, and the horrible feeling one gets when they realise they have nodded off during a carefully prepared talk by a prominent academic, and that they may have just left a small smudge of dribble on the desk in front of them. It’s unlikely anyone noticed.

With a steely determination and a cup of drip flittered coffee, most of us listened intently (at different times) to Henrik Verje as he prepared us for a bus trip around some of Copenhagen’s more interesting places – for planning students, anyway. After a detailed introduction to the finger plan, we piled into a bus with plush seats (a ‘coach’ to some), and headed out from the city.

It wasn’t any typical tour of the sights though, it must be said. It’s was a tour of the finger plan in it’s current form. We visited parkland reserves (and the former Royal hunting grounds), low density estate housing development areas, small scale productive farmland and hobby farm precincts. We drank a beer on a man-made hill (joined by a few pesky sheep) and most unexpectedly, some monster sandwiches back at Henrik’s house in the suburbs. Being a planner it seems, means that you get to see (and view) the world a bit differently.

What we saw this evening was the result of an evolving planning process that included considerable community involvement (good and bad), over a long period of time. We saw that, largely, the community has got it right. The city has discernible precincts, or places within the place and a vibrant urban culture. And although Copenhagen has many planning issues still to overcome, there are lessons to be learned about taking a long term approach, and respecting the will of the city’s residents.

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