In the blocks between Øster Søgade and Øster Farimagsgade, next to Sortedams Sø (Black Dam Lake) in the Østerbro district, lies one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Copenhagen.  Maybe, according to Amber in Copenhagen, in the world.

What is special about the Potato Rows is that they were named the Most Livable Neighborhood in the World by multiple planning organizations.

While the townhouses were originally built in the 19th century to house working-class families*, two to a house, the houses are now some of the most expensive and sought after real-estate in the city, thanks to their central location, safe streets, and the perfect size homes that allows enough private space but are small enough to force the residents to interact with their neighbors and surroundings.

Potato 3


And it’s true – they’re adorable:




… though I expect that a Brit in Manchester would be astonished that one of these units sells for $1.2 million (Can) since they’re really just industrial tenements with little garden plots out front and back.



Potato Rows



Victorian terrace housing


But maybe that’s the thing: they’re unique in central Copenhagen: ground-oriented, semi-private, with parking nearby, on a narrow street, in a fabulous location.  Dense (Patrick Condon figures about 1.2 FSR gross, 2 FSR net), but still, in a sense, suburban.  And each one is part of the larger community of the street.  Lots of evidence of that:



Most Copenhageners, however, live in housing that is many times more dense.  If they want to live anywhere near Indre By, the inner city, chances are they’ll be living in something that looks more like this:



As it happens, the two housing forms are cheek by jowl in the same triangle of land:

potato 2.

Michael Colville-Andersen – he of the Copenhagenize blog – has an interesting analysis of the consequence of this dense courtyard form:

… notice all those squares that surround the green spots. Those are courtyards. Nice courtyards, renovated in most cases with playgrounds for kids and benches/tables for sitting at. Most of them are shared spaces used by the many people in the many flats that surround them. I like my courtyard and every courtyard I’ve had. It’s a little ‘espace libre’ where you can relax.

Looking at those courtyards is as close as you’ll get, however. They’re really nothing more than gated communities. Even Copenhageners when walking down the street and passing an open port to a courtyard they don’t know will stop and stick their head in. A gate was left open and it’s always fascinating to be allowed an illicit glance into a hidden world. It’s like looking at a stranger’s bookshelf or rummaging through their fridge.

So when the green bits are locked away and only the locals that surround them are allowed access, that leaves you with the street as public domain. Look at the map again. All the flats in the densely-populated neighbourhoods border the sidewalks. The streets are, in a way, canyon-like. …




I’m left wondering… is it the architecture in our densely-populated neighbourhoods that has caused Danes to be reserved as a people? Or is it Danish reserve that led to the building of such inadvertantly gated communities? …

There are … exceptions worth mentioning – a little neighbourhood called Kartoffelrækkene – or Potato Rows. Brilliant narrow streets in the best terraced housing style. Tiny backyards and tinier front yards, which only serve to make the residents take over the street and use it as it was meant to be used. Great, liveable neighbourhoods.

Ironically, many architects live in neighbourhoods like these. They don’t build buildings or neighbourhoods like these, no no no, they just live in them and build big glass buildings in other peoples’ neighbourhoods.

… which, next week, we’ll go explore.


UPDATE: Kartoffelrækkerne was built in 1873 after English model and was designed by the architect Friedrich Christian Bøttger . The houses were public housing built by the Workers Construction Association (Arbejdernes Byggeforening), an association initiated by the workers at Burmeister & Wain .  More here.