Prospects of the City: A generation and gentrification later in Vesterbro


In which the prospector wanders down Istedgade through Vesterbro, the city district where he resides, and wonders how and why it came to be that way.

Uncle Danny’s place no more
If the legendary writer, poet and beat-prophet Dan Turell should rise from the dead tomorrow and take a stroll down Istedgade (the very heart of his beloved Vesterbro), who knows how he’d react?

Would he be sorry that most of his old haunts are gone, or would he appreciate that a few of them are still there and that new and cleaner ones have appeared?
One thing is for sure: he’d be overwhelmed by the transformation that has taken place in the almost 22 years since he took his very last walk through the city. The squalour before the entrance to the ‘Men’s Home’ is about the only thing that remains from his time.

A significant date
When the new Istedgade is inaugurated on May 23, many politicians and social planners will no doubt be celebrating the completion of their mission to gentrify the area, which they decided on in the 1980s and started implementing during the following decade.

As for this prospector, he’ll just be glad that after a year or more of harassment and having his eardrums blasted by machinery, it will soon be possible to walk or cycle down Istedgade and possibly… enjoy it.

More surburb than innercity
Where there used to be strip-bars, cheap serving houses (where one could get a punch in the nose on a merry night) and weird, unique hole-in-the-wall shops, there are now fancy wine-bars, expensive cafés, organic bakeries, fashion shops, estate agents and sushi restaurants.

Back in the ‘80s when the prospector first moved to Vesterbro, there were lots of small and cheap apartments for rent. The first rent he paid in 1987 was 565 kroner a month for a 35 sqm apartment in a ‘back’ house. These days the buildings behind the buildings facing the street have been torn down to make room for the suburbanites’ lawns, swings and sand-pits.
Mums and dads with cash

In those days there were very few children in Vesterbro, and almost no schools. Nowadays it’s the opposite. Everywhere you look, there are mothers pushing their strollers or dads with a kid in the bicycle seat over the rear wheel.

In the courtyards the suburbanites are grilling steaks or mowing their tiny lawns with motorised mowers. In order to buy their expensive apartments, they’ve all (as a result of bank lobbyists and social engineering) been forced to take loans from the banks.

There are almost no rental apartments left, and the remaining few cost a lot more than they used to. With the influx of suburbanites, the drug addicts were finally allowed the place to shoot up that they’d petitioned for and never got as long as it was primarily bums, students, artists, derelicts and general dregs that peopled Vesterbro.

Pros and cons of moving on

This prospector does not miss the drug dealers and the bloody syringes everywhere; neither does he miss the street fights, the drunken shouting through the night and the pools of puke. He also does not miss the porn shops with their sorry merchandise pushed right into the faces of passers-by.

If he misses something, it is the raw atmosphere created by the lost and not-yet-found living side-by-side. He misses their spontaneity and devil-may-care abandon.


As the author of the 1995 essay ’Victim of Welfare. An Essay on State and Individual in Denmark’ and 2011 novel ’Wagon 537 Christiania’, Per Smidl is no stranger to controversy. After 12 years of self-imposed exile in Prague, he is back in his native Copenhagen, a city he will always have a unique perspective on