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COST Action C11

Spatial Planning in Denmark

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Spatial Planning Denmark

Karen Attwell and Ole Michael Jensen


The Danish Planning SystemNATIONAL CONTEXT- DENMARK (Excerpts from - Greenscom Work Package 8)

Statens Byggeforskningsinstitut, By og Byg - Karen Attwell and Ole Michael Jensen - March 2002



A 1 Introduction *

A 1.1 Presentation of the country. *

A 1.2 Summary of main conclusions *

A 2 Spatial development *

A 2.1 Urban growth, demography and space *

A 2.2 Land use, economics, green spaces *

A 2.3 Mobility *

A 3 Urban growth and green spaces *

A 3.1 Driving forces behind spatial development *

A 3.2 How do these trends affect the green spaces *

A 4 Government and governance *

A 4.1 Development of spatial planning *

A 4.2 Institutional setting of planning *

A 4.3 Environmental awareness *

A 4.4 Planning answers and approaches to current situations *

A 5 Conclusions *



A 1 Introduction

A 1.1 Presentation of the country.

Denmark comprises 43,100 km2, not including the self-governing regions of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. It consists of the peninsula of Jylland, on the East Coast of which Aarhus is situated, and 406 islands, 81 of that are inhabited.

The population is about 5.3 million.

The visual image of Denmark comprise a mainly hilly, agricultural landscape and a long coastline, where rivers, bays and fjords have been the origin of the majority of Danish cities. Aarhus features it all.

Administratively Denmark is subdivided in 14 counties, covering a total of 275 municipalities. The county of Aarhus comprises 26 municipalities, including the municipality of Aarhus.

Fig. A 1


The counties

Denmark is divided into 14 counties. Among these the County of Aarhus. Source: Ministry of Environment and Energy. (Hartoft-Nielsen, 1995)

Fig. A 1.2

The municipalities

Denmark is further divided into 275 municipalities. Among these is the municipality of Aarhus. Source: Ministry of Environment and Energy. (Hartoft-Nielsen 1995)

A 1.2 Summary of main conclusions

Danish cities currently experience a renewed growth after the recession period of the 1990s, especially in the cities on the east coasts of the main island and the peninsula. The reason is not population growth. In fact the Danish population increases very slowly. Reasons are e.g. that the population moves eastward, that decreasing size of households and thus more dwelling space per person means a growing demand for housing and that enterprises cluster in the eastern growth centres. Aarhus is a main growth centre. Due to high property prizes the cities of the growth areas have more flats and terrace houses that other cities, but in general the preferred kind of housing is single-family, detached houses. Together with relatively few brownfields and other sites for urban restructuring and densification within most cities, this housing preference creates a demand for urban expansion into the rural zones. In spite of national policies it is difficult to provide efficient public transport to the new developments of the fringe areas. Additionally a large ratio of the transport is inter-municipal pendling, so the private car remains the main mode of person transport and large investments go into road building. However, many cities and provincial towns have developed a wide system of bicycle paths in order to make it more attractive to bicycle over short distances.

Most cities and towns have a good provision of urban greenspace, so in spite of some loss of some green areas densification projects generally do not have a great negative impact on the visual impression, nor on the recreational amenities of the existing urban areas. At the urban fringe the cities and towns grow into the open agricultural landscape, which offers few natural features to balance and structure the growth. Here it is of great importance that the rural zone is protected from unplanned urban growth through the Danish planning legislation. Change of zoning from rural to urban requires a procedure that involves public participation and adoption of the changes by the municipal council. This has largely prevented urban sprawl around Danish cities. The planning system comprises urban greenspace as a formal land use. This means that changing greenspace into another land use is very difficult and so that urban greenspace is relatively well protected from growth. Therefore it is an opportunity for the Danish municipal administrations to use the planning system to outline a greenstructure that comprises future growth areas at the fringe of the city. This is important, as the agricultural landscape is mainly inaccessible for recreational use. Aarhus is a successful example of using this opportunity to create an optimal balance between urban growth and green.

