the Finger Plan at 70 



There is another major anniversary for the city this year because the famous Copenhagen Fingerplan - a planning framework for the city - was produced in 1947.

It accepted that following the war, and for clear economic reasons, there would have to be not just rebuilding and regeneration in the city itself but extensive growth outwards but there was also a determination to control unplanned suburban spread.

So the Fingerplan recognised that although people wanted to move out of the overcrowded city they would have to travel back into the city either for work or for shopping and leisure and took, as a starting point, existing lines of a suburban railway system or S-trains that ran out from the city. *

By restricting the sites allocated to new housing as broad but clearly defined lines, there could be areas of countryside left between the new municipalities that could be used for agriculture and for leisure and the plan proposed that some large areas could be planted with trees for new woods and forests.

The plan has served the city well and now covers 34 municipalities with over 2 million people living within the area and the new buildings constructed through the 1950s and 1960s and onwards included housing, municipal shopping centres, new schools, new city halls for local government and new factories.

In part the plan reflected a clear social change and new expectations for ordinary working families with the attraction of being able to live in a brand new home and to have not only a small garden but easy access to open space. So it was not just the anticipation that the population of the city would increase but It was in part a reaction to the design and arrangement of small apartments in old and often dark and overcrowded apartment buildings in the city itself - apartments that had relatively poor provision of toilets and bathrooms and rarely private laundry facilities and certainly most of the older blocks in working-class areas did not have lifts. So, at the core of the plan, was the need to build better housing for more people.



Many articles have been written about the Finger Plan. This book from the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen published in 2012 looks at some of the important housing that was built in the 1950s along each of the fingers


But the Fingerplan is seventy years old so not only have the ways that people want to live changed, but the plan did not and could not have anticipated the changes in the city and the developments of the late 20th century and in the last seventeen years. 

Even in Copenhagen, despite the obsession with bikes, there was still a phenomenal growth in the private ownership of cars through the 1960s and 1970s and an increase in the number of not just longer commutes to work but, for the first time, extensive leisure traffic - so the idea of a trip out to the coast or to a museum or gallery by car rather than by train or pleasure boat and along with that the growth of tourism - so not just people wanting to drive into Copenhagen itself but journeys to the increasingly busy airport or journeys from some distance away through or around Copenhagen en route to southern Sweden via the relatively new bridge to Malmö and that was certainly not anticipated in the plan. So now, as well as the suburban rail lines, there are major motorways running into and around the city.

Nor could the plan have anticipated the extent of development on Amager to the south of the city, so really outside the Fingerplan, or the changes in the port and the naval base in Copenhagen in the 1990s that made available huge amounts of land along the harbour for redevelopment where there was no suburban train service or at best odd links.

There has also been a distinct change in the way that people now live in the centre of the city itself or rather a change in both the housing stock and a change in the patterns of family life with more people living alone and more couples starting a family later so needing a different type of home for the first years as an independent adult. 

Developments in insulation, improvements in window glazing - with double and triple glass units - modern materials and much-improved designs for heating and plumbing and sanitation along with changes in ownership patterns have all meant that an apartment in an older building can be improved immeasurably and with clearing out of buildings in courtyard to form attractive communal space and with new city parks and new city schools of the highest standard then, if anything, young families are coming back to the city centre so the movement out along the fingers has been reversed. In the 1950s the availability of relatively cheap private vehicles and improvements to public transport meant people could move out further and further from the centre of the city but in the first decades of this century, massive improvements in housing in the city has meant people can live close to the centre and for many the ideal is to live without cars or public transport as much as possible.

The next major stage in the development of the city could be the construction of new outer flood defences to the east and south and then there is a possibility that more land could be claimed from the sea for housing and so on as at Nordhavn. This would all be in the opposite direction to the finger plan that was primarily to the north and west of the old city.

And the extension of the metro, with both a new inner ring and then new lines out to the south west and to the north east, will create new patterns of commuting that will overlay the radial form of the suburban train system. 

If plans for a second road bridge over the Øresund between Denmark and Sweden - between Helsingør and Helsingborg - is constructed then the possibility of a greater Copenhagen region, including Malmö and its hinterland, could be back on the agenda. At the very least the airport at Kastrup has grown beyond anything that could have been anticipated in 1947 and that gives it a regional role and puts demands on the transport and infrastructure of the area that takes the planning of the city, for the next seventy years, well beyond the shape of a hand with fingers spread out. 


* The S-train system date from 1934