Notes From Ground Zero As Denmark Re-Engineers Its Ethnic Mix

Concrete social housing high rise apartments set in a green parkland
Gellerupparken 03 photo by RhinoMind is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed
Social housing buildings, part of the Gellerup housing estate in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2019.

Denmark, once an ethnically homogeneous society (white northern Europeans) is facing the consequences after decades of migrant resettlement in the country. The consequence is ‘parallel societies,’ within the country. In Denmark, the generally reviled name of “ghettos” has been used.

The parallel society trend is completely understandable from a migrant point-of-view. In the short term, incomers look to settle in a new country near or among those who speak the same language and share the same cultural habits. If enough settle in the same place, why bother, in the short term at least, to learn how to speak Danish, or appreciate/adopt Danish habits?

Welcome to a social melting pot that transforms over succeeding generations. But for some Danes, it is not disappearing quickly enough. The government generally views the situation as a crisis.

Since 2018, support has grown in the country for an antidote to parallel societies. Plans are heating up to demolish its housing stock and disburse ‘ghetto’ residents. This ‘solution’ is prescribed in neighbourhoods where people are poor, belong to a non-traditional ethnicity, and there is ‘criminal’ activity (which is absolutely ‘guaranteed’ to be associated with poorer neighbourhoods wherever they exist and whoever lives in them).

This kind of supposed crisis could appear elsewhere. is offering another perspective of the situation. It comes from a ‘fly on on the wall’ (if we may use such an undignified expression to speak about Jonas Strandholdt Bach, a professor and researcher from Aarhus University).

Danish authorities claim to have engaged with so-called ‘ghetto’ residents. Bach’s description helps understand how the engagement worked.

Read a report from ARCHIVIO ANTROPOLOGICO MEDITERRANEO: Demolition Blues. Resistance Against Demolition Plans in a Danish Disadvantaged Affordable Housing Estate

For an up-to-date general news report about social housing estates in Denmark, read more in  The Times of India: ‘No-go zones’: Why Denmark is demolishing ‘non-Western’ neighbourhoods

Finally, a note from a human rights perspective regarding Danish ‘ghettos’. In the 1930’s, the US began building public housing. Rapidly, it migrated away from its initial focus of providing housing for workers.

In US public housing might be labelled ‘ghetto’ housing following Denmark’s example. US public housing has come to be reviled for its poverty, poverty-associated behaviour, and disdain (at best) towards the residents who are predominantly Black and people of colour.

Does US public housing fulfill a United Nations Right To Adequate Housing? Given the peculiarities of the US justice system, it is not considered a ‘right.’ Nevertheless, it stands as evidence the US’s commitment to housing for the poor.

Is Denmark signing off on its social housing past, and evolving to the American approach? Will social housing be bitterly hated while grudgingly admitted as necessary for poor people, even when ‘tainted’ by ethnicity and crime?