A 2 Spatial development

A 2.1 Urban growth, demography and space

The average population density in Denmark is 123.7 persons per km2 (2000), but covers large differences. 85 % of the population live in urban areas (over 1000 persons). The urban areas cover only 5 % of the country. Also there are large regional differences between East and West Denmark and between East Jylland and West Jylland as well as East Sjælland, where Copenhagen is situated, and West Sjælland. There is a recent trend that economic growth moves eastwards to e.g. Aarhus and Copenhagen and other urban growth centres and so does the population (Johansen, 2000).

The average population density in urban areas is 733 persons per km2. In the rural areas it is only about 21 persons per km2 when including nature areas and forests.

In order to show the regional differences, the population density in the municipality of Copenhagen, which is all urban zone, is 5617.0. In the county of Copenhagen it is 1166.4, while lowest in the county of Ringkøbing in West Denmark with only 56.2. The county of Aarhus has 139.7, while the municipality of Aarhus has 607.6 persons per km2.

The majority of suburban areas and smaller towns consist of single-family housing, i.e. 47 % of all Danish dwellings are single-family houses (detached and semi-detached).

In a study of urban greenspace the population density in areas with detached single-family houses were as low as 25 persons per km2 compared with 44 persons in low density, terrace housing and 109 in apartment block areas (Attwell, 2001). These numbers may serve only as examples of relative population density. They do not compare with the statistical information of population density presented above, as the latter build on the total area of the municipalities.

According to Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik, 2000) the average for all of the country there were 2.19 persons per dwelling in 2000 compared to 3.01 persons in 1960. Detached, single-family housing has 2,62 and apartment block areas 1,72, illustrating that the majority of two parent families with children live in detached houses (56 % of households have children) while single-parent families and singles frequently live in apartments. This does not account for second homes, i.e. summer-cottages.

For a large number of the population, the single-family house is considered to be the optimal dwelling. This is illustrated by the fact that the percentage of dwellings in this housing category has increased from 33 % in 1960 to 54 % in 2000, while the percentage of apartment dwellings have decreased from 55 to 40 % in the same period of time.

The average amount of floor space per dwelling has remained about 118 m2 when comparing 1980 with 1998. The floor space per person in average, now 54 m2, is increasing due to fewer persons per dwelling. However, in reality it is increasing for private detached houses and decreasing for terrace houses and apartments, especially in the social housing.

The population growth from 1999 to 2000 was 0.31 % nationally, migration from abroad of 0.17 % included. Thus demand for housing has its main origin in the changing family structure with more single persons and more single parents with children living by themselves.

In short the Danish population increases very slowly, but the demand for housing keeps increasing due mainly to the decreasing size of households. This creates an urban growth pressure. However, there is only a slight increase in the number of dwellings finished in the mid 1990s recession time compared with the current rate, which is a point in the current political debate about housing shortage. Strangely the current housing debate does not seem to be related to the concurrent environmental debate about densification as part of urban sustainability, and many cities have large urban fringe area reserves for development, including residential development.

A 2.2 Land use, economics, green spaces

In Denmark agriculture is still the dominating land use, although farming is no longer the main source of national income. 54 % are in cultivation.

Fig. A 2.1


Land use in Denmark. Source: Natur- og miljøpolitisk redegørelse, Ministry of Energy and Environment. (Miljø- og Energiministeriet, 1999)

Another set of land use data presented by Statistics Denmark indicates that urban areas, including summer cottage areas, traffic installations and villages with more than 1000 inhabitants in rural areas have more than doubled between 1965 to 1995. This fact frames the general wish of the former government to support urban densification. In 1999, the Ministry of Energy and Environment considered the growth of urban areas to be modest. However, these observation covers the regional differences mentioned above, and the many cities in the mainly eastern growth regions, including Aarhus, plan continuous development into the adjacent rural areas. Growth into the rural zone requires a planning procedure, that includes public participation and political adoption of the plans (see A 4).

There is no national statistical information on the distribution of land use between the different urban land use categories. However, a study on a small and a medium size Danish town showed that the residential land use is larger (39 and 28 %) than the industrial (24 % for both towns) and commercial and mixed commercial/residential land use (4 and 6 %). In fact the total area covered by only detached single-family houses was seen to be larger or close to the size of the area covered by industry and commerce (Attwell, 2000).

