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) 


15 September 2015

Torments of The Kissing Bridge

This summer seems like a string of unfinished symphonies. Embodied by The Kissing Bridge (Inderhavnsbroen) between Nyhavn and Christianshavn. Copenhagen is busy connecting the harbour for cyclists and pedestrians. Some bridges stay on schedule, some are slightly delayed, while others are downright cursed. This poor thing belong in the last category.

Troubled bridge /Nyhavn-Christianshavn

Here is a shot from the summer of 2013, one year in. 

At this point the contractor, picked for the lowest bid, had fouled it up good. Endpoints were askew, construction unsafe, and everyone involved argued and refused to accept responsibility. The contractor filed for bankruptcy, leaving the troubled bridge for others to finish. Additional faults appeared, deadlines were pushed and expenses grew. The air between the two parts almost vibrating with longing. Would they ever meet?

And then, about five weeks ago, the internet started buzzing: “This is it! The last pieces will be lowered today and tonight. There will be lights, there will be action.” We all gathered at the harbour, on both sides. That is, I snug onboard a vacant boat, for the perfect view.



Happy sailors in a Goboat rental. Ahoy, there.


The perfect view.


A few uneventful hours in, I realised this was going to be a long wait, better endured with a sweater and a chilled bottle of wine. I left and returned to reclaim my boat, a few hours later.


Custom House in white wine.


Custom House without it. Time flies when you are having wine.


Sunset came. Grainy zoom. Knippelsbro with a view of the red Circle Bridge in progress (more on that one later, one bridge at a time).



More waiting. Darkness came. And then...


Crane action.


Slowly and with the utmost precision lowering the muscle for the tongue.

The bridge was getting hopeful, you could tell. The white wine could tell... But that was that. No kissing that night.

I rushed to the other side, to consult with the crew on the progress. They needed a couple of days to connect the wires, they said. Turns out, the wires were faulty...

02 August 2015

26 July 2015

The superheroes

Back in 2012, I had my first mobile injection room spotting. A cream colored ride, with a yellow cross and the word “Fixerum, førstehjælp” (injection room, first aid) on the sides. It launched in September 2011, and I meant to write about it then, but the subject is so hard and depressing that I kept putting it off. An approach I at the time shared with the city administration, turning a blind eye to the problem.

The injection room was a guerrilla initiative by a small, frustrated group of locals, led by social innovator Michael Lodberg, who could no longer stand by and watch the struggle of the drug addicts, criminalized and left to inject and often die from an overdose, in public. As the city refused to run or even allow an injection room, Michael Lodberg raised the money for an old ambulance, and staffed it with volunteer nurses and doctors.

Fixerum The Mobile Injection Room
The Fixelance on Vesterbro, March 2012.

As the ambulance set out, they didn’t know what to expect. Maybe they would get arrested? Maybe locals would chase them away? Instead, the initiative was widely embraced. It was obviously a better solution for everyone, to have drugs administered in a designated space, where used needles would be collected, and kept off the streets. It offered a measure of dignity for the users, clean needles and someone there to revive them, if they overdosed.

From the book Fixerummet der fik hjul (the injection room that got wheels). A hard but good read.

Another ambulance was later donated, lives were saved and one year in, the mobile injection room was such a resounding success that the city finally caved, and took over the project. This is now a part of Copenhagen history, and the first ambulance has even become a part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Denmark.

Michael Lodberg's mission to restore dignity to society's most vulnerable, continues. We met at his office in the meat packing district, to discuss his latest project: Pantringen, the deposit ring. A garbage can accessory, shaped like a half-moon shelf, where you can leave the deposit bottles for collectors. Unlike the case of The Test Tubes (a cup-stacking device by yours truly), this idea was embraced by the cleaning department, who have entered a trial period with the deposit ring, in selected areas.

Pantring / Deposit ring

Giv din pant videre / Pass your deposit on. 

Pantring / Deposit ring

Pantring / Deposit ring

The purpose of the ring is double: it spares deposit collectors the humiliation of digging through garbage, and it helps save the environment. Last year alone deposit bottles worth 166 million DKR were never returned. An incredible waste of resources, and a strain on the environment. We agreed: people who collect deposit bottles are really environmental heroes. Instead of being treated like a pariah, they should be dressed in capes, and saluted for the work that so many can’t be bothered to do themselves.

Pantring / Deposit ring

I don't know about you, but I am tempted to throw in a super-cape for Lodberg too.

The mobile injection room Fixelancen
Pantringen, Kbhpant  (in Danish)
Fixerummet der fik hjul (about the book, in Danish) 

19 July 2015

Silent Sunday, inhale



01 July 2015

To Henry

So. Remember the big trees on Nørrebros Runddel that we managed to save a few weeks ago? The city is remaking the street, and planned to cut down all the old trees, and start over with a fancy new square. We managed to limit the damages, but still out of the six, three was deemed not salvageable, and it just didn’t sit right. I was happy about the three big trees, but at the same time it felt like a betrayal to the last two, only “on their way to becoming risk trees”. You don’t want to be ungrateful when they did spare three, but on the other hand you can’t let that feeling go...

One of the great things about the tree group, is that a lot of tree experts and biologists are following. Some of them inspected the trees, and didn’t agree with the city’s verdict, or reasons for felling. Our mayor of trees Morten Kabell is reading our posts too, and told us he would look into it one more time. A week later he returned with the good news: another two would be spared. Bringing the felling down to one. Imagine that? This mayor gives me such hope for the Copenhagen trees.

Now my gut is finally at ease. I knew that Runddelen was where Danish artist Henry Heerup grew up, so at least one of the trees would have had to be “his”. I looked into the age of the trees. They are from 1907. I looked into when Henry Heerup was born. 1907. Goosebumps! Everything somehow fell into place.

 I have a feeling that Henry would have approved.

If you are (or read) Danish and love trees, join us: