This paper examines a exquisitely designed multicultural park in Copenhagen using the theoretical concepts of rhetorical cartography – the study of place as a rhetorical concept. In this case, the rhetorical message is that all are welcome in this place and are invited to share this space with their immigrant neighbors. The implications of this design extend beyond the park itself to the minds and imaginations of the residents, regardless of where their home countries lie.
Space and architecture, particularly those intended for public use, can clearly articulate who is and is not welcome to use that space. For instance, hostile architecture utilizing uncomfortable seating areas and concrete or metal spikes in the ground or around garden areas discourages loitering, vagrancy and casts out the homeless population in general. In contrast, the Superkilen multicultural park in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen embraces the multicultural immigrant population of the surrounding neighborhood. Using Senda-Cook, et. al.’s theory of rhetorical cartography, this paper analyzes the Superkilen multicultural park in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen, Denmark, to illustrate how urban architectural structures can promote the representation, inclusion and equal participation of diverse populations.
Description of Superkilen
Superkilen, created in 2012, was built in the most multicultural part of Copenhagen, Nørrebro, which hosts a large concentration of middle eastern immigrants. The area around the district’s main artery is sometimes known as “little Arabia.” Uniquely, this park serves as a “surrealist collection of global urban diversity that in fact reflects the true nature of the local neighborhood – rather than perpetuating a petrified image of homogenous Denmark,” according to archdaily.com.
One of the key features of this park includes found artifacts brought in from each of the home countries of these immigrants, with more than 60 countries represented. Each item has a plaque explaining what the item is and where it came from, in both Danish and the home language. Alongside these artifacts, Superkilen’s gardens create a new recombination of cultural structures including representations of Chinese mountains, Japanese oceans, Greek ruins and English gardens. They have also brought in plants from different regions, placed nearby artifacts from their origin places.
The park is divided into three distinct, yet connected areas: a red market square, a black urban living room and a green sport and play park. The red market square links the sports and cultural events of the town hall with the outside space, both visually and physically. New spaces were created to meld with existing spaces, to both expand upon and enhance current structures.
The black square serves as an urban living room with seating areas for chess and backgammon. The bike track is moved to the side and movement lines travel north to south curving around the furniture. This section also includes the cultural artifacts mentioned above.
The green park area is used for sport and play. Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist and philosopher once said that “sport is one of the few institutions in society, where people can still agree on the rules”. According to the archdaily.com, “No matter where you’re from, what you believe in and which language you speak, you can always play football together.” Sports – including badminton, football, hockey, basketball – run adjacent to a school and grassy area for exercising and picnicking.
The methodology by which I am conducting this rhetorical analysis is based upon Senda-Cook et. al.’s article “Rhetorical Cartographies: (Counter) Mapping Urban Spaces”. In this text, rhetorical cartographies are defined as “ways that people challenge and support official uses or interpretations of places by remaking places and engaging in practices that establish boundaries and patterned movement (100). Superkilen park’s creation and intent serves to reinterpret how city space is utilized and who is welcome to use or participate in that space. Included within the space are active “movement lines” which stretch north to south across the park, encouraging pedestrian and bicyclist movement through and around the park. Although motor traffic does not run through the park, human and human-powered movement is encouraged and there are no walls or gates separating the park from the greater city. All humans, regardless of background or origin, are welcome here.
The three areas of Superkilen are carefully crafted to encourage different types of shared activity. According to Senda-Cook, et. al., “By enacting material changes, undoing boundaries, and moving through the city, inhabitants can remap places, thereby challenging disciplinary/dominant conceptualizations of space/place that aim to categorize and enforce distributions of certain people in certain spaces/places” (104). While these spaces could be interspersed throughout the city, Superkilen instead draws them together in one large park built to gather people together. This unconventional design challenges the way people share their city spaces and encourages cooperation rather than division among different groups.
In Senda-Cook et. al.’s observations, “rhetorical cartography and the tactics by which such mappings are enacted highlight performances/practices of place-in-process that can both uphold and transgress dominant norms” (111). Superkilen transgresses dominant norms of elite and restricted access to supposedly public spaces and creates instead a truly public space meant for public use. Unlike the hostile architecture mentioned in my introduction, Superkilen encourages lingering, staying, and taking up space. People are recognized and valued, rather than cast off as an unwanted nuisance.
Several aspects of the Superkilen multicultural park illustrate issues addressed by Senda Cook et. al.’s concept of rhetorical cartography. In the following paragraphs, I will break down individual elements of the park and interpret how they align with these values and what that means for the Nørrebro district in Copenhagen, Denmark. In my conclusion, I will further address how these elements can be viewed by a global population and how America’s attitudes toward its immigrant population could evolve to echo Denmark’s more welcoming views.
The inclusion of cultural artifacts in Superkilen promotes representation by recognizing sixty different home countries immigrants have originated from. These artifacts communicate that each immigrant is not only seen but also welcomed into the community. Each cultural item includes a brief description of what the item is and where it came from and this is communicated in the home language as well as Danish. Increasing representation, or awareness, of the different cultures present in the area is the first step in encouraging communication, dialogue and learning about these different cultures. By creating this park, Copenhagen is inviting the immigrant, diverse population of this area to become part of Denmark’s population, not as outsiders but as a welcome part of the population.
See detailed table of Superkilen’s cultural artifacts in Appendix.
Ultimately, intersectionality also defies the idea of a single, unified identity for individuals, especially nationality as identity, as in Smith’s “The American Melting Pot.” We, as Americans, have long believed this mythos of ourselves as a nation of immigrants who have become integrated into a single cultural society. It seems that the public identity of the American is viewed as more homogenous than the at-home culture of individual aspects of American society. The reality is that our identity is much more nuanced than any idea of a collective melting pot could ever be. In the same way, the population of Denmark is often viewed as largely homogenous, but this neighborhood reflects and respects the more multicultural reality of its immigrant population.
Moving beyond basic representation, aspects of Superkilen also encourage the inclusion of the immigrant population. Rather than separating the park from its surrounding areas, the architects actively worked to integrate the park into its surroundings and incorporate existing structures. Notably, the red market area works within the town hall space, including new immigrants in local governance and town gatherings. Community development involving the use of space and place can shape community identity-making and in Copenhagen, this community includes the immigrant population. As mentioned earlier, there are also no divisions between Superkilen and the surrounding city structures and there are no walls or gates barring entry. Every person from every place is welcome and included in this space.
After both representing and including diverse populations, the park furthers its message by inviting active participation from all Nørrebro residents. This is undertaken by the activities offered in both the black and green districts. The black urban living room includes seating and tabletop games for all ages and abilities. Among these games are favorites like chess, which is internationally renowned as an intellectual challenge. As you move into the green park and sport district, these games shift into a more physical competition, with football (or soccer) as the featured international sport. The focus placed on games which are already played worldwide encourages active participation in past-times at once familiar and newly challenging.
In addition to the ideal implementation of rhetorical cartography, the Superkilen multicultural park addresses additional issues discussed in multicultural rhetorics. Among these are the ethics of identity, the impact of environment, and the ability to tell counterstories through new spaces. I will briefly discuss these intersections before proceeding to my conclusion.
In many ways, the spaces and places we inhabit and the boxes we inhabit in the minds of others shape who we are and how we are perceived. In the age-old argument of nature vs. nurture, our environments significantly impact us. Those who make decisions about what kind of people can live in what kind of conditions automatically assume a potential trajectory for that population. In Appiah’s “Ethics of Identity”, a person may be labeled as a member of a group and is then expected to play a particular role with a script which defines what is possible for them on the trajectory of their life and how they are expected to behave and interact with others.
Richard Wright’s fictional work, Native Son, touches on the connection between a person and their environment: “the environment supplies the instrumentalities through which the organism expresses itself, and if that environment is warped or tranquil, the mode and manner of behavior will be affected toward deadlocking tensions or orderly fulfillment and satisfaction” (32). While a cluttered desk can both indicate and encourage a cluttered mind, the very structure and organization of urban architecture can significantly affect the living conditions of residents.
In addition, architectural development can create opportunities rather than impediments for the local population. In this way, city planning can enact a type of counterstory (as explained in Martinez’ “A Case for Counterstory”) of what diverse populations can realistically achieve. By changing the environment, whether by opening new opportunities or physically developing the community, it is possible to learn and grow beyond what is “expected” of a population to attain previously unavailable goals. It is when we redefine ourselves and what we are capable of that we can truly reach our full potential.
These cultural developments within an urban environment inspire us to address issues of nondominant discourse communities and the counter-stories they use to challenge cultural hegemony. Even those of us who have not personally gone through outsider experiences, such as many new immigrants have experienced, need to be aware of the diverse trajectories many populations encounter. Beyond that, we need to integrate these concepts and counter activities into our lives and work against racism and similar narratives which drastically limit our neighbors. While some individuals learn to navigate these challenges on their own, local advocates can play an integral role in helping their community explore what it means to come from certain backgrounds and to acknowledge the way discrimination creates structures which both preference and disadvantage people based upon background and culture.
Throughout this paper, I have discussed the ways in which urban spaces can be either welcoming or unwelcoming and the ways that this affects the population of people using these spaces. What I have not explicitly analyzed, however, is the specific populations targeted by these different types of architectural developments. At Superkilen, a wide diversity of immigrants are welcomed into the community through the promotion of representation, inclusion, and active participation. In contrast, how are immigrants treated when they come to the United States?
Rather than joining a welcoming community, many immigrants to America are sent to detention centers. In fact, the United States runs the world’s largest immigration detention system. According to detentionwatchnetwork.com, “In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the United States government detained over 500,000 people in a sprawling system of over 200 jails across the country run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” The message this sends to immigrants is that we do not want them, that their lives are not valuable, and that we perceive them as criminals, therefore placing them in jails to keep them out of sight and away from American citizens.
While these issues have largely taken a backseat to last year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, immigration reform is still a concern, especially for the populations it directly impacts. For some people, it is a question directly impacting their lives and their livelihood, whether they are children or family members already living in the United States, migrant workers or asylum seekers looking to justify their means and reasons for immigrating and pursuing citizenship. In the end, the structure and rhetorical cartography of spaces affects more than just the way a place makes us feel, or the aura of a space. It affects the very fabric of our lives.
Perhaps we should take a page out of Copenhagen’s book, embracing welcoming messages of acceptance, not just through our political structures but also through the physical structures we build in our cities. Those structures should not be prisons but way stations en route to acceptance. We should treat these people not as criminals but as future citizens. After all, if we treat them as criminals, how can we expect them to not fulfill prophesy, to follow that expected trajectory after they make it across our borders?
Additional research regarding the ways in which spaces and places can be modified to encourage productive citizenship, and reconsideration in the ways we house immigrants, particularly those awaiting legal action regarding their immigration status, could prove immensely useful as we move toward greater acceptance and understanding. Although America has long viewed itself as a melting pot of cultures and identities, we need to remember that each individual and each group deserves recognition and their own place within our society. Assimilation, though seemingly simple and tidy, should not be the goal when such diversity only strengthens our communities.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. The Ethics of Identity, Princeton University Press, 2007. ProQuest Ebook
“Immigration Detention 101.” Detention Watch Network. Accessed 17 Mar 2021.
Martinez, Aja. Counterstory: The Rhetoric and Writing of Critical Race Theory. Conference on College
Composition and Communication of the National Council of the Teachers of English, 2020.
Senda-Cook et al. “Rhetorical Cartographies: (Counter)Mapping Urban Spaces.” Field Rhetoric :
Ethnography, Ecology, and Engagement in the Places of Persuasion, University of Alabama Press, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Smith, David Michael. “The American Melting Pot: A National Myth in Public and Popular Discourse.”
National Identities, vol. 14, no. 4, Dec. 2012, pp. 387–402. EBSCOhost,
“Superkilen / Topotek 1 + BIG Architects + Superflex.” 25 Oct 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Mar 2021.
“Superkilen: Superkilen’s 108 objects and their history.” Accessed 17 Mar 2021.
Wright, Richard. Native Son. Harper, 1940.
Superkilen Cultural Artifacts:
|China||Palm tree, dance pole, neon sign|
|England||Trash cans, Belisha beacon|
|France||Bike rack, manhole cover|
|Germany||Light sculpture, lamp posts, bench|
|Russia||Pavillion, road sign, neon sign|
|Spain||Osborne bull, table tennis|
|United Arab Emirates||Lamp post|
|United States||Neon signs, pavillion, rope, parallel bar, benches, rings, lamp post, basketball hoop|