These numbers may serve as an illustration for the majority of Danish towns, but not for Copenhagen and suburbs, nor for the four other cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, including Aarhus, which have a higher population density due to a higher proportion of multifamily housing.

Provision of greenspace including parks, sports fields, allotment garden areas, cemeteries and nature areas comprise large parts of the provincial towns and suburbs in Denmark. It may amount to 25 % or more of the total urban area (Attwell, 2000) and range between more than 100 m2 in the provincial towns (above 10,000 inhabitants) and less than 5 m2 in the densest district of Copenhagen, Vesterbro.

The influence of the municipalities on the detailed planning of new development especially in the urban fringe largely depends on the ownership of the land to be developed. There is no statistical information on this subject, but the municipal ownership is known to differ, as the policy on quantity of public land reserves is a local political decision.

However, the overall planning is independent of ownership and in the recent years it has been a clear intention of the Social Democratic/Radical national government that the area growth of the Danish cities must be retained. It is still not clear if this policy will change with the new Liberal/Conservative government, which was elected in Nov. 2001.

A 2.3 Mobility

The Danish national policy on transport has until now aimed to establish a new balance between development and environment based on the principle of sustainable growth. The national transport statement, Transport 2005, aims to e.g. influence the division of various means of transport and to improve alternatives to car transport. At the local level the municipal plans include transport policies. Improved conditions for cyclists and pedestrians and reduction of car traffic in the city centres are current measures in 1998 (European Commission, 1999). The expenditure of the national transport sector was DKK 15,000 m for roads and 9,500 million for public transport, which is less than optimal from a sustainability point of view. Transport keeps growing and - in spite of all intentions - especially transport by private car, but also by rail. The growth in bus, ferry and plane transport is stagnating or decreasing. The decrease in ferry transport is partly due to the two new bridges built in the last decade, the bridge between the main islands, Sjælland and Fyn, and the - less popular - bridge between Denmark and Sweden. The number of private cars have increased with about 40 per 1000 inhabitants per decade since 1970 and was in 1998 343 cars per 1000 inhabitants.

Fig. A 2.2

Source: Statistics Denmark. (Danmarks Statestik 2001)

The growth in transport by private car has increased more than 50 % from 1981 to 1993 (Thost, 1995), half of which is transport for work/education and shopping. Urban structure is of major importance. In a study of 22 Nordic cities by P. Næss et al. (1994) it was found that densely populated urban areas, i.e. low area consumption per person, a centralized urban structure with a densely populated centre and low income were related to a low level of transport. Results like this has supported a Danish environmental policy of urban densification. It is known, however, that choice of residence and job is more important than travel distance - or travel time, which seems more important than distance. Half of the total work-related travel is inter-municipal pendling. Pendling is known to be reduced if there is a good balance between jobs and dwellings in quantity and quality.

The other half of the transport is connected to recreational activities. Here the importance of the urban amenities and so of the urban greenstructure seems to reduce transport, i.e. people travel less if the immediate surroundings fulfil their recreational needs (Bech-Danielsen, 1998).

Use of bicycle is - as always - popular in urban districts over short distances, as it is cheap and convenient with regard to time (versus street system and parking). With distances to e.g. shopping of more than 3 km, the use of bicycles is almost eliminated. Many Danish towns including Aarhus have developed a functional network of bicycle paths as an alternative to using the car for local purposes.

Domestic transport of goods accounts for about 80 % of the total freight transport (European Commission, 2000), counting 66 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants in 1999.

The stated political aim to reduce car traffic and so the emissions of CO2 is counteracted by the growth of private car ownership and by growing road-born goods transport. This is especially a problem for the larger cities and especially for the Copenhagen region, where congestion during rush hours is a growing problem. The recent reduction of cars in the major city centres, which is created by e.g. high parking prices, reduced parking space, pedestrian and parking limitations (residents only), bicycle paths and lanes etc., is visible, but may also soon be counteracted by growing ownership. Transport infrastructure influences large parts of the urban green space by constant noise, as large green areas are situated by or close to motorways and as the flat morphology of most of the country allows noise to carry far. Also increasing traffic frequently inhibits the physical access to urban greenspace.

