Title: The floating community
Author: Henrik Valeur
Publisher: The Architectural Publisher B
Content: 264 pages
Publishing date: December, 2021
About the book
The floating community is a festival-like book about a spontaneously co-evolved and self-organized community located in a central part of Copenhagen. The community is known, alternatively, as the Harbor of Peace and the Pirate Harbor. Here, a number of people, who don’t fit in to the rigid modern city, have created their own dwellings on the water.
In contrast to the modern city, the floating community is constantly evolving – as the result of some kind of collective creativity. It constitutes a disorder in the modern city, but disorder is exactly what the city is supposed to offer, according to the urban sociologist Richard Sennett, who claims that disorder is essential for our development as human beings.
By floating on the water, in small self-refurbished vessels and small self-built houses on rafts, very different people are able to live together, because they can easily move their homes around, which also enables them to stay apart while staying together, during a pandemic. Floating on the water is also a way of adapting to rising sea levels.
The floating community shares many characteristics with certain sea-nomadic cultures that once existed throughout the world, which were attempting to live in harmony with nature but were eliminated by the modern Western culture, which attempts to control nature – both the inner and the outer. Accordingly, we are also being reminded of the intolerance of modern society towards the other (nature) and the others (cultures).
It is somewhat ironic that this ‘slum’, as some people call it (most notably the former Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, who was later ousted from politics in disgrace), is located in the very heart of the capital city of the modern welfare state (of Denmark), but maybe this is also the reason why some politicians want to have the floating community removed.
The struggle with the authorities about the right to live a different life in the city is not only about access to urban resources, but, as the urban theorist David Harvey has pointed out, is also about the right to change the city – and thereby ourselves.
The book is based on 3 years of action-research on site and has been created in close collaboration with current and former residents: Andreas Wolf, Gabriel, Kami, Kasper Hedegreen, Örn, Patryk, Sira Hentze, Stephen James Back and Storken. It includes illustrations of the way they are living (off-grid) and the art they are creating (art brut), experiments with permaculture and simple low-tech solutions, mappings of the place and its development, and proposals for similar developments in other places, as well as studies of other nomadic cultures and references to other (anarchistic) thoughts and thinkers. It also constitutes a case study for the theory of ‘development urbanism’.
PS Just one month after this book came out, and after many years of struggle, and despite a plea made to the Prime Minister, who had publicly announced that the large cities of Denmark have become “too nice” and without room for outsiders, as well as announcing her desire to help homeless people, the authorities finally cleared the whole area in early January (2022), which is, of course, the worst imaginable time of the year to be made homeless in Denmark.
Tibirke, October 31, 2021
This book exists because Andreas, Gabriel, Kami, Kasper, Örn, Patryk, Sira, Stephen and Storken generously gave me their time and shared their stories, thoughts and experiences with me, and also with Francisca and Frédéric, who helped me. I am deeply grateful to them all, as well as to Per, who initially introduced me to the floating community; its founder Esben, who was my best friend there for a long time; and the former residents, Marie, Lisa and Mette, who helped me to better understand it.
I’m also grateful for the thoughts and perspectives provided by Di (activist), Donald (consultant), Gorm (historian), Jan (architect), John (sociologist), Jonas (lawyer), Lars (documentary director), Michael (engineer), Rasmus (lawyer), Tommy (lawyer) and Uffe (biologist). But above all, I am grateful to Storken, who decided to step in and back me up at a critical point in time when things looked rather difficult.
I cannot say I know Storken very well. Maybe no one does. But I do feel a strong bond and I hope I will come to his rescue, too, should he ever need it.
Although our lives are different, we are both wanderers in search of our own way in life. As Storken said to me the last time I spoke to him: “Now I’m going out into my world”.
I was two years old when my parents found me in a small creek half a kilometer from home. They were in a state of panic, apparently leaving one of my boots behind in the mud, while I was minding my own business.
Storken was not much older when he had to learn how to get to his grandmother three kilometers away, because his parents would often leave him at home without food while they would go out drinking and would forget all about him.
But Storken is a fighter: he is fighting for his right to be here, even though he’s also fighting with his own demons.
I dedicate this book to Storken and to every other member of the floating community, that is to say, the people who do not fit into the modern world’s fixed and ordered way of life.
PS While the final layout for this book was being prepared, my friend Örn passed away. He had come to the floating community many years ago, after having lost, first his wife, and then his daughter, and finally his stepson. He maintained an apartment on land but would often fall into a dark hole when he stayed there, so he preferred to live on his dinghies and rafts, where he could also use his skills as a carpenter. He was found dead in his apartment, where he had been lying unnoticed for several weeks. May his tormented soul rest in peace.
Danish Arts Foundation
Danmarks Nationalbank’s Anniversary Foundation
Plum Foundation for Peace, Organic Development and Sustainability