23 February 2011

Not In My Backyard

At a recent local community meeting someone suggested that the many fenced off backyards in the city be made public. Right now most of them are only accessible to those living in the adjoining buildings, and mostly used for drying laundry, bicycle parking, kids play and summer barbecues. Some backyards are the size of a football field, others are just a small patch of grass and a couple of benches, but they are all someones responsibility and most of them very well taken care of. And while the concept of opening up the private backyards to the public sounds like a fine idea, it works quite the opposite.

The moment someone forgets to lock the back door, burglaries and vandalism escalates, and in some areas junkies will sneak in and leave used needles behind. When something becomes everybody's property, nobody seems to take responsibility anymore. Just like in public, no one will come after you (other than me) if you litter in the streets, or vandalize a statue. It would be so much nicer if there were small community gardens placed around the city that people would care about and look after. But is it even doable anymore? Will it just be a trash station for café latte to-go-cups (everywhere) and soaked pizza boxes? I see people getting away with acting like pigs on the street every day, in ways that would earn them a good hosing in anyone's backyard.

And here is another reason why a locked backyard is not a bad idea. I can think of no other circumstances under which this beautiful piece would have survived the past 10 years in one of Copenhagen's most colorful neighborhoods.

Mural patchwork(hard to get, but totally worth the effort)

Green fairy
Pink angel
KARM A ONE 2001 mural detail

 What are the chances this masterpiece would have survived on the outside? Do I hear a "slim"?

(haha, I amuse myself, but then it's getting late..)


  1. Well, Portland has a whole bunch of community gardens that are public space and are split into individual plots, which people can reserve and take care of (the waiting list to get into one is a couple of years long, I think). Usually those spaces are locked somehow though at least with chain-link fence or something, I think, and only people who have reserved plots can get into them easily.

    I think there really is a benefit to having some kind of semi-private space in the city, where only certain people can get into it. We don't really have the kinds of apartment buildings here that I've seen in Europe, with a yard in the middle that only residents can get to, or that kind of thing, so for the most part, all of our outside space is either completely public (streets, parks, etc), or completely private (the backyard attached to a single-family house).

    Having all space be public is a nice idea, but you're right, once it becomes completely public, you never know what will happen with it.

  2. I am dreaming of a roof garden all of my own, mmm. Maybe we will get the community gardens here one day. There are talks about opening the fenced off Jewish cemetery for the public for a couple of days a week, it is very close by me actually. But I have this ugly fear that some people will not respect the surroundings..

    Litter pigs are the curse of Copenhagen, the lakes look like something you wouldn't believe, with all kinds of garbage floating around, it just makes me so mad. I still chase litter pigs down the street, every chance I get, yelling at them that they dropped something (in a display of mock-concern, just to confuse them).

  3. I'd love to see you chasing the person down the street sometime :)

    A roof-top garden would be amazing! What a great excuse to not only grow things, but to get such a unique view of your surroundings.

  4. I agree, Copenhagen is infested with litter pigs.
    Take a look at Nørrebro street Jagtvej which is a really bad example. Should be renamed Litter Avenue.

    Like you Sandra, I sometimes say to people who just drop their garbage, "whoops, you dropped something" (Hov, du tabte noget). What saddens me is they rarely pick it up but just ignore my remark - sometimes I even get an angry look.

    About opening of backyards, I 'm not sure that's a great idea either. One of the good things about the shared backyards now is that the responsobility of keeping it lies with the people who live in the buildings surrounding it. If it was open to all, strangers could for instance decide to have a bbq party in the yard and just leave their trash behind afterwards. The landlord would have no chance of finding out who it was if it were 'outside' people who did it.

    About the graffiti - well you might see some pieces get buffed, but on the other hand graffiti artists would also have access to decorating some grey walls here and there that are 'off-limits' now.

  5. Dave, I know, that roof garden is a long time dream of mine. :-)

    Drumstick, I'm glad to hear I am not the only one alerting people that they just "dropped something". Making that announcement is all about making everybody take a good look at the litter pigs, so maybe they will think twice next time they feel too lazy to take it to the dumpster.

    On the subject of walls I am secretly hoping that Spyo will work his magic somewhere near my windows. That would be a luxury.

  6. I totally agree about keeping these "backyards" semi-private. I used to enjoy a good relationship with my neighbours on Aarhusgade (another street that seems to be a litter magnet) where we would share chairs, tables, suntan oil and the occasional beer. We knew who everything belonged to and treated things with respect. It was not a problem to leave things out for others to enjoy. The second there is open access, the respect element diminishes and things go missing. The communal element disappears because there is no longer a defined community. This is unfortunate because it should end up being a bigger community but, alas (I love that word), that idea is naive. I have seen childrens' sand toys disappear from the open park from down the street. That did not happen in our backyard.

    Drumstick: good way to point out a litter pig!

    Portland: In Montreal, we have a similar structure to what you have there. We have our own backyard (private) but I actually miss the "semi" element where, some evenings, it just became a big potluck dinner.

    Have a great one!

  7. Hi Celena, I am pleasantly surprised that there is such an understanding of these micro communities. In my tiny backyard we don't really hang out the way I would wish for, but when we bring friends in the summertime, it is always cosy, sort of like having a small private garden.

    On the litter pigs, I would love to put their despicable behavior on display for everybody to see, I want to shame them so bad. Especially when they throw garbage in the lakes, grrrr. More people should out them, it really is everybody's responsibility to keep the streets clean.

    It is good to learn how backyards are shared around the world. Cosy. :D

  8. How come some cities are cleaner than others? Is it the local authorities really enforcing the law? Is it the education? (a little of both). One day I saw a mob (I barely exaggerate) running after a woman who didn't pick up after her dog in Switzerland. The woman got away though, but I'm pretty sure somebody picked up for her. I was impressed, especially coming from Paris where at that time it was very careful to walk on the streets without looking down... But Here in Santa Monica and on this part of the Pacific coast, it's very clean. And believe me this is the city of homeless. And there are almost as many dogs as in NY. The beaches are clean, and safe, I never saw anybody littering, and yes you have the occasional cup of coffee to go, but this is amazing. I will miss that back in France. Paris is cleaner, but people are not so respectful.
    Education I believe.
    Love the painting.

  9. Hi Carole, the dog poop problem is embarrassing in Paris, I know.. but still you don't have the same litter problem. I feels like the Parisians are proud of their city. In Amsterdam it was clean too, but they have a different system, the garbage is collected from the front of the building twice a week, and there is a cleaning crew dispatched the same day, leaving it spotless. I think this is also to avoid rat problems (which I hear we have here, underground).

    I wonder if striking down with fines will make a difference, because ultimately it should come from a desire to keep it clean. You are absolutely right, it's an education process. That's why people like me and Drumstick offer our services, haha.


I love comments! Go ahead, make my day. :-)