Till the 1970s, urban greenspace was frequently reduced by roads and related constructions. Today this is only true of large public transport construction works such as motorways and railways. The reform of the planning laws was the reason (see A 4.1 and A 4.2)

A 3 Urban growth and green spaces

A 3.1 Driving forces behind spatial development

The national policies for urban development and restructuring are generally accepted. The Danish Planning Act largely regulates local initiatives and there is a wide political understanding that sustainable development must be the common denominator. However sustainability is rarely a driving force.

There are different opinions of how to implement sustainability. In relation to building it seems difficult to change the general approach of the private and semi-public building and construction sector, which works within a conventional economic framework and understanding of efficiency: to build more for less. In case study C 4.3 is it demonstrated how this approach may be utilized positively in the development of also greenspace. In relation to transport it seems difficult to change the transport patterns of the general public. A general support to the advantage of public transport does not reflect in the growing car ownership and car transport. Public transport needs to be very effective and flexible to be a real alternative and bicycles are only a short-distance alternative. Also, the national policy of urban densification as an alternative to urban sprawl is partly counteracted by the fact that the dream residence of a Danish family is a detached single-family home, preferably a 1 1/2 storey villa, or a house or farmstead in the country (Ærø, in press). The 1960-70s one-storey single-family developments have been a reasonable alternative to the dream residence - and still are - especially for young families with children (Gram-Hanssen and Bech-Danielsen, 2001). The housing and transport "consumers", i.e. the local citizens, thus are an important driving force. The trendy inner city urban environment seems to be preferred by mainly young people and singles. The changeing family structure towards smaller units means that the demand for inner city housing is high. Thus the urban renewal of the last decades of inner city districts has been a well-timed - mainly public - effort with a successful result, also visually. Public and semi-private open spaces have frequently been included in the renewal. Many former service areas in the blocks of the inner districts have become urban gardens and added much to the amount of peridomestic greenspace. Especially the current urban area-based rehabilitation initiatives have included a large number of urban greenspace projects. They are often initiated by local citizens or citizen groups, which in this way become a driving force. The purpose is often embellishment of the area, not recreation, which is likely due to the good provision of recreational greenspace in most Danish urban areas.

At the fringe of the city the national Nature Preservation Act have frequently supported preservation of local landscapes in urban growth areas. The boards of the national wide Nature Preservation associations are frequent actors.

Additionally cities like Aarhus have developed a greenstructure plan, which has come to guide the future urban fringe development.

A 3.2 How do these trends affect the green spaces

The Planning Act, the Nature Preservation Act and other Acts do support the preservation of green areas in and around urban settlements. Especially the Planning Act which in the late 1970s initiated the practice of making Municipal Green Structure Plans as a tool for planning and public debate of the overall policy of urban greenspace (Fabricius, 2000). However, the professional performance of the green administrations with - or in spite of little - local political support is seen to be even more important to the provision and quality of urban greenspace in Danish towns. Some towns and suburbs especially in East Denmark, have large royal and private estates that are open to the public. This decreases the demand for municipal greenspace. However, other towns have had few natural amenities and have still succeeded in striking a balance between urban growth and public greenspace and in developing qualities through innovative planning initiatives and maintenance practices, the result of which is much valued by the citizens. The local administrations at large decide on the balance between growth and green in the new developments. The result largely depends on a combination of professional knowledge, political attitude and economic issues: is greenspace provision a public, a semi-public or a private responsibility? As demonstrated in the following cases, C 1 &emdash; C 3, continuity created by high rank professional staff in the local administrations is found to be optimal for the long-term results. Things take time.

In a few towns there is a growing practice of also incorporating sustainability issues in urban development and redevelopment related to greenspace (water/rain water, organic waste, local food production, transport, local climate etc.), but it is still rarely known to be part of the adopted urban policy, (Kristiansen et al., 2001).

While the quantity of urban greenspace is largely decided administratively and politically as part of a planning initiative, local citizens may influence the quality. Directly, they mainly seem to influence local changes in relation to urban rehabilitation that are of special personal interest. However, in combination with professional staff for the municipal administration this has been shown to create synergy and optimal - and time consuming - results. Indirectly, the residents' choice of housing affect the balance between growth and green in the urban areas. As a result the large areas of single-family housing make many Danish towns look very green.

