Vesterbro: Observing community stakeholders

Vesterbro is a neighbourhood in Copenhagen undergoing several dynamic shifts.

While Vesterbro has long been home to an eclectic mix of working class families, immigrants, drug users and sex workers, newer, more affluent residents are arriving with different lifestyles and expectations of their community. Changes to the community occasioned by these new arrivals have been welcomed by some members of the community who foresee greater economic opportunity and improved public services. Others, however, view change as a threat to the lifestyles that originally drew them to the neighbourhood.

Drug users are one key segment in the community. Benevolent public policies to support the health and welfare of drug users have fostered the growth of social service providers geared toward members of this community, but a sense of displacement prevails as new residents arrive.

Differences in lifestyles and behavioural norms among Vesterbro’s residents sometimes result in conflict, both above and below the surface of community interactions. Public spaces (streets, cafes, parks, etc.) in the community form the backdrop for many exchanges and moments of contact among residents.


Our research challenge will be to understand better the needs of individual residents and stakeholder groups within the Vesterbro community. These stakeholders include drug users, individuals and groups that provide services to the drug user community, working- and middle-class families and area merchants.

This is not an easy challenge. It will require each of us to examine and overcome personal biases and preconceptions about drug usage and the conflicting rights of residents in a neighbourhood undergoing substantial change. Our aim is not to “solve” the problem of drug usage in Vesterbro, but to probe a bit beyond a superficial understanding of neighbourhood tensions and to find inspiration for design from the lives and experiences of community residents.

During our exploration of the patterns of life in Vesterbro, CIID student teams will be expected to consider behaviours and values at the individual level and the potential impact of those behaviours on other members of the community. This dual view is at the heart of the ethnographic research approach: building a deeper understanding of the “micro” (individuals) to gain empathy and awareness of the needs of the “macro” (the community). In the case of Vesterbro, it is likely that we will discover multiple perspectives at both levels.

While our primary focus will be on building skills as design researchers, the class will also spend time considering the role design might play in addressing the needs of community members and, potentially, promoting greater understanding, mutual respect and trust.