shopping in Jægersborggade

for certain events vehicles are cleared from the street


In the middle of December The Guardian newspaper published an article that listed ten "cool shopping districts around the world". These were "readers tips" so not exactly a methodical survey but nevertheless interesting. Included in the list was Jægersborggade in Copenhagen.

In the UK there is considerable concern about the decline of high streets or main shopping streets in many towns where an increasing proportion of shops are empty or now used by the charity sector but this does not seem to be as obvious a problem in the major Danish cities … in Copenhagen businesses come and go but there are few abandoned shops.

The success of Jægersborggade as a shopping street suggests clear reasons for the difference between the two countries. Most of the shops are independent but generally, throughout Denmark, there seem to be more small independent companies and local brands so if one fails or moves on to another building then the impact is not as obvious. In the UK, even in small towns there are more national or at least large-scale regional brands so if a retail company fails then that has a wider and obvious impact.

Having lived in Denmark for nearly five years it also appears to me that the pattern of shopping is different. In Copenhagen there is a large shopping area in the centre of the city with three long streets of shops, two of which are pedestrianised, and with department stores and international brands along with Danish companies but there is also a strong tradition in the city of shopping in each area or district … so buying food on the journey to or more probably on the journey back from work but also there is regular use of shops and cafes in the afternoon when parents pick up children from school.

Jægersborggade is very popular at weekends but with a large number of cafes and small restaurants it is also lively in the evening but even during the day it is rarely quiet.

It's said that location is everything.

Jægersborggade is just over 2 kilometres out from the centre of the city … far enough out to have it's own identity and far enough but not too far so it is also a nice destination - a short walk or a short bike ride for a morning or an afternoon.

As in so many cities, in Copenhagen main roads radiate out from the centre. Jægersborggade is between and runs parallel to two of these main roads with Nørrebogade less than 500 metres to the east and Ågade just over 500 metres to the west. This is important in that Jægersborggade is not on a main traffic route but also, although the shops are - how to put this in socially aware Denmark - more middle class and more expensive, this is in part possible because for all the people living in the apartment buildings along the street and nearby, this is not their only shopping street … there is a launderette but apart from that the street can have more expensive and more specialist shops because supermarkets and so on are near on main roads just three or four blocks away.

approaching the street along the main pathway through the cemetery of Assistens Kirkegård

Jægersborggade from the north

typical apartment buildings along the street

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More important, Jægersborggade is not actually a through road or a cut through for traffic … at the city end is a main cross street Jagtvej which is a relatively busy section of an inner ring road but Jægersborggade is one way, with traffic only allowed to drive in the direction of the city so there are no cars turning in from the main road and at the end furthest away from the city is a park.

The street is 330 metres long and around 14 metres or about 45 ft wide and with buildings of six storeys along each side it has a distinctly urban feel but it is narrow enough so you can see across to what is happening on the other side and cross backwards and forwards without having to worry too much about moving traffic. Cars parked on both sides is not ideal but the pavements are relatively wide - not far off four metres - so there is space for people to stop and window shop without blocking the path and many of the cafés have seats and tables outside.

This part of the city dates from around 1900 and it is a street of traditional apartment buildings so above each shop there are five or six relatively large and now highly sought-after apartments. Most of these buildings are also of the traditional form with the apartment buildings built with a central doorway from the street leading to a lobby and central staircase with an apartment on each side at each landing. That means that the street has a large number of people actually living here and they come and go through the front doors so the street feels occupied and busy.

It is difficult to be certain without looking through historic plans and photographs but many of the shops appear to have been shops from the start although some of the ground-floor spaces are still bike stores and service rooms for the apartments. All these ground-floor spaces are relatively low and are actually down from the street level so there are two or three steps down into the shops. In many parts of the city there are more steps, sometimes a steep flight of six or seven steps, so there the commercial spaces are half below ground and half above.

This is a distinct Copenhagen form of apartment building and, curiously, that also contributes to its current success as a shopping street. The shop units are narrow - some frontages little more than 4 metres wide with just a doorway from the street and a single narrow window - most just two rooms deep and are relatively low so they are ideal for a small business but not so good for a national or international company that so often has clear prescriptions for size, appearance and arrangement for retail units in their global brands.


many of the shops combine what they make or produce with coffee and other food and drink and in some unusual combinations … here beer and vinyl - as in music LPs - and shoes with coffee

The architecture is typical of the period with strong features including heavy rustication of some lower levels, classical style architraves around doors and windows, strong emphasis on windows to staircases and cornices and plat bands. This has been enhanced with strong and bold colours and there is good control and good design for shop signs. Some shops have modern plastic-framed windows and doors but a good number retain original fittings. Developers in 1900 acquired plots so there are various styles along the street and many of the apartment buildings were built in pairs creating an interesting vertical rhythm so the pattern will be shop with apartments above, steps up to door with staircase, shop with apartments, shop with apartments, step up to door with staircase, shop with apartments above.