A 4 Government and governance

A 4.1 Development of spatial planning

Denmark has a simple spatial planning system based on the Planning Act, which was part of a planning reform carried through in the 1970s.

Until then, urban planning built on a number of documents, which set standards for developments and constructions. A major point of departure for this planning period was the physical separation of functions, which were seen or believed in the future to create conflicts. It could be dwellings versus industry or motor vehicle traffic versus pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The main aim of the planning reform was to create an operational system, that could simplify the planning process. All information should be presented in few documents, that were easily accessible for also citizens, developers and other non-administrative groups. The main area-based documents were the Regional Plan and The Municipal Pan, which must be revised every four years. As part of a general trend leading towards more public influence, the planning reform introduced public participation, which at first created a lot of debate as only a few per cent of the citizens attended. However, a few per cent was actually a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand people depending on the size of the municipality and after a few years this new approach was fully accepted.

A major asset of the planning reform was that urban greenspace was made a land use category in itself and thus could not be used for other purposes without applying the whole planning procedure. This was a positive increase in the status of this fragile part of the urban fabric and helped balancing the growth and the green.

Although the spatial planning framework of the 1970s is still at work the focus and the efforts of spatial planning are currently changing. Integration of functions by more actively incorporating environmental considerations, urban rehabilitation and urban densification, governance, communicative planning and privatisation are examples of current trends, which may in the near future ask for an adjustment of the 1970s planning system to match the changes in society.

A 4.2 Institutional setting of planning

The Danish Planning Act has three main characteristics: Framework control, decentralisation and public participation. The state establishes standards, but delegates' substantial responsibility for achieving and enforcing these standards to county and municipal councils. The higher level of plans is the framework for and must not be contradicted by the levels below. In matters of national interest the Minister of Environment can veto planning proposals, (Hartoft-Nielsen, 1995).


Fig. A 4.1

Four levels characterizing the Danish planning system. Source: Ministry of Environment and Energy. (Hartoft-Nielsen, 1995).

The Urban and Rural Zones Act was part of the planning reform of the 1970s. It divides all territory into urban, rural and summer-cottage-area zones. The impact of this Act is that urban development is restricted to the designated urban zones and consequently urban sprawl is practically unknown in Denmark (Fabricius, 2000). Denmark largely owes its visual appearance of clearly demarcated urban and rural areas to this Act.

The county councils are responsible for the rural zone including plans for the rural sector on e.g. environment, traffic and water. The municipal councils are responsible for the urban zone and including all kinds of public urban green spaces and green elements. The local policies on provision of greenspace are communicated and debated through the municipal plan and planning procedure prior to adoption. It is often described in a Green Structure Plan, which may comprise the overall pattern of larger urban landscapes like in Aarhus or the hierarchy of all public greenspace. Major changes in land use require that a binding local plan be provided. Also this very detailed planning instrument requires public debate. This means that the public may influence the balance between growth and green at an overall as well as a detailed planning level through the required public participation. However, citizens mainly seem to use this influence at the detailed level. At the urban policy level all kinds of residents', sports, trade, nature protection and other organisations and only few individuals are seen to represent the citizens' interests. In order to involve citizens more directly some municipalities have now developed procedures and contact measures, which work so well that the standard participation procedure almost becomes unnecessary. Aarhus has been innovative in this way by setting up and delegating responsibility for contact to local councils. The local councils are described in B. 4.1.

