Investigating the ghetto list in Denmark
What comes to your mind when you think of Denmark? A generous welfare state and the happiest country in the world, right? Denmark is supposed to be a cozy place to live – after all, it has won the award for the happiest place on earth for many years in a row: a healthy work-life balance, free education and healthcare and equal opportunity for all, a democracy with no prejudice and discrimination. But sometimes expectations don’t match reality. We found that things are not as perfect as they often appear to be from the outside.
As a student collective at Roskilde University in Denmark, we were puzzled by the idea of the “Ghetto Lists” and how easily the term is used in Danish society. Coming from many different countries where the description of a place as a ghetto by the government would be inconceivable or inappropriate, we were surprised to see that the government here decided to use this concept to officially describe particular areas. Shouldn’t a ghetto be a thing of the past? We couldn’t understand how a ghetto could exist in a place like Denmark, a so-called welfare paradise in Scandinavia. In modern-day Denmark, however, the word has taken on another meaning – speaking for unequal power relations and selected exclusion, as it has in many other countries and cities.
And what are the politicians trying to do about it? Are they trying to help the people and the neighborhoods to improve, or do they just say so to get more votes for the next election? And what does it have to do with state-racism? Politicians managed to disguise racist speech behind the integration discourse and national interests for a homogenized welfare society. But the existing measures target particular groups of people, and instead of improving their living conditions, further marginalize them.
In 2018 the Ministry of Economy and Interior introduced the policy package called “One Denmark without Parallel Societies – No Ghettos by 2030” which aims at reducing the number of neighbourhoods classified as ghettos. We have taken an excerpt to show the ghetto “criteria” for neighbourhoods:
“In order to be included on the list, housing areas must have over 1,000 inhabitants and fulfil three out of five criteria:
* Over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage
* Over 2.70 percent of residents aged 18 or over convicted for criminal, weapons or narcotics crimes (average over two-year period)
* More than 50 percent of residents with basic school education or lower (includes undeclared education)
* Average pre-tax income for adults aged 18-64, not including unemployed, less than 55 percent of pre-tax income for administrative region.”
Source: Denmark updates ‘ghetto’ list of underprivileged neighbourhoods
It is indeed a strange experience to be here, as foreigners who had thought Denmark would be an equal and inclusive place. And then it turns out that hidden hostilities and segregation are on a rise. What kind of society is this? As a group of international students, we want to use our collective voice to address the “Ghetto List” of Denmark. It is our duty to use our privilege to present this issue at a global level and increase people’s critical awareness.
We started off with the idea of just writing a piece on this issue. However, it developed into something bigger. Further along the path, we found out that one of us lives right on the doorstep of a Ghetto-listed street without even being aware of this.
For this project, we will be publishing a series of articles and stories. First, we will map out some ghetto areas that we are investigating in the greater Copenhagen area in Denmark. The map will guide you through the stories, opinions and research that we have been doing for this project. We have been to some of these ghetto areas and have taken pictures. We are also speaking to different stakeholders in these areas to find out the experiences, activities and negotiations that take place.
This series includes articles, narratives, interviews, and photo stories as we hope to paint a broader picture of what socio-cultural, political and legal implications come with labeling a community ghetto.
It is a warm yet critical “welcome to Denmark, welcome to the Ghetto”.
Mapping the list and our investigations
From the illustrated locations on the map, we will produce the following work:
- Roskilde University in Trekroner, the centre of our Local Editorial Board in Denmark.
- Taastrup, a town halfway between Roskilde and Copenhagen where one area appears on the ghetto list. We got to speak to someone who lives there and took some photos in this region. See our photo story in this region: Making the List: Denmark’s Ghettos, Their Criteria, and Views.
- Mjølnerparken, one of the communities that have been for the longest time on the ghetto list. Read our article Between Law and Emancipation: Pursuing Social Justice in Court to learn about how the residents have used legal apparatus for the pursuit of social justice in housing rights.
- Superkilen or The Red Square, a unique, multicultural community park right next to Mjølnerparken, in Nørrebro. Watch a short documentary of this urban project. Also stay tuned to our photo story: A Walk A walk through Nørrebro, Part of the Danish Ghetto.
- The Ministry of Transport and Housing of Denmark, the institution that enforces the ghetto law. You will be able to read more about it in the legal piece.
- Tingbjerg community, an area on the ghetto list. One of our editorial members will share her experience with that area as her daily running route.
- Aldersorade community, yet another area listed as a ghetto. An area that claims back its identity and rights through a local art project in a shipping container (yes, a container, the Nordics love shipping containers). A story of this project will be published soon.
The Map and this list will be updated throughout the next two months as the project evolves.
Cover photograph by Carmen Bulac: My window view of the ghetto.
Roskilde University Local Editorial Board, October 23, 2020.