So back in 2016 I wrote this blog post about Valby as an alternative to central city living. In it I said (which was true at the time) “Valby is not the place for hipsters or trendsetters” and “It is not a slick and trendy part of town”.
A few weeks ago I had to meet with some parents from my son’s school at a cafe on the main street in Valby. I’d not been down to this part of Valby for some months and the change was significant and noticeable. There were a number of older businesses which had closed down and there was activity inside the shops indicating a new business would be opening soon. But mainly I was surprised to see a Wokshop, Lagkagehuset and also a Riccos coffee shop within stone’s throws of each other. All are places I like but their new presence in a previously pretty old school Danish area is a definite indicator as to the changes afoot there.
I’m not sure that the term gentrification can be applied to what is happening in central Valby but it certainly looks like gentrification-lite. These businesses start popping up where there is a demand or potential demand for them. Valby is certainly an area where more affluent people are starting to live due to the housing situation in nearby Vesterbro and Frederiksberg but it is often a chicken and egg situation. In the UK it is referred to as the *Waitrose effect’ (here is a recent article about this), whereby if a branch of this expensive supermarket opened up in your neighbourhood you knew that house prices would be on the rise and the face of the neighbourhood would begin to change. But also in seeing places like Waitrose or in the case of Valby, Wokshop, opening up prospective residents will see it as more of an exciting area than if there is a Netto, an old style bakery, pizza shop and a clothing shop for big men.
And what does this mean for rents and house prices? Undoubtedly rents will rise as will demand from people to live here, pushing current residents and businesses out of the area in time. Of course this is capitalism but it doesn’t make it any more palatable. Over the last few decades areas such as Vesterbro and some parts of Nørrebro have gone through a painful change and as long term residents found themselves priced out of living in Vesterbro, they moved out to Valby and Sydhavn and now these two areas are beginning to gentrify, where will these people end up? The issue of displacement is one which should not be ignored. The cycle keeps going until all the city areas are the same, with the same types of coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants, same types of people with the same affluence and the city is only for well off people.
Copenhagen is a long way off becoming as homogenised as some towns and cities in the UK but the writing is on the wall. I’ve said it before but every Krone you spend is a vote for the kind of city you want to live in. Support for individual and local businesses helps them survive and also ultimately keeps a city alive and unique. When I read about businesses in Amager for example which have been there for three or four generations, I wonder how many of the current businesses du jour, such as Gorms, Cocks and Cow, Wokshop, Jagger to name a few will still be in business in ten or even five years time? With the fast Twitter generation cycle of life where things are soon discarded for something newer and shinier makes me think none of the above.
I’m not against change but when change benefits the few and not the many, I wonder how positive it is.
Although not about European cities this podcast about the gentrification of parts of Los Angeles and also Brooklyn, New York make for fascinating if not disturbing listening. The issues they explore are not unique to the US. Also this piece in the recent issue of The Murmur about Copenhagen is an interesting read