11 February 2013

The asphalt jungle

Calling Copenhagen a green city is nothing but a marketing strategy. A closer look reveals a set of very different priorities. For instance, urban vegetation is the first to go when a new plan is set in motion. The unprecedented eagerness to destroy and build from scratch is tearing Copenhagen up and leaving it as an unattractive asphalt jungle. And they move fast. I have split this subject into two posts, this one will be highlighting the problem, the next will address possible solutions. Here we go:

The Farmers Market (Torvehallerne):
Remember how joyful it all was, back when we heard that the farmers market was finally returning? Here is what the square looked like before:

Look at the beautiful old trees. The real estate developer Jeudan were encouraged (but not obligated) by the city to preserve the vegetation, and they did put on a show for a while, sparing the old trees. You can even follow the progress of the construction site in aerial view (link), on their own website.

If you click on the link, try scrolling down and enlarge these two pictures: 
October 2010: Vegetation is still around, they are even describing how beautiful the trees are in fall.
December 2010: All gone! No mention of them again.


By opening day, the old trees were replaced with young twigs, so skinny that they are barely visible on this picture. Bean counters logic: a tree is a tree.

(PS! It gets a lot worse, just wait for it)

I contacted Jeudan to ask why they initially preserved our old trees, just to cut them down in the end? The answer: "The old trees were removed, and replaced with new ones". Move to strike as non responsive. Any further attempts to reach someone in the administration was shut down. This runaround tactic tells us that they know they are in the wrong. But nobody calls them on it. So next time they take a bite out of our city, and they are big eaters so you know they will, they are bound to repeat this behavior.

But it doesn't stop there. No sooner had they finished (!) the farmers market, before the next big project was launched. Right across is Israels Plads, playground, fleamarket and urban oasis. This is when it gets really ugly.

Israels Plads:
The city of Copenhagen is actively involved, so you would assume that preserving the trees were a priority, green city and all. I hitched a ride with Google Streetview and counted more than eighty bushes, plants and trees.

80+ trees butchered by a city that calls itself green?

One guess what the city did as the first order of business? Exact same spot below:

They cut it all down.

Clearly the architects were not instructed to preserve the existing vegetation and work around it. Nor was removing the trees and replanting them somewhere else considered a priority. I would really like to know how the administration of Copenhagen have the nerve to call themselves green? And what kind of selfrespecting City Architect allows this to happen on her watch?

The Salami Method:
The Danish Society for Nature Conservation has named this the Salami Method: cutting away a little bit here and a little bit there. Disregarding protected land, terminating the status at convenience. Building a metro on a cemetery or drying up a protected lake, transforming it into a construction site. Or, in the case of the proposed harbour tunnel, building a freeway right across it. Anything is possible, nothing is safe. Green is just a word.

In this "green" city, healthy old trees are cut down to make room for parking, or even for no reason at all, like it very nearly happened on the bunker corners. Had we not made noise, the bunker forest would have been long gone by now. We simply can no longer afford to just shrug our shoulders, and write these losses off as sacrifices made in the name of progress. When what is going on, is the exact opposite.

Welcome to the jungle.

Saving the bunker forest, an ongoing story, part one, part two, part three, part four... (jury is still out, the only thing they do quickly, is destroy) 


  1. Nice, Sandra! I love the dedication you put into that topic.

    1. Thank you Julia, this issue is so close to my heart, I feel so helpless and enraged at the same time.

  2. This is a wonderful and moving post/article, Sandra. You have done it again...you have tapped open the cavity of my chest with your descriptions and frank account. And then ripped shreds off my heart with the photographs, to make it bleed for what is happening in DK. I love DK. It's as close to me as my native NL. Even the cobblestone roadways around the old market square in your pictures. That to me is Europe. And the trees - they belong too. It's an era, Sandra, an era that is fast disappearing.
    Love and greetings.

    1. I feel the same way. Every time I slide down past the pictures of then and now, it stings so hard. It is unimaginable that this kind of destruction can take place today, when we know how important and scarce the urban vegetation is. We are talking about livable cities, and trees that clean our air.

      This should not be allowed to happen again.

  3. It is so frustrating and yet so common this past decade, that officials lie to our face without a trace of shame; their arrogance is one of a few things that make me boiling angry. And it seems so pointless and cruel to people, to nature and to the city, to destroy old trees. What a loss. Don't give up Sandra, that's what they are waiting for. Here it's the same on so many topics.

    1. That is exactly the thing: they *say* one thing, and people are seduced into thinking all is well. Even when all evidence points to the contrary. I can't give up, even when I think it would make life less painful, I can't. And the non-response from greedy corporations, only fuels my resolve.

      The loss on Israels Plads is huge. There is no healing that wound, I don't care how many chopsticks they replant. The architects painted in a total of four ancient trees to decorate the new square. Sigh.

  4. I really had fun trying to find the trees on the picture with Torvehallerne... Couldn't see any for couple of minutes! (don't know if it is my computer, my eyes or the trees, but it's still depressing...)
    Anyway, I think, that the biggest problem of "green city" marketing strategy is that Copenhageners really believe in that, or am I wrong? I believe, that if more people were engaged in this, thay wouldn't let it happen.
    btw. the farmers market is also quite dissapointing. I mean is it really what people want? To buy overpriced garlic from Mexico, beer from Italy and cheese from Spain? Why they are not selling products of danish farmers? But that's another thing.
    I can't wait to read your next post!:-)

    1. They are there, you may be able to spot one if you squint really hard, you may be able to spot it next to the traffic sign. Truly depressing.

      And I believe you are spot on, in regards to the Copenhageners, when I bring up my concern, they look at me funny and quote something they read in a newspaper two years ago, about how the city it going to plant a lot of new, young trees. That is all fine, but I am looking at what is going on here now, not the fancy promises.

      The "farmers market", don't even get me started... what an utter disappointment. An overpriced supermarket for the high end customer, oh they love their tapas and cellophane wrapped salt scrub, but a farmers market it is not. Sucky from one end to another. Also it is all micro branches of chain stores, the poor vegetable dealers are left outside freezing their asses off.

      I hate everything about it, except the two fishmongers.

  5. How utterly depressing! This is an effort to green the city? To me, it looks like a sanitation process. How can they look themselves in a mirror? I mean, at least be honest about what your motives are...
    They need you in local politics, Sandra, to keep them on their toes!

    1. I know, and I am sorry to bring everybody down, it is not my favorite place to be, but I am hoping we can prevent something like this from happening again, by bringing it up. Someone has to point it out, and the media have been silent. Maybe they haven't noticed? Maybe they don't care? If I were a journalist, this would be a story I would want to tell.

      And I doubt they would ever want to see my face in City Hall. I suck at pretending and playing games, haha, telling it like it is, is not the way up in that world.


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