04 November 2015

Copenhagen on fire

What’s with the long break, you may wonder? Copenhagen is on fire, and I find it so hard to just sit back and describe it. My first instinct is to put out the fires, so that’s what I have been doing with my time. It is about the trees, of course. The relentless, escalating deforestation, in the name of progress and urban development. 

Recent examples: A university (of Natural and Health Sciences, of all things) took down a garden to make space for bike parking. 

Once upon a garden, now only alive on Google Street View. Like so many Copenhagen trees. 

Butchering in progress. Because bikes just can't be parked under trees? 

Red Cross destroyed the most beautiful magnolia garden, to lay more brick. I still can't look at it. Here is what it looked like in the spring of 2013:

And the last goodbye this summer, look at these magnificent old trees. 

We tried to see if they could be moved, but the trunks were split too low, making it impossible for the machine to reach around them.

Painful to know that only one month later, they would be gone. 

New areas of Copenhagen are being developed with zero consideration for nature. The old Carlsberg Breweries area is transformed from a historic, industrial space, into tower upon tower of luxury apartments, the new Carlsberg City. Dancers, galleries, children and creative outlets are not able to meet the market price, and have been evicted. The legendary Climbing Forest is going to be felled, the brewer’s beautiful old garden with rare trees is gone, all the adjacent street trees: gone. 

If you know or visited Copenhagen, you may have greeted the big elephant gate at the end of this cobblestone road. 

Now stripped of old trees. Urban planning and corporate greed at its worst.

I don't think I have the strength to document the Climbing Forest, about to be felled. But I may have to, in respect of Copenhagen history.

As a rule existing trees are rarely included in plans, as they are challenges to architects and limits the amount of space investors can profit from. Also, building around trees cost more, and they all get away with “replacements”, in the ratio 1:1. Not taking the massive loss of leaf mass and biodiversity into consideration. Conveniently ignoring how newly planted street trees have a life expectancy of four to seven years, due to impossible living conditions for young, fragile trees.

The citizen's movement Red Byens Træer (Save the Urban Trees) that I founded after the big Bunker (-tree) rescue, have been steadily growing, and yesterday we were featured on National Danish Radio P1, in the documentary program Natursyn, for 45 minutes of glorious tree talk. And we have finally got the politicians talking about implementing a tree policy for Copenhagen.

But the one case that has been sucking all life out of me, is Møllegade on Nørrebro. Where the city decided to make a tile square, where there is now a rare mass of trees. A small forest of 18 poplar-, apple-, mirabelle- and ash trees. 

For years we have fought and pleaded with them to include the existing trees in the new plan. We were not allowed in the citizen's group, cherry picked by the Administration, and our involvement was not welcome. But that didn't stop us investigating. We learned that the City Administration had lied to the citizen's group, stating that the trees were sick. Effectively shutting down a unanimous wish to preserve them. 

The Nature Conservation people inspected the trees, and gave them all a clean bill of health. So why did the Administration declare them sick? Did they have the wrong information? We gained access to the documents, confirming that the trees were healthy and most even declared worth preserving. They simply lied, to get their way.

But, at the time we exposed the lie, the plan was already set, leaving only three of the existing trees. We complained to the City about the Administration, and the complaint was handled by... the Administration. Ignoring the part where they lied. Stating that the cherry picked citizen's group were happy. Happy is code for Afraid To Get On Bad Terms With The City. To the point of accepting a blatant lie, costing us a small forest. 

These three trees will go, to make room for a swapping shed. Yes: a shed. Moving the shed slightly from the wall, would preserve these trees, we have even had advisors to the building trade suggest they use a screw foundation, to mount the shed, and spare the trees.  

On opposite corner a cemetery. Square meters not as readily available, to the developers hungry eye.

Thousands of Copenhageners have signed a petition to preserve our trees. We don’t need a tile square, we need trees. And, in this part of town: desperately so. At 6 m2 of nature per citizen, compared to an average of 35 m2 for the rest of Copenhagen, Nørrebro is suffocating. Lack of trees affect os severely, both in quality of life and in the air we breathe. Less big trees means more CO2 and toxic particles, killing off 500 Copenhageners annually. Cutting down big, healthy trees in the urban space, should be prohibited.

But despite our effort, the massive public outcry and exposure of a defective process, the politicians decided to let the plan pass, without a vote (!). By spring 2016 this will all be gone. 

Yesterday these poplar trees were topped, which means the entire canopy was cut off all the poplar trees. A pratice referred to by professionals as mutilation. And this was not the first time, for the poor poplars. This is how we treat our trees in Copenhagen.

Goodbye old friends.

This old ashtree will be felled to make room for another shed, for children's toys. 

If I hear another politician or developer utter the word "replacement tree" I swear...

So what's next? I have decided to go ahead and file a complaint about the City of Copenhagen, to the Government Ombudsman, for lying to the citizens. This process have highlighted a serious problem: the Administration is running the show, not the people we voted for. And, citizens are not being heard. It is a mockery of a process, and if we only get one thing out of years of fighting for the Møllegade trees, let it be that this pattern will not be repeated. 

That’s what I have been up to. Can you forgive the long silence?


Save the Urban Trees, blog (Red Byens Træer translated into English) 



  1. You are definitely forgiven ;) I am so sorry to hear about the loss/impending loss of these trees. It makes you wonder where people's souls have gone (even developers). The trees are lucky to have you on their side xox

    1. The saddest thing is, there will never grow threes on these locations again. Newly planted street trees just don't survive. Even if they had the space assigned, which they don't. Short sighted planning and no greater plan for the Copenhagen trees, it is embarrassing. The future Copenhageners will judge this administration.

    2. It is absolutely horrible, makes me SO sad as well :-(

    3. It really is depressing, I am sorry about that. Hopefully we can turn things around, even if it is too late for too many trees.

  2. ooohhh Sandra I'm so sorry for the trees. But I'm glad you are fighting for them, at least some people care. I love them so much. People would not believe me if I told them a Scandinavian administration did stuff unethical or un-ecological ;) you guys are role models for us "poor corrupted countries of the south", as some among us see ourselves... in my job i also see stuff that are hard to believe. I have no word for the short term narrow vision that our politicians have. Keep up the good fight Sandra! <3<3<3

    1. Oh, thank you Carole. People who love trees are my favorite kind. : ) And I know: the "green Copenhagen" branding is strong. People don't want to hear about the dark side, they prefer the fairy tale, and even get upset with me for bringing it out.

      We are "green" in some ways, but obviously not in the actual sense of the word. Nature takes a backseat in Copenhagen, and it is not something that can be undone. Once urban nature is taken away, and the space used for buildings, parking spots and infrastructure, it is not returned. The profit is too big, and maintaining trees is considered a burden. Cutting cost and keeping maintenance to a minimum is king. So short-sighted, I agree. As citizens we have an obligation to protect our trees, especially for the next generations.

      Funny: I look to Paris as a role model for so many things, ha. Maybe I also only see the bright side...

      <3<3<3 back at you!

  3. As a Nørrebro dweller and fellow lover of trees, this breaks my heart.

    Thank you for all the work you do <3

    1. It really is heartbreaking. It is exhausting to care so much, but also necessary.

      Thank you for the appreciation. : )


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