The street is also interesting because it is not long continuous rows on both sides … on the west side there are a number of short, narrow, pedestrian cross streets running through to the parallel road and on the east side - opposite these cross streets - short open courtyards running back into the block.

With so many apartments and so many sought-after apartments, this is a family-friendly area so not just a street for young, single, affluent professionals to come to from elsewhere in the city but many young families live in the street or in adjoining streets. There are good small local schools and at the end of the street away from the city is Nørrebroparken with superb play equipment so this is a dynamic residential area.

Athe other end of the street to the park, at the city end of the street, and just across Jagtvej, is Assistens Kirkegård, a large and famous city cemetery - Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard are buried here.

Now to English readers it will seem perverse or even downright weird to suggest that a shopping street could be popular and successful because it is close to a cemetery but in Copenhagen cemeteries are well kept and important and very beautiful public spaces with mature trees, grass areas and pathways where people walk and sit on benches and appreciate the trees and the plants and some even look at the memorials. If you walk or even if you are on a bike and come from the city centre then you can come straight up the broad central avenue of the cemetery and at the top are large gates, and then pedestrian crossings to left and right to get over Jagtvej and there, facing you, on the other side is the start of Jægersborggade.

Believe me, it makes for a pleasant afternoon to saunter through the grave yard, walk up and down the street, have a coffee at one of the places with tables outside - to watch the world, or at least a good chunk of Copenhagen life, walk past - or maybe have a beer at the bar of Mikkeller & Friends just round the corner .


the play area in Nørrebroparken at the top end of the street


select any image to open a larger version in a slide show


There are serious points to be made here about planning for shopping in the city.

For a start, as a shopping street, Jægersborggade is certainly very pleasant but it is not unique in Copenhagen. Other streets are different in their layout and their architectural style but are equally good destinations with their own interesting independent craft shops, gift shops, small fashion shops, coffee shops and cafes and restaurants. These would include:

  • what is called the French Quarter around Værnedamsvej, at the city end of Frederiksberg Allé

  • Sønder Boulevard, a wide street beyond the meat market with a central strip of park is a popular destination on a summer afternoon. This part of the city will continue to improve with the opening of new metro stations

  • nearby Istedgade … although it has relatively heavy car traffic, once you get away from the part close to the central station, has good design and second-hand shops and cafés and bars and the end away from the city will change as work on a new metro station at Enghave Plads is completed and the square is replanted

  • Islands Brygge, in streets back from the harbour, has small cafes and craft shops

  • in the north part of the city, the streets and squares in Østebro, east of Trianglen, that again have more and more good bakers and specialist food shops and craft galleries

And there are more. This is not simply saying how wonderful Copenhagen is - although obviously it is - but the point here is that all round the city there are small local shopping streets that are lively and extremely pleasant.

In part that is because the city planners have a policy that no area should drop behind, in terms of public facilities or quality of hard landscaping or public transport. If there was just Jægersborggade it would quickly become swamped by it's own success so the aim has to be to get a well-spread patchwork of traditional shopping with supermarkets and so on and then, nearby, destination streets of specialist shops with places to eat and have coffee.

Of course, there are critics of all this in the city because it is clearly a form of gentrification and older residents in older working-class areas do feel that their housing, because it was cheaper than housing in existing more middle-class districts, is being colonised and some do feel they are being driven out by relatively young families and, ok, relatively affluent and relatively trendy professionals even if it brings life and businesses to the area.

This is what is now by some called placemaking and it is difficult for planners to get the balance right. For a start planners cannot vet who takes on the lease for a shop although there are controls on certain types of use.

These are also changes driven by social factors that cannot be controlled by planners … significant changes to how and when and why people shop. This change in shopping patterns was identified by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore around 20 years ago in an article Welcome to the Experience Economy in the Harvard Business Review where they talked about an evolution from shopping for consumer goods that was changing to people wanting an increasing number of services in shopping areas, from advice to learning and health, and that moving towards a search for 'experiences' so for the high street or shopping area people want opportunities for fitness, entertainment and eating out. They talk about staging experiences that sell and that would certainly be one way of looking at the success of Jægersborggade.

Curiously, as a final thought, shopping centres - of the covered indoor arcade type - further out of the town centre - usually with parking for cars to  draw in people - are still popular and successful in Copenhagen although it is interesting to see that one of the older shopping centres - Fisketorvet - that opened in the south harbour area in 2000 is about to be extensively remodelled. It is of a fairly standard form, inward looking, with a bright and light interior on two levels and with food courts and a cinema but the outside is grim and now very dated in its style so the plan is to build new outward-facing shops around the outside that will integrate the shopping area into a rapidly growing district in the south harbour with many new apartment buildings.