The false rumour about the death of the city center

The false rumour about the death of the city center
Debate | Written by: Bo Jessen | Translated by: Laura Malahovska | Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Odense city center is dead!"

- possibly the most common statement in the local debate in recent years. A quick search in the comment sections of local media outlets confirms that this is a common conception. Often street closures, tram building and the lack of parking spaces are blamed. There is just one problem - the fundamental premise is not true. And we are asking the wrong questions: there are other and far more important things to be discussed. 

Let’s start by debunking the statement. Here are some facts you can use the next time conversation turns to that topic: 

1. The city center attracts more and more people

According to Odense Municipality’s annual statistics, the number of pedestrians on weekdays in the city has risen from 64.500 in 2015 to 73.326 counted in one week in 2016. With the increasing number of housing units that are being built in the city center, the number of urban dwellers will increase in the coming years and bring even more people to the streets.  

2. The number of empty sTORE fronts is not high

I have have counted (March 28th-30th - a good 8-hour walk) that out of 732 store fronts in the city center*, 68 are empty/for rent and out of these 68, there are only 45 that have either not been re-rented or are under reconstruction, or temporarily rented out for shops. Furthermore, a lot of empty stores are newly built, or recently vacated by shops moving to other locations.

Overall, only 7 % of the spaces are empty and ready to be occupied. Contrary to popular belief, most of the empty store fronts are located on the main pedestrian streets (where the prices are highest), while there are few empty shops on the outskirts of the city center. Nedergade, Skt. Knuds Kirkestræde and Brandts Passage are fully rented out and there hardly any available shop fronts on Vesterbro or Nørregade.

3. Odense’s restaurant revolution continues

The number of restaurants in the city center has grown from 114 in May 2014 to 175 in February 2017 according to Statistics Denmark. That is partly because of new restaurants, and because of existing places that have begun serving food. A quick peek at the streets also reveals that the number of restaurants with outdoor service has risen considerably in the last couple of years.

4. The city center can offer things that you could not imagine were possible three years ago

Today you can find wine bars, coffee shops and restaurants galore, three dedicated record stores and more and more galleries. And you can experience more events and festivals than ever before, as we previously wrote about in this blog article.

Lalour Vinbar

There is every reason to be positive about city’s development. Especially when you consider that none of the construction work that has been bothering the city center is even completed yet.

Now that the myth has been debunked, is it not time to discuss what the city center needs? Because while we talk about whether the city center is dead or not, the development is going ahead at full speed without us. And if we do not consider what it is bringing along, my best bet is that there is a big risk that we will not like the outcome.

The city center counting resulted in the following statistic:

- Restaurants,cafes, fast food etc.: 142
- Clothing, shoes and accessories: 110
- Hairdresser, tattoo artists, solariums etc.: 66
Service, banking, copy-shops, administration etc.: 50
Home furnishings, furniture, recycling, kitchenware etc.: 49
Health, fitness and cosmetics: 46
Groceries and specialties: 40
Culture, entertainment and galleries: 38
Electronics, music, toys, hobbies etc.: 36
Bars, nightclubs, wine bars, pubs: 34
Jewellery, watches, glasses: 25
Bike, sports and outdoors: 12
Hotels: 8
Books etc.: 7
Greengrocer: 1 (Odense Fødevare Fællesskab)
Department stores: 1

Is it the right ratio and is the quality good enough? What do you want to see on this list that is not already there?

I still miss a lot of things. Things I am convinced could be a great success if only there were skilled people who had the courage and landlords who saw the value in it. The big challenge of the city center is not the last empty spaces, nor the number of inhabitants or lack of demand. It is not the way people from Odense and Funen are, even though many like to say that.

It is on the other hand our lack of courage. Lack of courage among all of us who talk about opening just the place we dream about, but have not done it yet. Too few are saying: “If I cannot get it, I will make it myself”. There are way too few spaces for those with good ideas, but do not have a chain business that would finance their ideas. In the future what is special will make the city center survive. Something we can taste, smell, feel, hear and experience. The city center needs to be a meeting ground and framework for the communities that thrive when the city is developed the way it should be. The people that open a store, not to make money, but because they need express their passion.

Let’s share our ideas about what we want more of. I’ll start…

I am missing an independent bookstore that cultivates literature and does not rhyme on Jan Magnussen and crime novels. A place that hosts writers' events and book clubs. Our university produces lots of literature graduates that are hungry for books, that eventually move away from the city. Why don’t any of you open a place like that instead of becoming a small part of a similar scene in another city?

