Why Aarhus? Why now?


Menneskesamfundet (Society of the human) by Thorvald Hagedorn-Olsen. This painting currently resides in Aarhus City Hall.

When we planned and delivered cities and their neighbourhoods over the last century we were often led by city planners and engineers, alongside their ‘civic visionary’ politicians, who brought a strong sense of purpose and linear process connecting thinking and delivery. Often such men (and they were mainly men) also had military experience, and drew from that adversarial culture – what was effective in war, would surely work for roads and sewers, housing and neighbourhoods, education and culture. Such goal-driven thinking ultimately got men onto the moon, so surely it was right approach for habitation on this planet?

But this analytic, systems approach deconstructed the city, reduced it to components, and misunderstood the holistic human dimension. 20th century modernism may have been pragmatically functional, but something was missing: the quality and interactivity of the human experience.

A re-think has been spawned from the pioneering work of Jane Jacobs and then Jan Gehl, slowly rippling around the world among ‘rebel practitioners’, community activists and politicians, until now, in the post-professional, socially networked knowledge age it flourishes in Denmark’s second city.

Far enough away from Copenhagen to have its own distinctive identity, Aarhus was once a sleepy Jutland trading port, but is now city of transformative politicians and policy, with socially progressive designers and an active citizenry unafraid to try out new things, all of which impact upon the economy too. New investment is attracted and its current crop of talented designers is in demand all over the world.

This innovative Danish city is currently European City of Culture and its willingness to re-think the culture of city making forms part of its creative mindset. It is leading new approaches in active citizenry, around contemporary social housing, and with inclusive neighbourhoods that embrace migrants and the homeless.

This shift in the way we think about, and shape cities, draws much from a people-centred flow logic, evident in the informal cities of Africa and South America, as much as the focused Nordic welfare outlook. It is about a less rigid structure, more open approaches, and a willingness to try new – and even old – ideas.

The Academy of Urbanism has teamed up with the city and advocates of the new culture of urbanism to share the rethinking and crystallise what it means for other places. There is something to experience for everyone, and something to take back to our own towns and cities. From the role of cultural buildings, to prototyping spaces and buildings, to rethinking how we work creatively with each other.

By tearing up and re-writing the rulebook, Aarhus is rethinking and framing a New Culture of Urbanism. This is must visit event for all who care about cities and their communities – designers, planners and politicians; housing, culture and community specialists.

Please come and be a part of it. You will benefit from tapping in to the latest Aarhus convention…

Kevin Murray AoU
Director, The Academy of Urbanism