interview/kirsten mølgaard

November 4, 2007

My first interview was wih Kirsten Mølgaard, who works for Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Administration. Ms. Mølgaard oversaw the production of several atlases in 1991, and was able to give me an overview of their creation, as well as her own reflections on the process. She was also able to suggest some contacts for further interviewing. Following is a summary of our dicussion:

What was your role in or involvement with the SAVE program?

  • Project leader, along with someone from the state department
  • The creation of the atlases involved cooperation between the state and the municipality

What, if anything, do you feel makes one study neighborhood different from another?

  • The atlases helped to answer the questions: “Is there any identity?” “What should we preserve?”
  • The atlases give a picture of the landscape seen overall; each quarter is different, and has a different dominant structure
  • Valby, for instance, is sliced into triangles, small enclaves of different urban typologies

How were the municipal boundaries decided upon?

  • It was a very pragmatic decision – they were chosen by the municipality; existing boundaries were used for the SAVE atlases
  • You can’t see these boundaries when you are out in the environment

What do you feel is the relevance of the SAVE survey today?

  • Use in local planning, in the creation of local plans
  • Provides a brief characteristic of an area
  • Provides place/traffic analysis, overall architectural values (building value rating)
  • Describes “saved” buildings in a legal way – local plans have to accommodate such buildings
  • Tool for people needing permission to change a “saved” building or to make a new development (if there is no local plan, one must be made up in order to protect it)

How long might the existing atlases remain relevant?

  • Different from part to part (of the city) – changing uses, new development
  • Revisit areas on a building-by-building basis
  • Not as necessary to review the inner city; new analysis needed in areas of change
  • New registrations might evaluate structural integrity of individual buildings

Did participating in SAVE change your perception of any of the neighborhoods?

  • You become more certain of the identity of an area
  • See an area in a new way – visit all corners of an area
  • The group took a bicycle tour of each new area
  • Became more conscious of value and identity

Could you describe some positive and negative aspects of the SAVE program?

  • Positive – they are a useful survey tool, helpful for local planning; spreading consciousness of values of the town – to be able to discuss what is good and bad in an area
  • Negative – done according to the whole country – too broad; hard to rectify between Copenhagen and small towns; “cultural” value on score sheet “empty” (survey done by visual methods – the cultural evaluation should be done using research methods, in parallel with the visual evaluations)

What are your feelings about the participatory aspects of the SAVE program?

  • Had to find people who would be suitable or glad to participate
  • Invited individuals and organizations (“town beautiful”); people with connections
  • Local people were located by calling around – not an open invitation – had to limit the numbers (would be difficult to deal with too many people; administratively difficult and expensive)
  • Sometimes a bit hard – locals were very concerned about specifics and small areas (sometimes provided valuable stories – hints for more interesting information)
  • Difficult to fulfill wishes of the volunteers – there was no voting, only discussion
  • Have to decide what to concentrate on – project group gave suggestions
  • Difficult to get anyone to work between meetings
  • Some volunteers were satisfied, others not – there were different types
  • Honesty in meetings about inability to agree; discussion and sharing of knowledge was the priority

Is there anything else about your experience with SAVE that you would like to share?

  • Problem of understanding the project – main ideal was to get an overall, superficial survey of values, buildings, etc.
  • A few years after it started, there was a financial incentive given to renovate “preserved” houses (based on the SAVE findings) – this was never the intent of the project; it was never meant to have an economic effect
  • Need to be rules about choosing information to transfer to local planning efforts – this was also not the aim of the project, but has become a use of the atlases

This interview was a great start as an overview. I’m looking forward to speaking with some people who were involved with specific neighborhoods. I’ve noticed a few recurring themes that have come up when speaking to those who put together the atlases. One is that of the project’s priorities. Both Gregers Algreen-Ussing and Kirsten Mølgaard emphasized that the greatest value of the atlases is their function as discussion-starters; the sharing of information was one of the key points. Also both mentioned the misuse of the atlases after they were published. They were never intended to be plans or bases for decisions, just tools to help engender discussion. This interview also raised a new question about the selection of “volunteers.” It had been my understanding, based on what I had read and my discussion with Gregers, that an advertisement for volunteers had been placed and that the call had been made public. However, my interview with Kirsten suggests that they were hand-picked, which puts the project in a slightly different light from the participation angle.