OPINION: Building on Amager Common risks destroying Copenhagen’s green image

Copenhagen must drop its plans to build on Amager Common, one of the largest wild areas of any European City, argue local artists and activists Maria Zahle and Jason Dungan.

OPINION: Building on Amager Common risks destroying Copenhagen's green image
Lærkesletten, where the proposed Fælledby will destroy the habitat of crested newts, wild deer, larch etc. Photo: Morten Sørensen

Copenhagen is known internationally as a “green” city, and Copenhagen city council has been keen to promote the idea of biodiversity and sustainability in their public statements. But right now, Copenhagen is moving ahead with the destruction of a large area of Amager Fælled, or Amager Common, one of the largest areas of wild nature within any European city.

The proposed development, Fælledby, will be a city-within-a-city, containing two thousand apartments, a school, a hotel, and businesses. It is planned to be built on Lærkesletten, a part of Amager Fælled which contains natural habitats for a range of rare and protected animals.

It is projected that 7,000 people will make their way in and out of this development every day, putting increased stress on the rest of Amager Fælled, and making it increasingly difficult for animals to live in their habitats. The presence of the Fælled means that Copenhagen has a rare amount of nature and biodiversity so close to the city centre – it is truly what allows Copenhagen to exist as a “green city” in the first place.

One more bite of Amager Fælled 

To many local politicians and property developers, however, the Fælled is an opportunity for generating revenue, putting at risk the very possibility of Copenhagen as a “green” space. For the past 30 years, parts of the Fælled have already been absorbed into other developments, such as Ørestad North, the Danmarks Radio complex, and other areas. Many in Copenhagen now fear that the municipal government will continue with this process of developing patches of Amager Fælled until it no longer exists as a natural space.

The city’s argument is that it needs more money, and more places for people to live. We would argue that there are a number of other solutions to Copenhagen’s housing problems that can be explored, without destroying our precious local nature. Two thousand apartments with high rents are not going to solve Copenhagen’s housing crisis.

Back due to popular demonstrations 

The Friends of Amager Common (Amager Fælleds Venner) are a group of more than 20,000 residents who are fighting to keep Amager Fælled free from new developments, in order to keep the whole of Amager Fælled as a natural habitat for animals and a recreational area for local citizens.

They have so far had success in keeping Amager Fælled free from new builds since plans to build on Strandengen were scrapped in 2017, due to popular protests.

And they believe it can be done again, once and for all!  As Steffen Rasmussen, the spokesperson for Amager Fælleds Venner says: “Copenhagen city council has a great biodiversity plan. It would be even greater if politicians actually followed it.”

A public demonstration on Sunday will start at 10am on the mountain at Amager Fælled, overlooking the building site.

Here the performance group Becoming Species will form a parade with animal masks and costumes imitating the threatened species of Amager Fælled. From the mountain they will sing and dance bringing the wilderness with them all the way to City Hall (Rådhuspladsen). You can also join the demo directly at Rådhuspladsen at 12 o’clock this Sunday.

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Eight places in Copenhagen that are loved by locals

Did you know that Copenhagen has a savannah? Or disused rail yards that will soon disappear forever? Local photographer and author Allan Mutuku Kortbæk shares his top hidden gems from the Danish capital.

Eight places in Copenhagen that are loved by locals

This article presents some of Copenhagen’s hidden gems, as experienced by local photographer and author Allan Mutuku Kortbæk as part of his newly-published book, “Like a Local, Copenhagen – by the people who call it home”. 

Beyond the well-documented facades of Nyhavn and the picture perfect cherry-blossoms of the Bispebjerg Cemetery in Springtime, Copenhagen is a city teeming with surprises at every corner. In a place that’s constantly reinventing itself, these may seem few and far between, if not hard to find amongst the more well-known aspects of the Scandi capital of cool. Here are eight things about Copenhagen known only by its locals.

Winter bathing feels even more special by La Banchina

The quaint spot by La Banchina, on the island of Refshaeleøen. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Winter bathing has become common practice for many a Copenhagener, myself included, over the past years of lockdowns and interruptions to everyday life. Of the numerous water holes in the city, the quaint spot by La Banchina, on the island of Refshaeleøen, stands out as a stunning place to take a dip, particularly early in the morning when you’re likely to have it all for yourself.