Brattle Book Shop, Boston
Librairie Ptyx, Bruxelles

I am missing a bicycle dealer who does not sell Chinese factory-produced bikes with aluminum frames, but instead is building their own steel frames here in Odense. Odense is a world-renowned bicycle city and the amount of cyclists is unmatched when taking into account the city’s flat structure.

As long as the bicycle has existed, there have always been bicycle manufacturers in Odense. More than a 100 years ago, bicycles were produced in at H. Demant's and Thomas B. Thrige’s. In 30’s, Smith & Co was Denmark's largest bicycle manufacturer with 35,000 bicycles. Bicycles have also been produced in Frue Kirkestræde, in Slotsgade and in Dronningensgade. Kildemoes was produced in Sct. Jørgensgade, Everton on Rugårdsvej and Redux on Grønlandsgade and Østerbro. And what about Skandsen and Vitesse on Skibhusvej and Læssøegade?

Odense’s bicycles are rusting in basements all around the world, but today there is not a single quality handmade bicycle business, even though such stores a popping up everywhere.

Rapha Cycle Club, London

I am missing a music venue that is created by up-and-coming musicians who want to fulfil their dream of Odense becoming the next noise rock, techno or jazz metropole. A place where there is life all day long and that can offer a stage for the city’s many young talents that therefore are not required to escape to Copenhagen.

And where is the venue that books international upcoming artists and medium-sized musicians? Those who not only work to bring names that Odense already know? Vega, a venue in Copenhagen, presents the following names during the coming year: Tinariwen, Ásgeir, Ryan Adams, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Mogwai, Little Dragon, Sun Kil Moon. All names that I would buy the ticket for without thinking if they played in Odense. Big Vega has 1500 places and Posten 900. Is that the only reason? It cannot be true.

One of many DIY venues in Leipzig.

I am missing non-commercial exhibition rooms where the city’s artists can exhibit and seek funding from the National Art Foundation in order to produce and exhibit their works. It could help to hold on some of the artists that graduate The Funen Art Academy and give the city more of the creative spaces that we have always needed.

Galleri Yvont Lambert, Paris

I am missing a clothing store where fashion-hungry city boys can get the latest men’s fashion. Who sell Acne, Marni, Rick Owens og Lemaire. Or who have the right connections to buy the right type of second-hand clothing for he, she, and whatever is in between.

Christopher Lemaire, Paris

I am missing a workshop where I can come and build stuff and get expert advice. A bookcase, a table, a bicycle or anything else. A place driven by craftsmanship and where there is time to do the right things right.

Carpentry workshop, New York

I am missing beautiful and welcoming storefronts that create a space to hang around and that tell stories about people behind the facade that have real passions and wants to share them with all of us.

In Praise of Shadows, Stockholm
Café in Kyoto, Japan
Native, Antwerpen

The restaurant scene is flourishing, but where are the high quality restaurants serving Middle-Eastern, South-American or African cuisine? That don't just produce funen-french cuisine, but challenge our taste buds and do it well? Virtually all of the world’s nationalities are represented in Odense, but you do not see this diversity in the restaurants.

Restaurant Tegui, Buenos Aires

Odense is Denmark’s greenest big city and is located on the middle of an island that is often called The Garden of Denmark, but where is the nature in the city center? The green facades, the beautiful trees? The wild balconies and rooftop terraces, you would gladly break a front door to access? Places that you would carry a grill, a couple of table, some incandescent light bulbs and a handful of friends to? Places one can hide away from the city buzz and enjoy a cup of coffee? Places where you are not required to buy anything? Maybe in some of the city center’s many amazing backyards, that sit quiet and lonely decorated in pigeon sh*t?

Hugues Peuvergne, backyard design
Rooftop terrace in Brooklyn, New York
Vertical garden, Paris
Dinner time in Brooklyn, New York

And where are the immigrant greengrocers who give color to every street corner all around the world, the type that has always been in the city center? The kind of place where vegetables that shouldn’t be refrigerated, aren’t. Where you can buy a single piece of fruit on your way to you next appointment, without having to go through some supermarket maz. Maybe it is not so easy to make money with groceries, but it should be possible to think of a sustainable concept.

Greengrocer, Buenos Aires

What do you think? What are you missing? Please post your ideas and photos. And tell us how we get what we want? Are any of the things suggested above impossible to do or are we just waiting for someone to do it? Or maybe some of them already exist and I have not noticed?

* All storefronts on street level or in raised basements have been counted. Adjacent spaces that have the same owner and function are only counted once. See the definition of a city center here.

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