Post Masterplans and the Ongoing Structural Racism in Denmark



More than two years after an article on the same topic, Gellerup resident and activist Aysha Amin provides us with an update on the gradual implementation of racist spatial policies applied to the residential neighborhoods officially called “ghettos” in Denmark.  

As introduced in my original article “Being a Percentage rather than a Human Being” in The Funambulist 13 (March-April 2017), Gellerup is a residential neighborhood in the west side of Aarhus, and is part of the housing association Brabrand Boligforening, one of the biggest and most infamous housing associations in Denmark. All housing in Gellerup is made by a unique Danish housing model called “Almene Boliger,” which translates as non-profit housing organizations that focus on inexpensive and good quality housing for everyone. Part of the low rent we pay goes to a national fund, which then gets distributed across housing organizations for renovation and other necessities to maintain a residential area. 

Amin Funambulist (3)
Collection of t-shirts made to reclaim the visual representation of the architectural Gellerup. / Photo by Andromeda (2018).

Due to the rise of the right wing and neoliberal policies in popularity for the past 10 years, as well as a new controversial law package from 2018, the non-profit residential model is under threat of liquidation, where family-friendly non-profit housing can only fill 40% of a residential area before January 1, 2030. Gellerup has been on the so called “Ghetto-List” of Denmark, since the list first made its headlines in 2010, making it a so-called “Hard Ghetto.” The list gets updated annually on December 1.

The criteria according to the new list, defines a residential area as “disadvantaged” when a non-profit housing area has two out of four criteria checked off. Some of the criteria are if 40% of residents in the age group of 18-64 have no link to the job market or education for the past two years, and if an area is composed of residents with crime convictions that are minimum three times the country’s average in the past two years. A ghetto area is categorized as a “disadvantaged” non-profit housing area with a minimum of 1,000 residents, with 50% immigrants or their descendants, all from non-Western ethnicities. The newest addition, the “Hard Ghetto” typology designates an area, which has met the criteria of being a ghetto for a minimum of four years. Being a Hard Ghetto allows the state to undergo a full takeover of the affected area and liquidate it by evicting contracts and implementing new changes.

Just as the updated Ghetto List was released in 2018, the government also mentioned that they will bring out a new solution package targeting areas they judge as “culturally different” to Danish society. There will also be harder consequences due to the Lars Løkke government’s law package against “parallel societies” in Denmark, which was revealed in his 2018 New Year’s prime minister speech as a set of new laws and actions to combat non-profit residential housing areas on the Hard Ghetto-list. The reason being, of course, that these ghetto communities seem to live in parallel societies as opposed to the white Danish society.

The state’s “Parallel Society Package,” which is a direct and racist attack on communities of color, makes it possible to evict current tenants with full authority and liquidate the district of a housing association to get them off the government’s self-made ghetto list. Ironically the government that sets these lists holds a certain idea and fear that the people living in these areas — that those of non-Western and immigrant backgrounds are dangerous and a plague to society. Nobody wants to be on the list. Having the correct postal code can really help you out with interacting with the rest of Aarhus, or at least not being seen as an exotic survivor. Saying you are from Gellerup or Bispehaven will instantly place a bunch of labels on you upon first meetings.