Did they make a mistake with Copenhagen's Green Finger landscape plan?

Should Copenhagen's Five Fingers be green or grey?

Copenhagen’s Finger plan (left) is appealing: easy to remember and attractive for the way it gives prominence to greenspace in the planning of a capital city. But, for the way it has been used (centre) it should be called the Grey Finger Plan. The idea was to run out high-speed railway lines from central Copenhagen and use them as urbanisation spines, with the space between the fingers retained as greenspace. In a real Green Finger Plan the fingers themselves would be green, as on the right-hand diagram. Here are some suggestions for how it could have worked:

  1. build the railways with earth embankments as environmental noise barriers – probably with space for an express roadway in the same corridor
  2. use the fingers as green infrastructure corridors for the urbanisation – growing the fingers as the urbanisation spreads
  3. also use the fingers as utility corridors for: cycleways, habitat space, recreation space, a city forest, urban water runoff management, urban agriculture etc
  4. extend ‘ribs’ of cycleway from rail stations into the urban areas between the green fingers
  5. consider building above the railways and roads at some future date, to accommodate shops, offices and other commercial uses

The Danish name is the København 5 Fingerplanen but is described as the Green Finger Plan in the European Landscape Convention and other places. ‘Storkøbenhavn’ means ‘Metropolitan Copenhagen’.

22 thoughts on “Did they make a mistake with Copenhagen's Green Finger landscape plan?

  1. Robert Holden

    Dear Colleagues,
    Good rhetoric, but the above is an interesting proposition presented without evidence and only a partial explanation and with some total inexactitude.

    Points to make are:

    1) what evidence is there that the green fingers (taking the Copenhagen Plan on its own merits) are not green: answer check Google Earth and one finds that yes there are recognisable green areas forming the fingers : so then the question should be are they effective for recreations and biodiversity and use? the above contains no discussion of this;

    2) then attempting to test the reverse grey should be green argument (as above) one sees that fingers of development on Google Earth are also remarkably green rather than grey : literally more greenish than grey:for instance the southernmost finger along the coastline south of the present E55 motorway contains many parks and planted streets and urban place, check ishøjj for instance;

    3) the European Landscape Convention (all 12 pages of it see ) contains no reference to the Copenhagen Plan: this is plain wrong; the hyperlink above is not to the text of the Convention but rather to a paper for a meeting about the Convention in 2007.

    One could continue by examining the five points proposed as novel ways of pursuing this new grey should be green notion and one finds that all five points are as practised in Copenhagen. In short the above is unfounded.

    Yours quizzically,

    Robert Holden

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    Not certain, but I think the green wedges which appear on Google Earth are the ‘gaps between the fingers’ rather than the fingers themselves – and that the fingers were development spines, rather than greenspaces. I agree that the fingers contain some street trees and greenspace but do not think this makes them Green Fingers in the Amercrombie sense – he regarded the Lea Valley as a Greenway/Green Finger, not as a development corridor.
    Thank you for the correction re the European Landscape Convention.

  3. Jerry

    OK. But Einstein is much more successful than Bacon! Because he died at the age of 76 and Bacon only survived 62 years! So, we should listen to Einstein!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes we should. But if age is to be the test then we need to remember that 62 was 12 years above the average life expectancy for 1626. But 76 in 1955 was only 8 years above the average life expectancy. This is probably because Bacon was a keen gardener and Einstein spent too much time doing calculations (or with wives and girlfriends). You see: everything is relative!

  4. Grant

    ‘Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but Wisdom is not putting it in a Fruit salad.

    Imagination for for ‘WOW, Knowledge for practicality and wisdom for placement.

    Solomen was about 60 at his death, but average life expectancy of that time was 45, so my card trumps you both.

    Now i’ll run for cover!!!

  5. Jerry

    Tom, your comments on Jerry is total Sophistry!!!

    The first law of geography according to Waldo Tobler is “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” Wives have no relationship with Einstein’s age! He is a great man, I admire lots of his ideas.

  6. Christine

    It seems the Dane’s came to urban planning relatively late in historical terms after the city of Copenhagen experienced rapid chaotic expansion after the demolition of the city walls in 1856. [ http://www.sa.dk/media(1284,420,0,0,True,0,1030,10485M11211676M83M11479M67M90M54M52M72M43M11210665M88M52M74M99M10665M65M11343M11561M)/1030_1284.jpg ] It seems Copenhagen was built in the form of a star fort.