Check out (or download its app) to see if the water quality permits swimming (which it usually does, except after prolonged downpours.)

Copenhagen has a savannah

Alpacas can be found in Copenhagen if you know where to look. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Thorny trees, shrubland and long, wispy grass may trigger associations of the African Savannah, if only the temperature wasn’t a few degrees below zero. You won’t find lions nor gazelles here, though – herds of alpacas and sheep are the only beasts that roam this hardened terrain but given that Sydhavnstippen is only 10 minutes away from Vesterbro by bike, the whole place does seem quite special.

The best way to see the city is from the water

Sydhavn: a Nordic, modern-day take on Venice. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

We all know Copenhagen from its bike lanes and roads but sink a level lower and see it in its full glory from its vast waterways. A canal tour or a rented boat could do the trick – or better yet, rent or buy a stand-up paddle board and see it all at your own pace. A suggested route would be to start off in the modern-day Venice that’s known as Sydhavn – passing through the sluice (Slusen) and veering round Sydhavnstippen to the newly-opened Valby Beach in Valby Park.

Autumn can be amazing

The alleyways of the Vestre Kirkegård Cemetery. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Copenhagen’s long, rainy, dark winters have been well-documented in many a description of the city but it’s not all doom and gloom. The peak of the autumn, despite being brutal on the hands and feet, is a great time of year to wander through the parks of the city and see them draped in a kaleidoscope of warm shades; from blood red to screaming orange and everything in-between.

The alleyways of the Vestre Kirkegård Cemetery, just north of Vesterbro, are particularly vibrant during this fleeting time of year. 

The train yards by Vesterbro won’t be around for much longer

Make the most of the decommissioned train yards while they’re still here. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

The grungy train yards that flank the train tracks that run parallel to Ingerslevsgade, starting at Dybbølsbro are one of the last bastions of space unconquered by Real Estate. That’s about to change though, as the Danish Train Operator, DSB have decided to sell 22 hectares of this undisturbed oasis of quaint yellow houses which, in all likelihood will become another modern housing or property development initiative that won’t quite do justice to this historical, well-kept secret.

Take a stroll around the area to take it all in and stop by the newly-opened Banegaarden – an outdoor space in a ranch-like setting that combines stalls selling mostly organic produce, an outdoor cinema in the summer and a leafy area populated by berries, a hen coop and shrubbery (most easily accessed by the pedestrian / bike only tunnel that links this verdant space to Enghavevej.)

Bike further out for the best experience

It’s easy to reach wetland areas just outside Copenhagen city limits. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

While it sounds like a no-brainer, the experience of biking in Copenhagen is definitely amplified by a ride beyond the city limits – in clean air, amongst natural surroundings. One of my favourite routes is to leave Copenhagen through Sydhavn before veering right and along the water by Kalvebod Fælled (Kalvebod Common). Some of the route traverses water on both sides (the sea on your right and wetlands teeming with birdlife on your left.)

For a potent dose of architecture, check out the area around DR Byen

One of Copenhagen’s impressive architectural spots. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Copenhagen is a paradise for architecture lovers who can feast their eyes on everything from archaic coloured row houses to modern glass buildings that give off the most futuristic of vibes. One of my favourite areas to explore is the landscape around the DR concert house, the home of Denmark’s national broadcaster, before moving further along to the epic underground bike parking space just before you approach the colosseum-like structure that is Tietgenkollegiet.

Next time you’re near the round tower, make sure you also check out the old tannery

The Old Tannery in Copenhagen’s Inner City. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

The Round Tower has no shortage of admirers and with good reason. Not too far away, however, on your right –  in an inconspicuous yard just after the junction between Skindergade and Købmagergade, you’ll find a slice from the past that is an absolute treat for the eyes as you look up at it from below. Four generations of tanners have practiced their trade in this orange ochre-coloured, panache -oozing building.

About the author/further exploration

Allan Mutuku Kortbæk is a Vesterbro-based marketeer, freelance photographer, travel journalist and author.

Follow him on Instagram for more tips and tricks from Copenhagen and around the world and check out his newly-published book, Like a Local, Copenhagen – by the people who call it home, available locally, here, or via Amazon.

You are also welcome to listen to his podcast episode about Copenhagen, teeming with more insider info about what to see and do in the city, here – or simply join him on his perfect day through the city in this short video.