July 23, 2015

Copenhagen 4: Strength and Weakness on Strøget

I had heard of Strøget – even if I couldn’t pronounce it.  Said to be the longest pedestian street in the world (it isn’t, unless a lot of other streets are included), it is certainly one of the oldest.  From good ol’ Wikipedia:

Ped-1935Strøget was converted to a pedestrian zone on 17 November 1962 when cars were beginning to dominate Copenhagen’s old central streets. … The 1962 closure was initially a temporary trial, but the change was made permanent in 1964, and the road has remained closed since. 

The idea was controversial, some people believing that the Danes did not have the mentality for “public life” envisioned by such a street, and many local merchants believed the move would scare away business. (Sound familiar?)

The ‘father’ of a car free Strøget, Alfred Wassard, Copenhagen’s ‘mayor for town planning’ from 1962–78, even faced death threats.  On the opening day, police officers were present to protect against assassination threats, and unhappy car drivers honked their horns on side streets to mark their displeasure although the event was well attended and marked by dancing and music. 

The posher shops on the east end of the street were particularly opposed to the change, and they tried to have the project restricted to its western portion which was dominated by bars and cinemas at the time.

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Thanks to Gehl Architects, we can see how the system has expanded:

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Some observations:

(1) It’s the combination of corridor and urban room that makes Strøget and its connections like Købmagergade a more interesting experience than just the pedestrianized street itself.

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(2) This network has anchors: City Hall, Tivoli and the Central Train Station to the west; Nørreport Station to the north; Kings New Square, Nyhavn and Amalienborg to the east; and the government-museum complex to the south.  Ordinary Copenhageners of all types seem to use the street to actually get places.  They don’t seem too annoyed at the tourists like me – but then how would I really know?

(3)  The squares and plazas along the way give room for the corseted streets to breathe, to give space for markets and concerts, to situate fountains, men on horses and other landmarks.

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(3) The soundscape is as interesting as the landscape.  It’s in places like these, where you hear predominately human voices in conversation and song, when the absence of the white noise of traffic becomes apparent – and how much it totally dominates our public realm.

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(5) There’s a lot of programming to make it all work, notably the delivery of goods coordinated in the early morning hours.

Trucks on morning (1)

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(6) I do, however, have to agree with the Lonely Planet’s take:

… although Strøget is “a fun place to stroll,” bustling with musicians and people, it seemed to be stagnating, “offering the same old international brand names” and “a scrappy mix of budget clothing stores, tourist shops and kebab houses.” They advised that visitors should, “walk down it once, but after that you’ll find the side streets far more productive in terms of independent shops and more interesting design.”

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Strøget has too many strengths to die; boredom is its danger.  Like Granville, it needs to keep reinventing itself.

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  1. >it seemed to be stagnating, “offering the same old international brand names”

    See that’s the thing. People want to see something new or unique. They don’t want to see just the same chain stores, however nice they may be, everywhere they go. That’s the main problem with Granville Street. In the past there were locally owned interesting unique stores but now it’s no different than going to a mall anywhere else in the world.

    1. Well, somebody must want to see the chain stores, or they wouldn’t be making money.

      “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra.

  2. The Stroget, from the pictures, seems to be a true multi-block pedestrian. Most the those remaining in North America allow motor traffic to cross at each cross-street, as with our Sparks Street Mall in Ottawa (which is really five one-block malls).

    Also, didn’t you mean “excluded” in your second sentence (inside the brackets)?

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