A 4.3 Environmental awareness

The Ministry of Environment was established in 1970 as a consequence of growing public environmental awareness and since then the environment has played an increasing role in the planning and management of the rural as well as the urban environment. National and international initiatives have influenced environmental considerations, but in spite of local Agenda 21, national policies etc. environmental issues are still not integrated in the spatial planning of the municipalities, and targets of sustainability rarely seem to influence municipal and local plans. So far major urban issues have been e.g. reduction of building related consumption, alternative energy production, purification of waste water and re-circulation of refuse, which all influence the quality of the natural environment. Major rural issues have evolved around the quality of the aquatic environment and the reserves of groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water in Denmark. The groundwater is threatened by the increased use of agricultural pesticides that occurred during the 1960s and 70s, the full damage of which is still to be seen. This problem is currently the reason for combining afforestation at the urban fringe with water resource areas like e.g. in Aarhus. The cultural heritage has also been a growing concern in both urban and rural areas, but in general it seems to focus on built historic elements more than on historic landscapes and green elements. The old forest areas, which are protected by the Forest Act, constitute an important part of the national image &emdash; and the national hymn played at any soccer event - but are only used much if situated close to the larger urban centres. Other semi-natural rural areas are managed and restored efficiently by the county administrations. They are taken for granted as places to visit, but hardly add much to the general environmental awareness. Urban greenspace is rarely seen as part of the natural environment, but as a recreational amenity and an architectural set-off. However, this currently seems to be changing in the municipal administrations, which increasingly focus on e.g. biodiversity, rain water infiltration and "natural " management with reduced use of chemicals, irrigation and fuel for transport and reduced grass mowing in an effort to work with the system and not only the space. Strangely this does not seem to have much public interest and sustainability is an infrequent subject in the media. The Ministry of Environment is to be reduced considerably by the new Liberal/Conservative government and it is not yet clear how this will affect the general environmental concern. A hope is that the reduction will cause a revitalised interest.

A 4.4 Planning answers and approaches to current situations

Compared to many other countries, Denmark has a well-established planning system with a high degree of public participation. However, it is a top-down system where administrative members of staff are the main actors. To adjust to the current trends, which ask for dialogue, new governance approaches are seen at the municipal level, sometimes initiated at national level. Here i.e. the area-based urban rehabilitation builds on initiatives and projects, which have been suggested by local citizens. Attempts to involve the citizens more directly is seen in some cities, e.g. Aarhus (B 4.1).

The municipal Green Structure Plan is still an important planning and communication tool, which illustrates the current state of affairs. It also serves as an assessment tool, which makes it possible visually to assess urban growth in relation to the provision of public urban green. The Aarhus example shows how the Green Structure Plan may even become the framework for further urban growth (see B 3.2). This more strategic use which improves the status of the greenstructure is believed to be important for a qualified dialogue between the different actors of urban development. However, the Green Structure Plans are still sectoral plans, which comprise the mainly public green land use. They tell more about the recreational opportunities and the municipal management responsibility than about the actual greenspace of the total urban environment in relation to environmental, visual, biological and other factors, which are indispensable for a sustainable point of departure for spatial planning. The frequent environmental considerations are thus &emdash; good &emdash; sectoral practices, but still need to be co-ordinated and made visible to the general public in order to qualify the dialogue with the citizens. Already in 1995 the Ministry of Environment and Energy called this an enormous challenge for Denmark's cities and towns (Hartoft-Nielsen, 1995, p.5), a challenge, which has not yet been met.

A 5 Conclusions

The Danish spatial planning system rests on framework control of the planning hierarchy, on decentralization of especially the spatial planning and the environmental responsibilities and on public participation. The opportunity of public participation is in practice mainly used at the level of local plans, which may influence the single properties or neighbourhoods directly. New efforts attempt to involve citizens and other actors in a more direct dialogue about spatial urban changes.

The open rural landscape, which has been protected from sprawl by the planning legislation, is an important part of the national image of Denmark and so are the forests, but the recreational use is relatively limited. In fact the rural landscape may influence the environmental awareness of urbanists negatively due to pollution problems of mainly the ground water resources caused by years of intensive use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Nature is generally perceived as all cultivated and semi-natural rural areas including the forests and the coastline, the beaches of which are very much used in the summer months. The rural areas are mainly privately owned and inaccessible to the general public except by road.

The public urban green areas are planned and managed by the municipal administrations. The local political interest and coherence of administration influence the greenspace both quantitatively and qualitatively. New initiatives show that a strategy of involving local citizens in the planning process adds positively to the municipal planning efforts, but that it is difficult to recruit participants. The housing associations are other important greenspace managers, especially in the larger urban centres, but only the largest associations demonstrate innovative ideas on management principles and resident participation. Finally, large urban areas are single-family housing. The gardens of which are cared for privately they are still being built, as this type of residence is preferred by most families in spite of national densification policies and derived transport problems. These areas influence the visual image of Danish towns, and they are known to have few problems, but also few residents who involve themselves in the municipal planning and renewal efforts.


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