Dear reader, this text is published in the spirit of open-access as part of our new project entitled The Funambulist Correspondents. Every week for a bit over a year, we will publish a text written by one of our 28 commissioned correspondents in as many places of the world. The project is made possible through generous support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
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I’ve been enjoying going out for walks. Especially now in the spring sun, hoping for better days, after what feels like the longest winter I have experienced in my 25 years. Walk with me and let’s talk through my hometown: Gellerup.
I and many around me with similar upbringing, experienced so many social and physical changes growing up. Often I find myself hesitating to agree or share my opinion on how I view society’s relationship to the built environments. I find them temporary, impatient and violent towards nature and its humans. I’m still processing how it all felt. How it still feels, as it is ongoing, now with multiple layers and mechanisms. One of the biggest changes that has happened to the iconic modernist, functionalist and non-profit public housing neighborhood, Gellerup in Aarhus, Denmark, is not only the massive demolition raid of housing blocks, nor is it the new road infrastructure. It is something far more subtle and sinister as it operates in-between the lines. Instead, one of these biggest changes lies in the many examples of how top-down dictation affects the guidelines and limits for public expression within listed neighborhoods. Such as not being able to choose how your own curtains look anymore, as part of the masterplan renovations. You could say it is a political installment, assimilating tenants, proving that Gellerup is well integrated into minimalist Denmark, forcing and stripping them off their own freedom of expression, identity and right to manifest their personal style and space. What would happen, if the tenants rebel, and put up curtains that they find aesthetically pleasing, which contradict the Nordic minimalism?
I am thinking of the curtains, as you can see the vast contrast between the new vs old apartments in the area. Not by the different facade expression, but by the lack of personality from each apartment window. I wonder how this will affect the local identity in the long run. The politics, top-down planning and dictation on the aesthetics of curtains in Gellerup, is one small but very precise example of how urban development in Denmark is architecting after the current political discourse .
Another Update to the Ghetto–Package Law ///
Since 2010, Denmark has listed its non-profit public housing neighborhoods on a so-called “Ghetto-List.” Making it onto the list based on criteria that registers education, job, income, crime rate and ethnicity. With a specific focus on the tenant percentage of “other ethic, non-western immigrants and their descendants.” The list has been updated and expanded since, with the biggest expansion in 2018, where the government made a package to annihilate Danish ghettos by demolishing and monitoring where racialized tenants can move after forced evictions, by 2030.
The list and package has received critique from tenants, for being explicitly racist. The newest adjustment to the currently updated Parallel Society solution package is changing the name from, previously, “Ghetto” to “Parallel Society”. Politicians claim “we can’t use the word Ghetto anymore” as the politicians realized that there is a heavy stigma and anti-semitism which the slur carries. One key feature of this year’s updated package is that the amount of tenants categorized as “immigrants and their descendants” of “non-western” backgrounds, must stay below 30% in all non-profit public housing association areas in all of Denmark by 2030. This makes me wonder about the question asked by Danish municipalities and architects: “How can the perfect city be planned?”. My doubt would be, “Is it even possible for municipalities and their architects to plan the perfect city by themselves, for entire towns and areas? How can one design a city with positive and organic friction instead of distant, socially and logistical segregated and top-down monitoring cities? We need to meet each other in the intersections and evaluate the past, before rushing to the biased single future.
It must be a Danish Welfare State Thing.
The so-called clean lines, the minimalism and hard immigrant politics. Its cities tends to be overly planned, which results as repetitive, pacified and segregated. Can we call our cities sustainable and equal, when there are so many cases of disruption of communities and lived experiences? It is a concerning affair. With its monetization and ghettofication of culturally rich and diverse housing neighborhoods, promoting gentrification and social engineering as a needed and important tool to make “attractive and sustainable” cities. On the one side, Denmark boasts itself to be one of the “happiest countries in the world” with no inequality, marching forward with the fight for climate justice and green politics, claiming racism is foreign to Denmark and belongs to U.S. society. On the other side, we within the national borders of Denmark, experience its environmental and social damages.
