Beboere sidder udenfor i et grønt område
Beboerne samles til et socialt arrangement i boligområdet Hørgården i København. Foto: Natalie Marie Gulsrud

Green oases are important venues for socialising

How do we create green spaces in Nordic cities in line with the needs and wishes of their inhabitants? This question serves as a focal point of the SMARTer Greener Cities research project, funded by NordForsk.

Project manager Erik Andersson from Stockholm University says:

“In the Nordic countries, there’s often clearly visible uniformity in urban planning, and Nordic cities are very similar in many respects. The state plays a key role in the Nordic countries when it comes to municipal responsibility, and thus the responsibility of public authorities for urban infrastructure, which includes green spaces. Yet there are also many differences between towns and cities in the Nordic Region, not least between the three capitals of Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen that we have used as case studies.”

The study of Helsinki relates to perceptions of the urban realm and how outdoor spaces affect inhabitants’ wellbeing. In the case of Stockholm, researchers are looking at the functions of green spaces and how they’re influenced by things like drought, floods, and other natural phenomena. Meanwhile in Copenhagen, the researchers are investigating how inhabitants of socially disadvantaged areas can be made to feel a greater sense of ownership of the areas in order to make them more attractive to live in.

Social housing area

Natalie Marie Gulsrud is associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and part of the project’s Danish arm, the focus of which has been on the urban planning of green spaces and how to include voices that are often not heard in planning processes. The basis for the study has been the Hørgården social housing development in Amager, which is part of Urbanplanen.

Urbanplanen, which Hørgården belongs to, boasts roughly 3,000 homes housing some 6,000 people. The ethnic origin of half of the residents is non-Danish, and both educational attainment and employment rates are low. 50 hectares of the 470-hectare area are made up of green spaces. There is a park, several playgrounds, and community gardens. It feels like a great place to live for the majority of the residents.

“Hørgården’s building style dates from the 1950s and 1960s and may feel closed to outsiders. Over the years, Hørgården has also gained a mixed reputation due to its problems with crime. Although the residents themselves are happy to live there, it’s somewhere where outsiders rarely venture to, and can even find it a scary place,” says Natalie.

NordForsk is funding a total of four projects with an emphasis on sustainable urban development and smart cities . All the projects support UN sustainable development goal 11, which is about making cities and local communities inclusive, safe, robust, and sustainable. 

Involvement of residents

It is precisely because of its mixed reputation that, for several years now, the municipality has sought to open the area up more to new people. However, that’s not necessarily what the area’s current residents want, explains Natalie. Consequently, part of the project’s purpose is to include residents’ perspectives in the planning and development of new green infrastructure to create usable and safe outdoor spaces in line with residents’ wishes and needs.

“The reason we included Hørgården in the SMARTer Greener Cities project is that the residential area is an example of how nature-based solutions can be used as a catalyst for opening an area up. As researchers, we contribute by involving residents in the process, so that they themselves point to solutions for the area in which they live. This is important, because research shows that people are happier with the welfare services they receive if they’re involved in the process of shaping them. If they’re not involved, this can affect their sense of belonging to the area, and they may feel excluded, which can create problems in relation to the sense of community and ultimately affect quality of life.”

The results of the research project’s interviews with Hørgården’s residents show that they primarily use the area’s green spaces to meet each other and form social bonds.

In collaboration with the Amagerplanen comprehensive social plan, the researchers have conducted face-to-face interviews with 148 adult residents in the area. This number constitutes 9.3 percent of the area’s adult residents. The researchers asked about the residents’ dreams, preferences, and wishes for the area. They also explored the spaces they particularly like, what they use the spaces for, and who they meet with. Altogether, this has contributed to many of the ideas that the researchers have shared with architects, the municipality, social workers, and other stakeholders involved in the development of Hørgården. This research occurred in tandem with workshops for 1200 residents held by social workers on site to engage diverse resident groups in contributing visions for the new green areas.

“We’ve shared our research results with the municipality and talked to them about the importance of preserving those spaces in the residential area, as they serve as special social venues for the residents. Because we’ve mapped these results, we’ve had a strong hand in our collaboration with the municipality and other stakeholders in the area,” says Natalie.

The social masterplan Amagerplanen was in charge of the majority of resident outreach. We were able to get in touch with 148 adult residents (18 and over) which represents 9.3% of the adult resident population.

What is a social housing development like Hørgården?

Hørgården consists of social housing. 20 percent, or one in five Danes, rent in the social housing sector. This housing model doesn’t have a true equivalent in the other Nordic countries. Social housing differs in many ways from the rest of the housing market. It ensures that there is good and cheap housing in attractive residential areas for everyone in Denmark. In this way, social housing plays an important role in society. 

The economic model in a social housing association is circular. Rent largely goes towards operational costs and the repayment of the housing department’s borrowing. No one makes money from social housing, which helps to guarantee reasonable rent costs. 



Kyösti Lempa

Kyösti Lempa

Special Adviser
Marianne Knudsen. Photo: NordForsk

Marianne Knudsen

Senior Communications Adviser