If you think about planners and planning at all, then it’s probably to curse the man who decided to pedestrianise the street that was your best route to drive from home to work which means you now have to go the long way round or you think gratefully about the planner who had the sense to stop a developer building a tower block just metres from your garden fence. Planning, generally seems to be about big issues like saying yes or no to major developments, controlling what goes where and trying to plan ahead so we get the infrastructure we might need ten years from now. Blame the planners if there are not enough places in schools or if there are always traffic problems on the main road or if there is now a new motorway between your house and the nearest park.
In fact some of the best planning goes un-noticed or at least not commented on because it works.
Or some of the best planning works when it is flexible and allows people to use buildings and space in innovative ways. In the centre of Copenhagen most people live in apartments and have little or no private outdoor space so as Winter becomes Spring the citizens take every chance they can to move out and colonise public space. Chairs and tables from cafes are moved out onto the pavement, people buy a beer after they leave work and sit on the pavement on the up-water side of Dronning Louises Bridge with their backs against the parapet because it faces south west and catches the best of the evening sun and outdoor exhibitions appear in the squares along with stalls for flea markets. The hard landscape of planning has to be imaginative enough and flexible enough to deal with all that.
Kultorvet is not strictly a square because when you look at the street map, with the odd angles of the streets in what was the north corner of the old city, it is an intriguing diamond shape - a break on the line of one of the main pedestrianised streets that runs down into the centre from Nørreport Station - the busiest transport hub in the country. Curiously, despite the constant press of people, the square is relatively calm with open-air cafes around the edge and at the centre a large circular fountain or, rather, a large circular area just one step up from the level of the square and with small water spouts that children and adults who have never lost their inner child run through.
A couple of weeks ago, walking through the square at the time of the annual jazz festival, I found the water had been turned off, the slots and grids and drains of the fountain boarded over (temporarily) and a public class in dancing to blues music in full swing … literally in full swing. Now that’s what I call flexible and adaptable hard landscaping.
For good measure, to show planners in Copenhagen really do have a good sense of humour, I’ve included a picture of the permanent, concrete football table on the pavement on Vester Voldgade, just down from the City Hall.