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This is an archived article published in 2004. Mayor Mikkelsen resigned in November 2004
Environment and economy are
priorities for Copenhagen Mayor

By Guy Kervella, European Editor

Since his appointment as Mayor of Copenhagen in February 1989, Jens Kramer Mikkelsen has turned the Danish capital into an economically vibrant city and one of Europe’s cleanest municipalities. The Mayor also initiated a large-scale debt-reduction programme with across-the-board spending cuts of two per cent. The Mayor’s policy has allowed Copenhagen’s local taxes to stay in line with national tax levels. These fiscal and economic measures helped unemployment rates to fall from 16.6 per cent in 1994 to 5.6 per cent in 2003.

On the environmental front, Mr Kramer Mikkelsen is keen to promote energy saving, green transport and clean open spaces. Under his leadership, the city administration has been presenting green accounts since 1997. The water quality in the Harbour of Copenhagen has improved to such an extent that it is now used for waterside leisure activities. Several public outdoor swimming facilities have been set up.

The number of people using bicycles as their daily mode of transport in Copenhagen has increased throughout the 1990s. Today, some 17,000 cyclists pass through the centre of Copenhagen every day. More than 50 per cent of Copenhagen’s workforce cycle to work using some of the 300 kilometres of cycle path that have been established in the city.

But there have also been setbacks in the environmental sphere. Economic growth has led to an increase in the number of cars in the city. The city has therefore taken a number of initiatives to improve the public transport. In October 2002 Copenhagen celebrated the inauguration of its first Metro, one of the most modern in Europe, which had been a priority for the Copenhagen Mayor for several years.

Mr Kramer Mikkelsen has promoted several initiatives aimed at providing better services to children, young people and the elderly. In 2003, the city council decided to guarantee all babies and children a place in municipal day care centres. Access to computer facilities for pupils of primary and lower-secondary schools has also grown. In 1996 the pupil/computer ratio was 20 to one, in 2002 it was down to 7.5 to one.

Waiting time for a nursing home has been set to maximum four weeks. Senior citizens no longer have to stay in a hospital after completing treatment.

During 2004, the Copenhagen city administration will set up four decentralised service centres to improve public access to city services. Citizens will be able to receive information from different departments and on different topics by contacting just one of the four centres. Mayor Kramer Mikkelsen hopes that in time, the centres will also be able to help with information on services provided by the state.

The Mayor told City Mayors that Copenhagen was also a front-runner in providing its citizens with self-service options on the internet. “More than 30 different services are accessible via the internet. They include grant applications, change of address notification or calculation of any housing grants,” Mr Kramer Mikkelsen said.

The Mayor sees it as one of his priorities to develop digital services further. “At the end of 2001, already some 60 per cent of Danes had internet access in their homes and 74 per cent had access either from their home, work place or school,” he explained.

A visionary development is growing just south of Copenhagen’s city centre. Here, right next to the new 17 kilometre bridge linking Denmark with Sweden, Ørestaden, a whole new city district is being built. The new development should eventually allow Copenhagen, on the Danish side of the bridge, and Malmö, on the Swedish side, to become one large metropolitan area. Already the site houses a multimedia building for Denmark’s only 100-per-cent licence funded radio and TV station (public-service broadcaster), a hospital extension and a new complex for the University of Copenhagen. A large shopping mall has also already been built. Eventually, the total built up area will extend to 3.1 million square metres.

At the end of 2003, Copenhagen’s municipal council adopted a new international strategy, that stresses the need for the Danish capital to take the lead in several international areas. The Mayor told City Mayors that his city must become internationally recognised as an attractive metropolis. “We will seek to learn from the experiences of other cities and also provide the opportunity to others to look at our way of doing things,” Mr Kramer Mikkelsen said. The city is already collaborating on a number of issues with the German capital Berlin and hopes to sign similar agreements with other cities.

As far as the future is concerned, Mr Kramer Mikkelsen believes that Copenhagen must become a highly desirable place to live and work. He emphasised the importance of a green environment, surroundings suitable for families and equal opportunities for all citizens. He told City Mayors that the city must also improve its response to the needs of all its citizens. “We will listen more and try to explain better the opportunities that Copenhagen offers to all,” the Mayor stressed.



Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, Mayor of Copenhagen. Copenhagen's Mayor is elected every four years by the City Council. The Council consists of 55 members, each elected for a four-year period. At the beginning of each new legislative period, the Mayor is elected from amongst its members.

Copenhagen in the 20th century
In 1901 the Municipality of Copenhagen was extended by large tracts of land to the north, south and west of the city. The Sundby villages, Valby, Vanløse, Husum, Brønshøj and Emdrup made room to accommodate the city's growth. At the same time the present city hall was built to serve the large new municipality. In addition, institutions and schools were built for the rapidly growing population.

In 1908 women were given the right to vote in municipal elections; and by a constitutional amendment of 1915, universal suffrage was introduced for everyone, irrespective of income. After the Social Democrats gained a majority on the municipal council, the city took over more and more social tasks. Modern, subsidised council housing was built in outlying areas, together with parks and sporting amenities. Public health was enhanced by improved light and air. Entertainements and amusements flourished in the 1920s and 1930s but the economic crisis of the latter decade put a damper on the city. Unemployment rose to alarming heights.

During the Second World War Denmark was occupied by troops from Nazi Germany. Compared to other European cities, however, Copenhagen got through the war virtually unscathed.

Just a few years after the war, slum clearance and urban development began as part of the fight against the widespread housing shortage. The so-called 'Finger Plan' from 1948 became a prototype of modern urban planning. The idea was to create a city with housing and commerce positioned along radial roads and railways, retaining large green wedge areas even towards the centre of the city.

New housing estates with single-family homes and council housing proliferated in the suburbs. Women now entered the labour market on a grand scale, creating a need for crèches and nurseries. Schools, sporting facilities, nursing homes and hospitals were built. Central and local government created an unprecedented cradle-to-grave security net for its citizens.

In the sixties, as the older generation enjoyed increasing material welfare, unrest was smouldering among the young. There were numerous demonstrations against nuclear weapons, NATO and the Vietnam War. In 1968, students protested against the professorial powers at the University. Other groups, such as the squatters movement, occupied condemnable properties. They demanded influence over redevelopment, housing policy, working conditions and better playground areas. It all culminated, in 1971, with the occupation of the former military area of Bådsmandsstræde Barracks in Christianshavn, where the Free City of Christiania was established in a protest against current social norms.

The city of recent decades has been characterised by large-scale restoration work in the historic districts and by the demolition and clearance of the old working men's quarters that dated from the end of the 1800s. The urban renewal of the 1990s forges ahead at full steam in areas including Vesterbro, where the work is being carried out with consideration for the environment. In contrast to earlier times, more properties are being preserved and modern dwellings fitted out with up-to-date installations behind the old facades.

The oldest inner city area has now become a shopping and entertainment centre that attracts people from the outskirts. Cultural life thrives, most recently exemplified in the large-scale commitment to Copenhagen as Cultural Capital of Europe 1996.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Copenhagen has already seen the recent opening of the Sound Bridge, the building of a metro and the realisation of an ambitious project leading to the creation of a new urban district on Amager, ‘Ørestad’.