All posts tagged: squat
I visited the world’s most famous squat last week. Freetown Christiania is the self-governing commune close to the centre of Copenhagen that has defied the Danish government for the past forty years and become one of Denmark’s principal tourist attractions. In 1971 a group of locals invaded a deserted naval barracks, set in 34 hectares, and slowly established an alternative society with its own rules and codes, including its own currency, the Løn. Remarkably, Christiania has been granted some degree of autonomy under Danish law (the sign over one of the exits reads, "You are now entering the E.U.") and it’s now home to 1,000 people and a range of successful businesses, including a builders’ merchants, shops and cafes, and is the home of the famous Christiania cargo bike.
It’s a fascinating place to visit. The original barracks buildings are interspersed with a wide variety of eco shacks and cabins, some set around a lovely lake with woodland walks. The place is ramshackle in parts with piles of wood and gas canisters reminiscent of any squatter community and the central green zone, where the drug dealers gather, is rather intimidating, with booths selling skunk and grass staffed by skinheads and their fierce dogs. Photos are banned.
Over the past forty years right-of-centre governments have repeatedly tried to regain control of the site, whilst left-of-centre governments have tended to recognise it as an interesting social experiment.
The absence of security of tenure at Christiania has discouraged any long-term investment by residents, but that may be about to change. Although the government recently won a legal battle to confirm that they own the land Christiania has now been offered the chance to buy its land at a price of around £9 million for the barracks area and for a long lease on the remaining land for £700,000 a year. The figures are hard to confirm because the negotiations are ongoing, but this is way below the market price. The offer has been the subject of intense debate within Christiania but the commune has managed to overcome its anarchist principles (“Property is Theft”) and accept the deal. The problem they now face is raising the necessary funds. Shares are being offered worldwide although these are more like donations and will have no intrinsic value. A foundation, like a community land trust, will own the land and supervise future development, grant tenure and administer the commune.
The consequence of this historic deal is that Christiania has the opportunity to show the world an alternative form of development. Looking at the site, I estimate they could build 500 or more exemplar sustainable homes and create new businesses for growing food, recycling and energy production. Rents and service charges could fund an array of social and community programmes. It could become a self-sustaining garden city within a city. This is an exciting time to be a resident of Christiania.