Annemette Fredslund Aagaard, Project Manager, Byes Drift, Copenhagen Municipality
Today more people than ever lean towards cremation rather than burial in coffins; this frees up a great deal of space on the cemetery grounds with the potential to be developed for alternative recreational purposes. Even so, the cemetery is still a place loaded with emotional significance and symbolic meaning, leading to conflicting citizen interests.
The City of Copenhagen was interested in understanding which new ways of using this urban space would be seen as acceptable, relevant and meaningful by its citizens. We needed to introduce the voice of the citizen and present their needs to the City.
Using a combination of ethnographic methods allowed us to gain deep insights into the routines, thoughts and feelings of the cemetery’s users. We carried out in-depth interviews with them in their homes, exploring their relationship with the cemetery space, what role it plays in their everyday life, and their thoughts on its future development.
We went on walks with them, experienced their daily routines, favourite spots, as well as the parts they avoided. We actively used maps as a way to compare our respondents’ mental maps of the cemetery with the actual layout and composition of the space. We took neighborhood walks with our non-users to get an understanding of what spaces they use, and why the cemetery didn’t make the cut in their mental map.
While some people experience the cemetery as a place of mourning, a backyard, or an oasis for escaping city life, we also found non-users who perceive the cemetery as a risky, inaccessible space they feel excluded from, and integrated their perspectives.
We identified three opportunities, which each set a direction for the future of the cemeteries, and addressed a number of the tensions we identified. The recommendations help ensure that all citizens are welcomed inside, while different types of behavior and usage co-exist harmoniously.
The recommendations are currently being implemented in the City Council’s development plan for Copenhagen’s cemeteries for the next 50 years.