Christiania: An Embarrassment of Green Riches for Copenhagen
November 28, 2009 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
They were green when, for most of the world, that word was just a color. Inhabitants of this 45 year old eco-community use composting toilets connected to individual organic water-treatment systems, run their homes on solar power, and aim to reuse 100% of the community’s waste. The area is also a car-free zone that boasts a relatively lucrative cottage industry in bicycles.
Yet less than two weeks before the start of the UN’s climate summit in Copenhagen, this counter-cultural eco-enclave in the heart of the Danish capital continues to be a source of angst to they city’s authorities as it has been for more than four decades.
Freetown Christiania, the eco-village founded in 1971 on 80 acres of prime property in the center of Copenhagen, has been the epicenter of the Danish capitol’s anarchist movement and a source of constant embarrassment ever since a group of squatters took over a former military barracks in the Christianshavn borough in the late 1960s.
Christiania is home to more than 1000 bikers, hippies, skaters, drug dealers, artists, anarchists, punks, activists, strays and vagrants who live in a kind of organized chaos, pariahs to the Danish People’s Party, an increasingly popular and influential far-right group that says Christiania is dangerous and who want to see it obliterated. The city fears that the “state within a state” will become the meeting ground for a surge of anti-globalisation protesters who are expected to arrive in the city for COP10.
Christiania’s residents have been recycling for years.
Worried about possible civil disobedience, the Danish Government is scurrying to pass new laws which would extend police powers and impose tougher penalties. According to The London Times, “It is an irony that seems to be lost on the Danish police and politicians alike, considering the subject matter of the forthcoming conference: that Christiania has always been at the vanguard of Denmark’s environmental movement.”
Poster displaying the community’s self-governing laws–the sale of marijuana, sold on “Pusher Street” is not something they’ve outlawed.
Cannibus grows maximus inside Freetown
Christiania has attracted mostly negative press attention in recent years because of drug raids by police in “Pusher Street” — an area of the commune where cannabis is still sold openly from market stalls — and riots that have resulted from repeated attempts by the authorities to demolish the buildings within the commune; but it is a second irony that Christiania has become the second most visited spot in Copenhagen after the Tivoli Gardens. A million tourists come here every year, school groups among them.
It is not impossible, given the proximity of the summit venue to the squatter center, that delegates at climate change conference will find themselves strolling along Christiania’s dirt roads, inhaling the heavy scent of marijuana.
“We consider Christiania as way ahead of what is being discussed at COP15,” Thomas Ertman, the commune’s press co-ordinator, told The London Times, “We’re looking forward to showing what we have to offer.”
Naomi Klein, the left-wing writer, caused a stir recently by saying that environmental activists were planning to be “very disobedient” at the summit. Possible closer to the truth in Christiania is that they are likely to be, as they generally are, very disorganized.
Britta Lillasoee, a friendly and dynamic long-term resident of Christiania, intends to run the alternative From Bottom To Top conference for “ordinary people”–a two-week program will run alongside the official summit and include discussion topics such as sustainable building, waste and design, social ecology and conflict resolution.
To represent the “burying of egoism, or the burying of coal reserves back in the ground,” a stonemason has been carving gravestones to be erected during the conference.
Though Ms. Lillasoee’s aims may appear modest and eccentric, she believes her alternative summit is more likely to initiate real change. “We have been living environmentally for years,” she said. “We can teach by example.”
Like most of Christiania inhabitants, Lillasoee believes the politicians working out deals at the conference have only their countries’ commercial interests at heart.
Many of Christiania’s experimental homes are constructed from a variety of re-used materials. Buildings range from makeshift huts to elaborate constructions with green roofs. Because the Danish government does not want to recognize the community as a legitimate one, there are no zoning restrictions. As a result, architects from other European cities have come to Christiania to experiment with new techniques and styles that they might not be able to build elsewhere. Walking through the neighborhoods, one finds futuristic and ecologically sustainable architecture integrated with its natural surroundings–round houses, geometrical houses, and even a house shaped like a spaceship.
The banana house, designed by a group of German architects
Glass house, image by seler+seler+seler
One of the many unusual architectural designs found in the community
Riverfront house with green roof
Polygon glass house
Home-made house with bucolic views
House made entirely of a roof in effort to skirt building restriction law allowing only roof work.
The Danish government seems to be slowly trying to regulate and take back Christiania. One of the newer laws stipulates that nothing new can be built in Christiania, though roof work can be legally undertaken. As a result, one resident has made his way around the no-building law by building a house (above) that is nothing but a roof.
The recycle and re-use post where residents exchange items in lieu of discarding them
Christiania boasts its own restaurants, bars, music clubs, bike shops, bakery, horse stables, recycling center, and more. It operates its own local postal system for sending mail within the community. Other municipal functions are entirely self-governed, such as trash collection, building and public space maintenance, kindergartens, and youth clubs.
Part of the futuristic green plan, known as the Green Wave, is to build homes inspired by traditional Icelandic houses (above), green domes or barrel vaults made of concrete, insulated and covered with earth and grass.
Heating in Christiania is decentralized. Homes are heated, not by electricity, but partly by second-hand wood and with ovens made within the community. Water is heated by the sun, and the community experiments with waste water installations as outlined in the diagram above.
Christiania is an auto-free zone. As a result, a booming bicycle industry has emerged, with bikes exported around the world. The Christiania bike is actually a loaded tricycle used for, among other things, transporting children and goods and has become a worldwide symbol of sustainable transportation and alternative lifestyle. 25% of families with children in Copenhagen own a Christiania-bike (or a copy.)
A Christiania bike in the USA
From Copenhagen with love…loaded with parcels in Paris
From December 5-29, 2009, the The Christiania Art Museum will teach the world sustainable transportation in its exhibition on the history of the Christiania-bike and its future possibilities.
In Christiania, issues are resolved and decisions made through “consensus democracy.” Will the world come together as harmoniously at COP15?
All Christiania residents are invited to attend Common Meetings as well as monthly local meetings in each of the 15 regions of Christiania. The community runs a public information and clothing re-circulation post, one of many free exchange sites where, instead of throwing them away, people can leave items they no longer want or need and pick up things discarded by others so nothing goes to waste.
Where else will the Christiania flag fly during COP15?