As a designer I feel it is important to not become infatuated with the environments you experience. I have managed to see the positive as well as the areas for improvement in “Wonderful Copenhagen”. I came upon a newspaper publication, which was translated in English for visiting students like myself. Inside this newspaper was an article titled “Designing Homelessness Away”. My first reaction was that of hope and inspiration as I thought of how the article must highlight methods being implemented by designers to help this marginalized population. Then reality set in as I read the sub title text, which posed a question to its reader of if the cosmetic redevelopments create a better city for all residents.
While I have shared methods and pictures of how the city has combined forces with locals & artists to shield the public eyes from the construction of new rail/subway stations as an appeasement for the inconvenience – I now think of how this affects the homeless population I see everyday. In the article the residents who live among the public spaces are referred to as ‘rough sleepers, addicts, and the unemployed’. Although Copenhagen is acclaimed for its design implements through social conscience I cannot help but notice the cultural difference of the marginal and middle-class populations when I observe faces. It is visibly clear that those living on the fringe of society are predominantly homeless immigrants and begs a bigger question, in my mind, as to what approach policy has for those who are not Danish by birth.
Danish policy and politics are outside of my realm of understanding so I cannot criticize that aspect of the culture – but I am aware that resources are available to Danes. What I can comment on is what I see as a designer with this information. Yes, Copenhagen has a wonderful approach to improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards pedestrians and cyclists; but this design approach does not take into consideration those on the fringes. Although Copenhagen provides injection rooms and shelters for the homeless and addicts, providing a space for these things doesn’t necessarily get to the root causes of these issues to eradicate these problems from all societies. I am aware that these issues are more than a systemic and wicked problem (a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize).
I think one of the bigger issues that will continue to push vulnerable people out of the public space and eye are designers and architects who continue to create and design exclusionary. By living in this realm we inadvertently create a false perception of reality that is removed from experiencing these issues – thus leading us to believe that they don’t exist because we don’t see them – or even worse, ignore it. In the observation of Ninna Hoegh, Director of Projekt Udenfor (Project Outside – which provides support to the homeless and marginalized), catering urban design exclusively to a particular class sends an implicit message about whom the city values.
Subtle implementations that have pushed out homelessness to the public eye are the disappearance of public benches and shelters at bus stops, public squares, and church properties. These are indirect consequences of design according to the article’s author and I agree based on what I have seen during my visit. Globally we tend to give preference to those who are consumers and pay taxes because these are the things that we perceive to make the world progress. I often question my role beyond design as to my future contributions. Do we abandon empathy and action toward what we view as ‘progress’ or confront it toward real progress?
With all these questions, issues and uncertainties I do know that design will be at the discussion table when the time comes and I will be prepared to challenge our future approach.