Copenhagen’s original social housing projects

I spent March and April of this year researching and writing the 6th edition of the Time Out Copenhagen guide. Everyone loves to love Copenhagen. Its bike culture, progressive environmental stance, design focus, and ingredients-led New Nordic cuisine all chime with the sentiments of the day (in my world, at least), and it’s been a privilege getting to know the place so well over the past few years.

For this latest guide, I wanted to feature some less hyped elements of the city, however. One aspect I’ve become quite fascinated by is the city’s historic social housing projects – sparked by a 2011 visit to Brumleby, a mid 19th-century residential enclave of the chi-chi neighborhood of Østerbro. Formed of straight rows of painted buttercup-yellow and white buildings with flowerpot-filled front terraces, the distinctive – and unbelievably charming – enclave is now one of Copenhagen’s most coveted neighbourhoods. But it was originally built for the toiling classes, at a time when the idea of social housing was just starting to kick off in Denmark and elsewhere. Copenhagen might be the watchword for civilised cities today, but in the 1850s it was as slum-filled as all the other newly industrialized European cities. The city was growing rapidly, living conditions were appalling, and cholera was rife. Something had to be done.


The answer came from the factories themselves, as well as from the newly formed Workers Construction Society. Both were involved in building the large housing enclaves that were starting to spring up around the city. Brumleby was built to house workers at the Danish Medical Association, for instance, while Humbleby, in the Carlsberg area, was constructed to accommodate those working at the Burmeister & Wain shipyard. One of the nicest of the social housing projects to emerge at this time, though, was Kartoffelraekkerne, a neighbourhood that runs along the northern end of the lakes, consisting of a long ladder of narrow streets built in very straight rows – hence the name: ‘potato rows’. Like Brumleby, Kartoffelraekkerne is today one of Copenhagen’s most expensive, in-demand neighborhoods, loved by locals for its palpable sense of community, with picnic tables in the street, kids playing and residents chatting in their well-tended-to front yards.

'Potato rows'

‘Potato rows’

A leisurely bike ride around here on my last trip helped me to more fully understand the Danish word ‘hygge‘ – which is normally translated as ‘cosiness’, but also suggests a warm, friendly atmosphere and enjoyment and appreciation of the small things in life. It’s a lovely place – the kind of neighborhood you wished you’d grown up in. Kartoffelraekkerne has morphed from a social housing solution to a social ideal; even the prime minister now lives here, apparently.

The 6th edition of the Time Out Copenhagen guide comes out on 7 August 2014 (be sure to check out the cool redesign).