Kødbyen is located on the eastern side of the Vesterbro neighbourhood, southwest of Copenhagen city centre. Known more as Meatpacking District, the area is divided into three sections built over a period of 50 years and named from the dominant colour of the buildings: brown, grey and white. Denmark always had a strong pig industry and it is today one of the biggest exporters of pork in the world. It is said that Kodbyen once had the highest density of butchers in Europe, but when most of the food producing businesses moved out of town, the area also disappeared from the collective memory of its citizens.
Despite spending the ’80s and ’90s being one of the Copenhagen’s most rundown and forgotten area and a place within the city that only few people outside the food industry knew about, Kødbyen is today the city’s hippest neighbourhood and one of the most popular places to go out.
The first rather small contemporary transformation of the site dates to 1996, when Copenhagen was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture. For the occasion, the cattle market, Oksnehallen, located at the outskirts of the site near the main train station, was converted into an exhibition hall. The more consistent transformations came nine years later, in 2005, when the municipality of Copenhagen decided to launch a strategy for the area called “Meat and creativity”. The aim was to combine the already existing food production businesses with creative industries, such as art galleries, restaurants and design workplaces.
To develop the right concept, the City of Copenhagen, which owns the real estate, worked with MUTOPIA Architects, a Copenhagen based architecture office, to envision a master plan for the centrally located Vesterbro district in order to transform it from an area only known for its prostitution and drug dealing into the city’s cultural melting pot.
The White Meat City, the newest part of the district built in the 30’, was until 2007 a restricted-access industrial area for more than one hundred years. Now is the most vibrant part of the Meatpacking District. The conversion of the zone started in 2007 by offering long term leases to cultural, design, and gastronomy businesses in order to encourage them to move into the vacant spaces. Abandoned butcheries and old warehouses from functionalist buildings became art spaces, restaurants, bars and creative hubs and unlike similar districts in cities like New York, some meat companies still operate here, making it one of the few remaining active meatpacking districts in the world and defining its overall aesthetics.
Most of the commercial ventures, such as the area’s trendy restaurants and bars, can be found in the white district. However, the white district also houses the majority of the butchers, fishermen, and wholesale grocers who maintain a strong and visible presence in the area. The grey district is home to a few small businesses, such as a gym and a cargo-bike manufacturer and the brown district houses a couple of cafés and a large venue used for art exhibits and fashion shows.
The cohabitation between the past and the present functions of the market is perfectly summarised by one art gallery owner:
“In five years I’ll still be here, but only if the butchers are here, too. Art and culture have no value if they are not surrounded by everyday life.”
Although this duality generates the distinct flavour of the place as well as its 24 hours liveliness, it had also imposed important challenges in the planning process. Mutopia and city officials had to keep in mind that the traditional food businesses need places to drive and park delivery trucks through the neighbourhood while the new tenants want bicycle routes and areas for outdoor dining.
The second phase of Mutopia’s master plan, called Kødbyen 2025, was released in 2013 and continues the development of the neighbourhood under the name of FoodCity. It aims to create a sustainable self-supporting district in Copenhagen by combining vegetables-and fruit production with residential, office and retail space, to achieve food waste reduction, renewable energy production and a lively urban environment.
By attracting different businesses to the area the municipality has managed to transform the heavy burden of reinventing one part of the city into a smooth process with surprising results while keeping investments to a minimum. Its new inhabitants not only changed the perception of citizens towards the area but they also managed to increase its real estate value, which now allows for more ambitious investments directed towards experimental housing and food production.
Although the Meatpacking District regeneration program lead to the gentrification of the area and to some extent to displacement of inhabitants from adjacent rented properties, it is also a good example of how a municipality can use its power to steer the private sector towards redeveloping an area of the city.