    The finger plan dates from the 1940s. Copenhagen doubled in population between the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s the wedges were formally protected in new planning laws. Forests had been protected by legislation since 1805, so it was the peri-urban areas that experienced the most development pressure.

    There is a suggestion that the inhabitants of ‘walking cities’ like Copenhagen lived, worked, conducted commerce and undertook recreation within an area accessible by a 15 minute walk.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I admire the Copenhagan plan and did not mean to criticise it, as Robert seems to think I was doing. It does two things (1) the Fingerplan illustrates a far-sighted approach to the planning of urbanization in which greenspace (now often called green infrastructure) has a key role (2) it illustrates the choice between using greenspace as the articulating element of a city and between using greenspace as an ‘infill’ with the built elements being the primary structuring feature.
      Remembering Copenhagen’s star fort makes me feel a little guilty: like much of the city it was shelled and badly damaged by Nelson. He led the main attack in 1801 and this is where he put his telescope to his blind eye, remarking “You know, Foley, I only have one eye — I have the right to be blind sometimes,”.

  7. christine

    A little more of story of the Battle of Copenhagen gives context to Nelson’s reponse:

    Parker would have been able to see little of the battle owing to gun smoke, though he could see the signals on the three grounded British ships, with Bellona and Russell flying signals of distress and the Agamemnon a signal of inability to proceed.[11] Thinking that Nelson might have fought to a stand-still but be unable to retreat without orders (the Articles of War demanded that all ranks do their utmost against the enemy in battle), at 1:30pm Parker told his flag captain, “I will make the signal of recall for Nelson’s sake. If he is in condition to continue the action, he will disregard it; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat and no blame can be imputed to him.”

    I am in favour of what could possibly be called the urban landscape approach (borrowed from the Conference definition of Urban Landscape.)

    Urban Landscape as a term is used here, in its broadest sense, to describe and interpret changing landscapes of cities and towns. The examples employed in this study include urban landscapes on a neighbourhood scale, on a city scale, and on a regional scale. The “urban landscape” concept assumes that these levels should be considered, not separate from each other, but together and simultaneously.

    It is worth considering the urban landscape on the three scales 1) neighbourhood 2) city and 3) regional, because each scale will tell you something different about planning considerations and possible design strategies.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Interesting about Nelson. In English folklore, he is famed for disobeying orders with the implication that the bureaucrats are over-bound by regulations and our hero is set on ignoring them so that he can get the job done.
      Which Urban Landscape Conference are you referring to? I find urban landscape a very useful term, suggesting (a little like Ebenezer Howard’s Three Magnets Diagram) a place which combines the excellencies of tows with the excellencies of the landscapes which are found outside towns. Also, as you say, it implies consideration of outdoor space at multiple scales. Geogre Hargreaves gave an interesting account of his work at the University of Cincinatti and one of the points he made was that the central part of the campus should have an ‘urban character’. I do not remember him using the concept of Landscape as a design objective for the campus but I think one of the less-strong points of his general design approach is the treatment of broad landscapes. An exception to this was his design for Crissy Field by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. There, he spoke lyrically about the wonderful views and, correctly, did nothing to make the place fussy. It is and was a place to appreciate a very large-scale urban landscape.

  8. christine

    See p5 of the ‘European Landscape Convention’ link you provided above. (Perhaps the meeting can be characterised as a MOP rather than a COP – Conference of the Parties). Yes, it is very interesting to consider what an ‘urban character’ might be…[ http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-NL379_0408NY_G_20110408165708.jpg ] or [ http://apostrophe-hotel.com/hotel/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/paris-plage2.jpg ] or [ http://wwwdelivery.superstock.com/WI/223/1783/PreviewComp/SuperStock_1783-1016.jpg ] or [ http://www.urbanmade.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/SF-Paper-Map-525×402.jpg ]?