The interesting shift now, is seeing the middle class white Danes in Aarhus, noticing negative urban development habits. The reusing of the same architects and investors, the same cheap solutions and use of materials. How does repetitive demolishment affect our mental state and sense of belonging/identity? It takes 200 years for a city to develop a strong identity? Who is allowed into that telling, and what makes it into the history books, or do we allow and settle for the development of our cities to become short, temporary and impatient because it never was “good enough”?
When the pandemic first hit Denmark, it was due to middle and upper class white people enjoying life on ski resorts in Austria, despite news on Covid-19 spreading rapidly in Europe. During the first lockdown in March 2020, and until today, there has been several out-lashes from the media and politicians on how, “immigrant neighborhoods” are a threat, unhygienic and a danger to the public Danish health and society. It can feel rather hypocritical and violent to criticize the amount of cases in such big racialized working- class neighborhoods, while promoting a political law-package that’s focusing on privatization and demolition of these areas.
I believe that language has an affect on our behavior pattern towards ourselves and others.
I believe that being silent is being complicit, no matter what.
The welfare state needs to take responsibility for how it’s treating the very same people, who made it possible to keep the welfare state running during the lockdown months.
The people who drive the busses and taxis, the people sitting behind the cashier at the delis and supermarkets. The people who put themselves at risk for their job as providers of comfort and provides access to daily necessities, even during a pandemic.
These constant cases, bills and laws, make me wonder what would happen if we shift the language from internalizing verbal oppression to redirecting it, with an aim to claim newfound confidence in our existence wherever we are.
What would happen when Gellerup, and neighborhoods alike found courage to say “fuck it I can do that and I can do it even better!”?.
We are not minorities, despite being a small number in Denmark, a northern country with only 5 million people. We are the global majority, who have become historically excluded and degraded with slurs and words such as “immigrants”, “aliens”, “minorities” “dangerous” etc.
Follow that up with an intense demolishment plan and erasure of our childhood sites and memories. What does that leave us with? Discounted tickets to field trips experience what being Danish correctly is like, like going to the theater or museum with only western art and history? I would call that discriminatory inclusion in Danish culture.
Pause to Play//Fight ///
I truly believe that we can only move forward as a society, by taking some steps back, staying with the trouble for some time to examine an overview of our shared landscape and experiences. Some are already doing it.
I see a wave of movements and organization between communities.
I see The Union, fighting for BIPOC rights and accessibility within the art and culture field. I see Almen Modstand, taking on the fight for the demolishment of the Ghetto–List and its tenants rights. I see so many.
I sip my oat coffee – I’m lactose intolerant, not vegan – writing out my current testimony, blaming it on the caffeine, that I’m feeling jittery, recalling and writing all this.
Soothing myself by reminding myself, to move forward with my community in mind.
With love and curiosity to live life to the fullest, despite hardships.
Insisting that we are more than vessels of oppression, and by daring and allowing ourselves to take space in a unapologetically vibrant way, we can practice empathy, awareness and care, creating open spaces that offer images that are whole and inspiring young generations to follow.
Inviting each-other to recognize, reflect and reimagine ourselves in a plethora of voices, faces and forms. To connect the communities, experiences and the conversations within our homes on the List.
James Baldwin echoes in my head lately, repeating:
“love has never been a popular movement and no-one’s ever wanted to be really free.
The world is held together, really it is, held together, by the love and passion of very few people. Otherwise, of course you can despair.
Walk down the streets of any city, any afternoon, and look around you.
What you’ve got to remember is what you’re looking at is also you. Everyone you’re looking at is also you. You could be that person. You could be that monster, you could be that cop.
And you have to decide, in yourself, not to be.” (James Baldwin, The Price of a Ticket, 1985.)