Gellerup through different eyes
Some call it a ghetto; some say that it’s a great place to live with lots of social structures. Regardless, for 10,000 residents, it’s home.
By: Emily Dickinson
When you step off the number 15 city bus at the City Vest mall, at first glance it seems like you have left Aarhus. The cobble stone roads and quaint shops of the downtown area are no longer in sight.
Instead, it is a concrete complex called Gellerup where all the identical apartment buildings are lined up. It is home to nearly 10,000 residents, made up of primarily families with social problems, low employment, and many ethnic minorities, according to the Aarhus Municipality (Aarhus Kommune) website.
This area is known as the ghetto of Aarhus, but within the community, views differ on what living in Gellerup is really like.
Crime in Gellerup
Sami Saidana is the manager of Public Information (Folkeinformation) in Gellerup, where he provides the residents with information about education, health, citizenship and more. He is also a resident of the complex.
Folkeinformation, which is part of the the municipality but works different than other public services. It serves as a place for the residents of Gellerup to get help without needing to register with a CPR number (social insurance number) as they would at other institutions run by Aarhus Kommune.
Saidana sees and hears it all, and said that violence and crime among the young people living in Gellerup is less than it has been in the past, but still exists.
He said that there are gangs consuming and dealing a lot of dealing hash, cocaine and other drugs.
“The concequence is that they don’t wake up to work, creating social problems in the family,” said Saidana.
Community living in Gellerup
But on a sunny April day, it is not the prospect of crime and gangs that an outsider sees.
The community centre is full of teenagers playing video games on a big screen television, older men gather to chat outside of the football field, and volunteers and employees work in the library.
Saidana said there is a lot of culture within Gellerup; music concerts, a dance club, a boxing club, and a soccer club, just to name a few. The institutions in place, such as Folkeinformation, strive to create a better living situation as well.
“We work a the local level to give life to the community neighbourhood, both socially and culturally,” he said.
The other face of Gellerup
Tina Kjaer, founder of I Love Gellerup, is trying to break the negative view that Aarhus residents have about the type of community Gellerup is.
Kjaer, a Danish woman in her late twenties, came up with the idea and in January this year was granted an office to work in Gellerup. Through her foundation, I Love Gellerup, she hopes to establish a better overall image for the neighbourhood.
Last autumn, she explained, there was a lot of debate among politicians where the media was referring to Gellerup as a ghetto. She doesn’t believe that the term is correct.
“If you call it a ghetto, it will become a ghetto,” she said.
She said that Danish people read about things that happen in Gellerup but never really see it for themselves.
“The news reports that kids set fire to trash cans,” she said. “But that’s a tiny group of troubled teens, which represents five to 10 per cent of the population.”
In order to break this stereotype, she wants to use commercial tools, such as buttons, flyers, facebook and a website, to “brand Gellerup” as a place that people of Aarhus aren’t afraid of.
Although she does not work for Aarhus Kommune, she considers her work as part of the integration process that municipalty has been working on, to make the area more appealing to other residents of Aarhus.
The plan by Aarhus Kommune is part of greater Denmark’s strategy to transform ghettos into urban districts.
The plan, written by research director Hans Thor Andersen, “Aims at reducing neighbourhoods with high shares of non-Danish citizens, low income households, early retired people and other vulnerable groups,” as written in the report.
“The main instruments are physical changes such as refurbishment, merger of smaller dwellings into bigger ones, demolition of obsolete housing units and removal of some of the marginal groups in order to include them in different settings,” explained the written report by the Danish URBACT Dissemination Point Bi-Annual report.
For Gellerup specifically, Brabrand Boligforening, the housing association, and Aarhus Kommune are cooperating to carry out major physical changes in hopes of turning the area from a socially marginalised neighbourhood into an attractive, living city quarter for all Aarhus to enjoy, explained Jette Bøjesen, personal assistant to the city archiect, Gøsta Knudsen.
Bøjesen said the overall vision of the urban regeneration scheme is to combine major physical changes of an area, such as the introduction of workplaces, businesses and cultural life, with a social effort, for a safer city quarter, a higher rate of employment, health, and education.
