Danish Chalet Garden Communities Show Another Model of Living With a Little Bit Less

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter

Around Copenhagen there are a number of communities where you see a lot of small houses packed together at densities that almost look like an American trailer park. In fact, they are an elaborate form of allotment garden. Amy Damin of SUNY described the concept in a paper, Rural Life in the City: The Chalet Garden in Denmark:

For many people, an escape to natural surroundings requires long travel, be it to a vacation cottage in the mountains or a house by the shore for a summer of relaxation. For American urbanites who would like to have a summer home, but cannot afford one, there is no middle ground. However, this sort of opportunity is readily available in the allotment gardens of Denmark where nature and leisure come together within the city's boundary.

Most of these have many restrictions on use, preventing full time occupation. All have strict rules on height and floor area. On the last night of my visit to cover INDEX: Design to Improve Life, I was invited to dinner at the home of Anne Lubbe in a community that allows full-time accommodation in Haveforeningen Sundbyvester, or The garden community of Sundbyvester.


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After a fifteen minute bike ride, you enter a wonderland of narrow green paths, barely ten feet wide. Surprisingly, people can drive on these to parking spaces at their homes; there is a 10 Km/hr speed limit.

garden community

© Google Maps

The density is extremely high as there are no rear yards and minimal side yards; houses are packed together tightly with all the open space in the front yard.

front yard

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Some are full of stuff without a lot of room.


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A lovely entry.


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They are not all old, either; Anne's house appears to be prefab built in about 2011 by EBK Cottage, a company that has a "BYT-TO-NEW concept where we tear the old haveforeningshus down and build you a new meeting the new stricter requirements for permanent habitation."



This is not the exact plan of the home I was in, but gives the general idea of the level of amenity: Entry hall with laundry, a single bathroom with shower, 6' x 8', bedrooms that are 8' wide, all totalling 900 square feet; a size and standard that hasn't been built in a house in North America since Levittown.

Dining room

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But despite the small size it was bright, comfortable, modern and open, and could easily accommodate a dinner party of seven.


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Cathedral ceilings, skylights and open kitchen planning make it feel much larger than it is.


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The whole thing is sitting on a lot that is probably 40' wide by 60' deep, and with the narrow roads they probably pack in 18 units per acre. That's six times the average density of sprawl in America. But to all the people who say they don't want to live in multifamily apartment buildings in cities, who say they want a yard for their kids to play in, this demonstrates that there are alternatives like this that actually work well, that promote a closely knit walkable community, that are walkable and cyclable.