The Copenhagen, in which we have been working in the past years, has changed in a degree that is almost impossible to believe. Just take a glance at the main subject of our initial work, the harbor. Major redevelopment schemes were already in the pipeline – and were one of the reasons for our formation. The hollowed shell of a former bustling harbour was to be transformed into an attractive location for housing, domiciles, culture and recreation. Not many of the areas that we photographed before our first workshop in June 2003 are left untouched. The transformation has been enormous.
Life in the city – and in the debate concerning it
From the early start we had a strong, albeit vague, sense of what was on the way, what was about to disappear and how the change unfolded from ‘Tippen’ in the South to ‘Nordhavnen’ in the North – economically, culturally, socially and, not least, politically. We have continuously contributed, participated, commented, criticized, reflected and mobilized in relation to the ongoing transformation. We have tried to formulate this in various formal objections, articles, reports, presentations and public hearings. And we have gradually developed our arguments from the vague sensations they started as, to clear images and concepts that increasingly, and with ever increasing strength and clarity, have shown what has really been and is at stake for us. So what are the main features of the urbanism, which the hard and hard working core of Supertanker has gradually formed over the past few years? How can the many experiences and projects be addressed at a more general level and be used as an essential challenge to the debate on the city’s development?
From the first, preliminary steps, there have been two moments in our perspective, which also, but not only, were a blind reflection of the Zeitgeist:
- Life in the city
- Life in the debate concerning it
The first point has been stuck on the agenda of formal policies ever since the phenomenon of ‘urban life’ was rediscovered in the early 00’s up until today’s fully-fledged market for creativity and experiences. It is a sort of cultural prêt-à-porter; as made to be integrated into formal policy – unless one makes every effort to think it as “life in the city”, that is, also looking for the conditions for living in the city.
The second point, on the other hand, has consistently been a thorn in the side of the ‘urban life’ perspective. Of course, since the 00s, we have witnessed the development of a hungry slave army of happy, citizen-gathering workshop gurus that make a living by envigorating any given assembly hall by facilitating dialogue and creative exchange of ideas between more or less active citizens. However, this second point still invites an elaboration of the conditions for participating in a real political debate regarding the city’s development. The degree of attention to the tension between the different meanings of the two important points has come to define a sharp boundary between the jesters of participation and the more activist parts of the urban culture that have been undergoing rapid development during the period.
Supertanker, the urban industry and the city
Our contribution to a more political awareness of the development in Copenhagen can be reduced to the tension between these two points. It turns a critical sting against both growth and welfare perspectives, both creative and the critical perspectives, whether these perspectives are rooted in urban disciplines within the academic sector, in the urban development sector or in the public administration. In other words, it turns a critical sting towards the urban industry in all it guises. However, the important thing about gathering and generalizing our experiences and ongoing statements is that we can see that we are not only opposed to these, very dominant poles in the discussion concerning the city’s development – although the contradiction is real and mutual.
While representatives of the urban development sector and public administration have seen our perspective as critical beyond what is necessary, representatives of the academic sector of the urban industry have called us “cappuccino activists” or “naïve Santas”. Several things are important here. Firstly, we must emphasize that if you ever needed a caffeine-containing beverage as a metaphor for our practice, then it must be caffe latte (we are talking about the hipster drink before ‘drip coffee’ became ‘the new black’). But most importantly, the fact our perspective has been viewed diametrically opposite by representatives of different sectors of the urban industry must ignite a bit of curiosity. Is this a matter of our practice and perspective being schizoid? Or is this a matter of our practice and parspectives being constructed according to two of the most dominant perceptions of the city?
In our analysis, it is both. It both affirms the vagueness of the perspective that has been developing in our practice, but also the strength in our consistent wining and pleading partisanship for the urbanity of the city. Urbanity may, on the surface of it, appear to be a concentration of either hedonistic bling, socially recognized values or political conflicts, but at the same time, it is precisely that, which can teach us to live together in the city – and enter into open and equal dialogue and debate on its development.
Our urban perspective has emerged in all its vagueness in our processes, writings and other works. Now, as we cross our own tracks, we will try to rise above the daily pragmatics and pick up on the most important facets of our view of the city.