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Report of the Second International Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments:
Renewal of Inner Cities

Prague, October 15-17, 1987

Download the Prague proceedings as a PDF file (420 KB)

Renewal of Inner Cities: An Example from Århus, Denmark

John Frederiksen, Committee on Housing, Transportation and Technical Aids, Copenhagen

For many years the necessity of improving old housing has been pointed out regarding standard of fixtures, maintenance and the proximity of service facilities. Up to now, it has not been difficult to let sub-standard dwellings and owners have not been forced to make improvements. At the same time, the large number of sub-standard units has made it difficult for individual owners to make improvements, for example, in common areas which would require cooperation between several owners.These problems can only be solved through the joint efforts of owners and state authorities with the necessary financial arrangements.

Appraising the standard of dwellings is commonly carried out by inspecting technical installations, the state of maintenance, insulation and common areas. Here, appraisal can be extended to include availability of public transport, distance between buildings, noise levels, etc. Many dwellings have been built at a time when no building regulations existed. Often, apartment structures were built for income producing purposes with little attention to planning, placement with respect to each other, recreational areas, proximity of shops and other services.

As the quality of housing areas deteriorates, tenants with financial resources will leave the area for better and more modern housing. As a result, run-down apartment housing is to a great extent inhabited by lower-income groups such as immigrants, unskilled workers or single parents and retired people.

A number of problems, such as lack of accessibility, poor conditions and small rooms can be added to the list of deficiencies in the older housing stock. Ironically, persons with disabilities, that is, those tenants who are most dependent on the quality of their housing, often live under the worst conditions. The toilet might be of minimal size or is placed outside in the backyard or on another floor. Also, tenants might have to carry their own heating fuel. These condition are, of course, not only found in Denmark.

One way of improving housing has been to tear down old buildings and construct new apartment blocks in their place. Residential structures have often been replaced by large office buildings. However, many have reacted against such a solution to the problems of sub-standard housing, since older urban areas do have a number of qualities which are often not found in new structures. Furthermore, available resources and employment effects must be considered. These aspects concern almost all countries.

For many people including old and disabled persons, the inner city and its old buildings form the basis for their everyday experience. Many activities take place in these well-known environments such as public offices, shops, theaters, cinemas, libraries, and museums. If suitable housing was available, central areas would be attractive places to live. In the absence of good housing, however, many households are forced to relocate and move to new and unfamiliar neighborhoods which do not offer the same amenities. Future efforts should, therefore, not only concentrate on improving the general housing standard, but at the same time also attempt to make the dwellings suitable for old and disabled people who have the greatest need of improvements.

It is often difficult to cope with all the problems; dwellings are accessed only by staircases. Essential rooms such as the toilet and kitchen are often too small. In addition, bathroom facilities are missing or insufficient. However, such difficulties should not stop attempts to modernize the dwellings. In cases where it is possible to adapt housing for the disabled, it should be done. To a greater extent than now should retrofitting existing buildings with elevators be considered. This will also benefit other households such as families with small children or people who transport goods.

To demonstrate how the needs of old and disabled persons can be met in the renewal of inner cities Danish disability organizations have cooperated in various projects. One of them is situated in Århus, Fiskergade, in the center of the town, close to shopping mall, harbor, cathedral and other cultural facilities. Before renewal, the buildings lacked modern kitchen and bathroom fixtures and had very few common areas. There would be steps even on one and the same floor and useless basements. After renewal, all units are accessible for persons using wheelchairs, there are plenty of common areas. Town center and shopping mall can be easily reached.

The number of dwellings has been reduced from 43 to 32, mainly 2-room flats. Common hobby and social activity rooms are on the ground floor as well as a terrace with access to the shopping mall. Under the terrace there are a couple of parking levels. Access to and from individual apartments is via balcony passage and elevator.

The pilot project has demonstrated that even under very difficult circumstances housing and town renewal can meet the needs of old persons and people with disabilities. The renewal of this part of town also included changing traffic routes and adding parking spaces, modernizing lighting, installing accessible telephone booths, mail boxes, comfortable benches and orientation maps as well as making facilities such as shops, theaters and a concert hall accessible.

The renewal of Fiskergade is described in a report which addresses renewal problems and solutions also in a general context. The conclusion which can be drawn from this project is that improving accessibility within old housing units and improving accessibility about town must be and can be natural ingredients of future town renewal.

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