Our office is in Vesterbro, a neighbourhood that has changed beyond recognition over the past two decades. Now a desirable place for families and young professionals to live, it used to be home to Copenhagen’s least savoury characters.
Gentrification is nothing new. In this issue we visited PB43 in Amager, a creative community of 150 entrepreneurial souls within a dilapidated former paint factory. The land has now been sold and they need to find a new home, but it’s unlikely they will find anywhere as flexible and cheap. Which is a pity, for that is precisely why the businesses and organisations were able to thrive.
But there’s no point in feeling sorry for them. They were lucky to be provided with the space in the first place, and the majority are educated and highly resourceful individuals who will find new ways to pursue their creative ambitions.
Not everyone is as resourceful, however, and as Copenhagen becomes wealthier, the competition over space will undoubtedly increase. Rents will rise, people will be forced to move from homes they have lived in their entire lives. Without fail, it is those with resources that replace those without.
Should cities only have space for the wealthy? If it were left entirely up to the market, only those with jobs that are rewarded with high wages will be left living in the inner city, while those working important, but poorly paid jobs, will be pushed out. The city will become increasingly segregated, and the weakest end up marginalised in low-income communities.
But markets need not rule, and the City Council can step in and insist on more affordable housing to prevent increased segregation. We are better off when we live in and amongst each other. It is no surprise that the anti-Islam movement Pegida arose in East Germany, which has witnessed very little immigration compared to the rest of the country. The more we are segregated, the more we lose sight of each other’s humanity.
Which is certainly the case in some Gulf States, such as Qatar, where foreign labourers are paid squalid wages and prevented from going home until their employer allows them. Bussed to and from work sites, average Qataris hardly ever set eyes on the vast numbers of labourers that toil in blistering heat to prepare the country for sports events, such as the 2022 World Cup. Out of sight, out of mind.
Economic and social segregation needn’t be as stark to be problematic. As Copenhagen develops, we need to find ways that ensure the wealth it creates improves everyone’s lives, not just those in control of land and resources. M