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    Can a distinction be made between ‘urban character’ and ‘urban landscape character’?
    Does ‘urban landscape character’ simply mean ‘any outdoor space in a city’, or does it mean ‘a good quality outdoor space in a city’ or does it mean ‘a vegetated outdoor space in a city’ or does it mean ‘an un-bounded outdoor space in a city’ (ie not an enclosed garden-type space, which is, by definition, bounded)?
    Perhaps the question ought to be ‘what is the best use of the term Urban Landscape Character? If it is to be a useful term then it needs a good definition instead of a truthiness-style definition.

  10. Christine

    I would say yes, ‘urban character’ and ‘urban landscape character’ are different concepts. Urban character is similar to ‘mood of city’. In its simplest form (the previous photos were more layered) – if I was to show you a picture of an urban centre could you guess the city?

    Here are three examples which should be easy to guess…1) [ http://www.poszu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/real-hutong.jpg ] 2) [ http://www.helveticafilm.com/images/melbourne5.jpg ] 3) [ http://janesguidetoscotland.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/city-centre-glasgow.jpg ]

    So in this sense ‘Urban landscape character’ [ http://www.concierge.com/images/destinations/destinationguide/australia_pacific/australia/melbourne/melbourne/melbourne_013p.jpg ] describes something of the ‘urban geography’ and how it informs the ‘urban character’.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Although there is much blurring, ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ have distinct meanings and ‘urban character’ is the character of an ‘urban’ area. But I do not think this answers the question of what ‘urban landscape character’ means. I think the four main candidates are as listed below and I think I favour ‘2)’:
      1) any outdoor space in a city
      2) a good quality outdoor space in a city
      3) a vegetated outdoor space in a city
      4) an un-bounded outdoor space in a city

  11. Christine

    In the way I am using the terms (as nouns rather than adjectives) they should be able to describe the good, the bad and the ugly as much as the beautiful.

    However, any particular instance can be described (by good, bad, ugly or beautiful).

    Examples of a peri-urban character are:

    [ http://scotterb.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/may26-069.jpg ]

    Examples of peri-urban landscape character are:

    [ http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/images/coastal-marine-wrecks/overlooking-the-town-and-harbour ]

    Instances of rural character are:

    [ http://www.prairiemod.com/.a/6a00d8341bf72a53ef0120a56e0496970c-300wi ]

    Instances of rural landscape character are:

    [ http://www.discounthotelsavings.com/hyatt/images/hyatt-regency-hotel-scottsdale-arizona-1.jpg ]

    California modern relied considerably on urban landscape character [ http://have2ask.com/files/images/CM05.preview.jpg ] and rural landscape character [ http://arquitecturainteligente.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/kaufman_house_palm_springs.jpg ], (but not entirely see Interiors [ http://www.shorpy.com/files/images/CM01.preview.jpg ]).

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I like the use of examples, and am not aiming to be pernickity, but I do think examples need coupling to definitions. Your example of ‘peri-urban landscape’ contains both urban and landscape character. Could the definitions you are implying be:
      urban = small-scale spaces dominated by buildings
      rural= few, if any, buildings
      urban landscape= large-scale spaces in which landform is evident
      Getting back to Copenhagen, I think my point is that the Green Fingers should have been ‘almost rural’ (as the Green Wedges are) and the Robert’s point (above) is that they although they are urban they have some internal greenery.
      On the question of ugly/beautiful, I think the word ‘landscape’ has a positive connotation when applied to space within cities. It is a bit like the distinction between a ‘building’ (which can have any quality) and a ‘work of architecture’ which is intended to be high quality (even if tastes differ).
      Here is one of my favourite examples of a Green Finger (though Copenhagen is a little flat to create this effect!)

  12. Pingback: Edinburgh as an urban landscape design | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog – Gardenvisit.com

  13. Christine

    Yes there is a development scale distinction. Let me see:

    Urban = city or ‘spaces dominated by buildings’.
    Peri-urban = village/towns/suburbs or ‘spaces with a balance of building and landform’.
    Rural = sparsely developed or ‘few if any buildings’.

    As well as a character distinction. So:

    Character = essence/mood or atmosphere.

    Urban landscape = large scale spaces in which an urban landscape character is evident.
    Rural landscape = large scale spaces in which a rural landscape character is evident.

    OK, so for landscape do you want to make a distinction between landform (with any quality) and landscape (of a high quality)?

    The links provided are only giving text responses. So to the BUT, BUT, BUT…


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