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A glimpse of Copenhagen and Malmö

Tamsin Stirling reflects on the visit to Denmark and Sweden in the latest CIH South East Branch study trip.

When I think of Copenhagen and Malmö, my first thought turns to the TV series The Bridge. I was childishly excited that, as part of the CIH SE international group study visit in May 2018, we would cross the bridge by train. As well as that (for me, iconic) journey, the short trip provided a great insight into the housing system of Denmark, regeneration projects in both countries and how social housing and societal issues are perceived.

The visit coincided with the Copenhagen festival of architecture, including a session about student housing constructed from shipping containers on land leased for 10 years in an area of the city that used to be a shipyard. This is long-term meanwhile use for land rather than buildings, with the intention that after 10 years, the container homes will be moved to another site. I also took part in a walking tour in the north of the city which considered the concept of home and what that means when you do not have a house to live in which ended with lunch at a ‘resting’ centre for people who are homeless.

As is the case whenever you visit another country and start learning about how their housing system works, it makes you reflect on your own. In the words of one of our hosts ‘sometimes you get a better view of your own sector by engaging with outsiders’. Reflecting on the visit, three things strike me very forcibly.

Turning Torso, Western Harbour development, Malmö

First, the quality of the built environment – both homes and public space – was very high. Whilst we saw a lot of different types of housing built at different times, we saw very little poor design. Public space was generous and genuinely public; homes in the Western Harbour regeneration scheme in Malmö were acknowledged not to be affordable for those on low/limited incomes, but the considerable public space by the waterfront was seen as for everyone, not just for those who could afford to live in that area of the city.  High environmental standards were an intrinsic part of the quality of new build homes; we also saw work in an older housing scheme to improve storm water management.

Second, social housing is seen as for everyone, as a positive thing, as an essential part of the social fabric of the country. In Copenhagen, social housing is used actively as a tool for a coherent city, a city in which people of all incomes can live. Each social housing organisation has its own waiting list on which anyone can register and the city authorities hold lists of those in need. In Copenhagen, a third of lettings in social housing go to people on the city’s list (the private rented sector is generally not used for households seen as vulnerable).

A regenerated social housing scheme in Copenhagen

In Denmark, a very stable financial model has been in place for social housing for many decades which includes a National Building Fund. This is a solidarity fund contributed to by all social housing organisations and upon which they can draw to fund renovation and regeneration schemes. Social masterplans are required alongside physical masterplans for regeneration schemes and are funded by the National Fund.

There is also a very strong framework of tenant democracy at all levels, from national to housing organisations to estates. Regeneration schemes require intense consultation with tenants and ballots at each stage; tenants know exactly what work is going to be done and what rent increases will result: tenant engagement takes a long time but it pays off’.

Third, societal attitudes, and the approach taken, to issues such as addiction. A presentation from a worker at The Men’s Home talked about the organisation’s approach to working with people addicted to drugs. They use a harm reduction approach at individual, organisational and structural levels; making relationships with people, providing a safe injection site (Skyen), having a low threshold for accessing services and getting involved with urban planning (emphasising the need for inclusion) and proactively influencing the development of the law around drug injection centres. I had not come across the concept of harm reduction at a structural level before, but it makes perfect sense.

I know that first impressions are far from the whole story, but the more inclusive, longer-term thinking and practice evident during our visit made an impact on me. Also made me think of the Well-being of Future Generations Act …

More information

The CIH South East International Group is on facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/cihseinternational/

Student container housing project www.cphvillage.com/

Regeneration of Western Harbour, Malmo malmo.se/download/18.7101b483110ca54a562800010420/westernharbour06.pdf

Article about harm reduction in Copenhagen www.changegrowlive.org/latest/blog/prun-bijral-copenhagen-visit-pwud-drug-consumption-rooms

 Tamsin Stirling can be contacted on [email protected]and is on twitter @TamsinStirling1 

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