In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many people living in western cities moved to newly built suburbs to get away from cramped and polluted town centres. The intention was good, but many people found themselves alienated, often in high-rises (based on the mass-housing philosophy of French architecture guru Le Corbusier), in neighbourhoods with no sense of community that could bring people together.
Today many of these suburbs have become deprived neighbourhoods and cities all over the world, including in Denmark, are grappling with crime and insecurity. According to Ramboll’s survey, protection against crime is of major importance to 73 percent of citizens, but only 36 percent believe that there is sufficient protection against crime in the city they live.
A change in the physical environment can reduce crime
In Denmark the crime rate is actually falling. But, as the Executive Director of Ramboll Management Consulting Henrik Seiding points out, a lot hinges on personal experience of the level of security. “For instance, being in a city park or a notorious residential area after dark, can of course make people feel insecure.”
Executive Director in Ramboll Management Consulting
However, the good news is that both insecurity and the crime rate can be reduced by changing the physical environment. Along with the City of Copenhagen, Ramboll conducted a study of nine countries that examined the social effects of physical changes in run-down residential areas. The findings have been used in several places in Denmark, most significantly in a large-scale conversion of Gellerupparken in Aarhus – a residential estate often referred to in the Danish media as a ‘ghetto’.
Ramboll is among the companies helping the City of Aarhus and Brabrand Housing Association to renovate housing and public spaces in Gellerup.
Private areas and new homes
Efforts to improve Gellerupparken include replacing public spaces with private front gardens, as well as better lighting and more roads so the estate does not appear so dark and claustrophobic.
The example of Gellerup shows that with a holistic approach it is possible to solve several problems in one project, in this case creating greater security and more housing at reasonable prices. Together with Brabrand Housing Association and other partners, we are building new, larger homes for middle income earners to provide more varied housing and an attractive district, which in turn encourages growth for businesses and the relocation of municipal jobs from Aarhus city centre.
And it is not only residents who are enthusiastic about such improvements; local real estate agents believe that the private homes are a good deal considering the short distance to the city centre and nearby lakes.
Sustainable in three ways
The conversion of these areas aims not only at being socially and economically sustainable, but also environmentally. Current residents will for example avoid rent increases that often occur as a result of such renovations; in fact, some will pay less because of improved insulation and lower energy bills.
However, as experience from France and other countries show, physical changes alone do not solve the challenges. As Henrik Seiding emphasises, “You cannot just tear things down. You have to build up something at the same time. Not just other types of apartments but a more inclusive society where children from these areas can find education and jobs. Physical planning must be used along with social efforts by consultancies, housing associations, the municipality and the police in order to reap the full benefit.”