The rehabilitation of the Vesterbro district, initiated in the early 1990s, has led to improvements in the living conditions of the inhabitants and the renewal of its biodiversity. Many environment-centered experiments have been carried out and even if some of the technologies used are now obsolete, the Vesterbro district is still considered as a role model and pioneering eco-neighbourhood, both in the scientific literature and in the public arena.

Dates of completion1994 – 2004 
Surface area950 000 m²
LocalizationCopenhagen, Denmark
Project descriptionAn urban renewal project to combat unsanitary housing while promoting urban ecology.
– 7 730 renovated and modernized housing units
– redevelopment of public (squares and parks) and private (central gardens of building blocks) green spaces 
Certification none


Vesterbro is a former industrial area located behind Copenhagen Central station. The dismantling of the capital’s fortifications in the 1850s led to the wholesale urbanization of the area. Rapidly erected, the housing is of very poor quality and deteriorated in the course of the 20th century. In the early 1990s, Vesterbro was the poorest district in Copenhagen, characterised by high density, crime, and unemployment (20%). The primary aim of urban renewal was to rid the area of drugs and prostitution, activities for which Vesterbro had become a hub; it was decided to integrate principles of sustainable development into the project.


Leading up the project, the City of Copenhagen chose to delegate the work to two semi-private development companies, SBS Byfornyelse and Byfornyelsesselskabet København. Resident participation was instituted as one of the objectives of the development project, realised through the creation within each building block of Karreraad—decision-making advisory groups led by the occupants—and of Karrebutik, which are consultative, advice, and information centres.

Sustainable Development

The environmental approach to Vesterbro’s renewal has developed on two levels: buildings and green spaces. Several environmental measures have been carried out within the blocks and in particular within two pilot projects, Hedebygade and Hestalden, jointly financed by the State, the municipality, and the European Union. These measures include the installation of solar panels, a new, more efficient ventilation system, a rainwater harvesting system to supply water to toilets and the communal laundry, building insulation, the greening of building façades, and the installation of a waste-sorting system in more than ten different categories. The district’s three main parks (Saxopark, Enghaveparken, and Skydebanen) have been redeveloped and a former tramway line transformed into a green promenade more than a kilometre long (Sønder Boulevard). In addition, the courtyards of most of the blocks have been converted into collective green spaces for residents, with many amenities encouraging social interaction among residents.

Integration and social mix lay at the heart of the renewal project that aimed to make Vesterbro ‘a socially sustainable neighbourhood.’ The many ancient social structures have been preserved (social centres for homeless women, drug addicts, etc.), but they now coexist with eco-businesses, coffee-shops and users of Istedgade Street, which has become one of the most dynamic shopping avenues in the capital.

Researchers working on this project

Mila Sanchez