“The area must not solely contain housing, but also businesses, shops and cultural institutions,” she said. One aspect of this new design will be a new road between City Vest and Bazzar Vest, bringing many people to area to shop, work, and explore.
Bøjesen explained that the official beginning of the integration process cannot be determined, although the plan was approved in December 2010. This project has been on the agenda in Gellerup for years, but “with ambitious plans for the area, it will be a lengthy process; approximately 20 years.”
But there is no saying that this type of plan can work to change the social problems and criminal activity in Gellerup, a neighbourhood full of younger people with little to no education and low employment rates, explained Andersen.
“I do not believe that social problems can be solved via physical efforts such as refurbishment or replacement of housing – they will only be displaced and their social and employment relations will remain the same,” he said.
Isolation in Gellerup
This plan is all about integrating the Gellerup into greater Aarhus, and getting rid of the isolation that people living within Gellerup face.
Afif Abdullah, originally from Palestine and a resident of Gellerup for the past 26 years, works at the youth social club. He spends a lot of time with the teenagers, and said that perceived racism creates this isolation.
“This generation likes to go downtown to clubs and parties, and most of the time they walk in groups of six or seven, and this is an unfamiliar phenomenon to the Danish society, so when they walk like this, they look intimidating,” he said. “The people in the street avoid them, and they sees this as racism.”
The fear that Danes are racist towards them, he said, leads them to feel hatred toward the Danes and really despise this society, leading them to stay in the comfort of their own neighbourhood at times.
And living in a neighbourhood with so many resources available might just be one of the main issues of why there is so much isolation.
“People started thinking, ‘I have everything here, a mall, a library, a health centre and so on, so why would I need to go out and mingle with the Danes,’” said Abdullah. Some people, he said, have never been downtown Aarhus and wouldn’t know what bus to take downtown, despite living in Gellerup their whole lives.
Bringing Gellerup to the city center
On May 28, 2011, a festival celebrating Gellerup will happen downtown Aarhus, organized by I Love Gellerup. Community groups and clubs from Gellerup will have a chance to show Aarhus the other side of the community that has nothing to do with crime.
“It’s taking a bite of Gellerup and moving it down town so people can get a look and get personal stories, because it’s the personal stories that move you,” said Kjaer.
Kjaer thinks it is the best way to bring Gellerup and the residents of Aarhus together to a common ground.
For Kjaer, although she lives in the downtown core of Aarhus, since beginning her work in Gellerup two months ago, her view of the area has changed.
“Now that I know people here, I’m not seeing grey buildings anymore,” she said. “I’m seeing faces and people.
-The total investment in the area will be close to 1 billion Danish kroner.
Before 2013 the City of Aarhus and Brabrand Housing Association plan to begin carrying out large, physical changes in order to turn Gellerupparken and Toveshøj into an attractive city quarter in Aarhus:
-A new high street is to be established between City Vest and Bazar Vest, with shops, businesses, housing and institutions. 500 municipal workplaces are also to be located here.
-A new inner ring road and new crossroads will lead traffic through the area and create new, individual neighbourhoods.
-Along Åby Ringvej, new housing, businesses and institutions will link the area to the rest of Aarhus.
-A new city park will connect the green Skjoldhøj “Wedge” to the Brabrand Lake, thus creating more cultural and sports activities in the area.
-Three blocks are to be torn down, two blocks are to be converted and two blocks are to be sold to make room for new initiatives.
-New buildings, rebuildings and extensions are to create new, individual neighbourhoods with varied architecture.
The overall plan was finally agreed on in December 2010 – by the City Council of Aarhus and the housing association. Afterwards, in order to go through with the plan, a ballot had to be carried out among the inhabitants of Gellerup, and the inhabitants also approved the overall plan.
Source: Jette Bøjesen, Aarhus Kommune
Aarhus Kommune’s plans to transform Gellerup:
More information about Denmark’s plan for the “ghettos” throughout the country:
Learn more about I Love Gellerup: