Have you ever felt like you wanted to create your own city?
That’s exactly what the residents of Christiania did. A self-proclaimed autonomous ‘neighbourhood’ with over 1000 residents, it covers 34 hectares in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark. Set in a beautiful parkland full of meandering green paths and quiet waterways, these anarchists snagged a particularly pretty corner of Copenhagen.
Of course a green agenda has always been central to their manifesto. As part of their commitment to the environment, the city attempts to maintain a car-free community. However, under pressure from the Copenhagen authorities (due to the fact that residents do own cars), Christiania agreed to establish parking areas for residents’ own cars on its territory. Still parking areas are very limited and resident only rules are strictly enforced.
But this is no Sim City.
Originally envisioned as a city ruled by its inhabitants, Christiania has gone through many iterations over her 40+ year history. It all started in 1969 when a group of locals knocked down the fence that blocked off an old military area. The neighbourhood became the centre of an anarchy movement promoting freedom and communal living. Over the first few years the people of Christiania fought the police repeatedly. In 1972 the residents came to an arrangement with the government and agreed to pay for electricity and water, a point of pride among local residents that ‘validates’ their right to live there.
Currently the area has a unique status in that it is regulated by the Christiania Law of 1989 which transfers parts of the supervision of the area from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state. Since this time Christiania has continued to re-invent itself, though at its core remains the commitment to a self-regulated authority. To this end the community has always experimented with creating a society “built on a large degree of active participatory democracy dedicated to individual freedom and self-fulfillment.”
Funnily enough this ‘anarchic governance structure’ (I know, right?), looks strangely like a miniature version of more common governance systems with regular meetings including the Common Meeting, Treasurer’s Meeting, Building Meeting, House Meetings etc. All residents are invited to participate at these meetings and the distribution of money is decided at the annual budget Common Meeting, which typically turns into a series of meetings as a balance is rarely agreed upon in the first meeting.
So yes, it’s different, in that the Government of Canada (or Vancouver for that matter) has never asked me to vote on a budget directly (and I have some suggestions).
All of which makes for a fascinating case study… if it weren’t for ye olde potheads dominating the aptly named “Pusher Street.” Yep, the cornerstone of every free society, Christiania has become a magnet for the drug trade. While the community has pushed back strongly against “hard drugs”, pot in its many forms flourishes in the centre of Christiania. While the use of hash remains illegal in Denmark, the authorities turn a blind eye to the flourishing trade in Christiania which attracts locals and tourists alike.
While I don’t have a problem with the legalization of marijuana (even though personally I am not a user, I see alcohol as infinitely more harmful), existing in the pseudo-legal environment of Christiania has created an unpleasant environment. Walking through the centre of town, large burly men with intimidating tattoos and snarly faces dominate the space, creating an uncomfortable vibe for those of us there to explore the ‘freedom’ of the community.
Perhaps my impression of these fine gentleman was influenced by the fact that Swedish friends (a 65 year-old man and his two daughters) visiting Christiania the week prior, were viciously attacked by locals who were upset that the father took a photo of his daughters at a cafe within the grounds. So they jumped him and beat him so that he had to go to the hospital – disgusting.
But a strong incentive for me not to take any photos within the grounds… viva freedom?