A hybrid hotbed of diversity and fun
I had already been to Denmark twice before in 2005 and 2006, but only for short trips to Aarhus to visit Morten, a Danish friend of mine, who I met more than 10 years ago during my year abroad in Sardinia, Italy, on the Erasmus program. All I knew of Copenhagen however, were the millions of bicycles and the autonomous Camden like commune Christiania – which I imagine is all many other semi-clueless tourists know before they arrive.
One of the things that captivated me most was Superkilen, a 30,000m² sprawling urban park in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Nørrebro. Yet, as Morten told us, it wasn’t the park -only opened in 2012 – that had put the neighbourhood on the map, but rather the riots sparked in 2006, known as the Copenhagen December Riots.
As we weaved our way along the bike path next to the grafittied walls on a boiling hot July mid morning, the first thing I clocked was the red concrete tarmac spread out in front of us, as well as a picture which looked distinctly like Malcolm X, but I could be wrong.
Then my eyes lit up as I noted a large metallic shiny structure – big enough for four adults: double swings acquired from Iraq. I knew this not because I’ve got a trained eye for working out the provenance of different playground furnishings, but from a small sign indicating where the swings were from.
Superkilen has numerous other outdoor furnishings from around the world – a large Octopus slide from Japan, some litter bins from Scotland, some stone chess tables from Bulgaria, some monkey bars from the USA, a boxing ring from Thailand, an Osborne bull from Spain (often visible at the side of the motorways). Forgive the cliché, but there is really “something for everyone” but and more interestingly ‘something from 60 different countries’.
I was fascinated to later learn from an interview with Bjarke Ingels, one of the architects, that during the planning stage of the park, the neighbourhood’s 78,000 inhabitants were invited through main and social media, to suggest urban furnishings for future inclusion. That is why all 60 different nationalities are represented with items in the park amongst the 108 objects in the park.
As my friend Morten explained to us “The objective of the park was to instil pride into an area previously a hotbed of riots between the Danish police and underground groups”. As I looked around I noticed no hostility, just people enjoying the good weather and the various objects dotted around the park. An elderly couple chatting on a bench, three adolescents demonstrating amazing parkhour style technique on the monkey bars and a young family play fighting in the boxing ring.
‘What a perfect way to celebrate multi-culturalism’ I thought to myself. Not only has the park given its inhabitants something to be proud of, as well as a stronger sense of community, but it has even led to a local school forging links with Japanese school children in Tokyo, who play on the original Octopus slide and are keen to know if the Danish children use it in the same way.
There is no doubt that Superkilen has been a success so far (already scooping awards for its design). Maybe other cities around the world can replicate the success by doing something similar for their inhabitants.