The Common

It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There i non such. It is the bog in our brains and bowls, the primitive vigor of Naure in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. that I import into it.

Henry David Thoreau,
Journal, August 20, 1856

If you’re standing in the buzziling center of Copenhagen and walk a few kilometers to the south, the view suddenly changes. Asphalt, concrete and brick buildings give way for trees and brush.

You have rached the edge of the Amager Common.

There’s a strange beauty to the fact that many of the most prestine natural areas in Denmark are under military control. Tanks and wildflowers go hand in hand. This was also the case for the Common. The Common is a 230 acre nature reserve located only a few kilometers from the dead center of the city. This former military area has been gradually abandoned, turned over to the city and become a recreational area for its inhabitants.

What set this area part from other parks - and what originally drew me here - is it’s wild state. When I first started coming here many areas were inaccessible. Dense vegatation and wet land made it hard to leave the gravel trails that criss-cross the area. Because of this, many parts of the Common are untouched on a daily basis.

I found it fascinating to have such a wild and authentic place in the middle of a city. It allowed a sense of escape. A place to wander and, literally, get lost.

So I started photographing.

You need to have only a passing interest in conservation and the environmental history of modern society to know that the concept of a natural, untouched wilderness is nothing but a naive dream. That is true for even the most lauded national parks and it’s very true for the Common.

Part of the common used to be salt marshes and the coastline dashed across the area. Years of dumping waste from construction in Copenhagen has expanded the area. In effect, part of what I now praise as a natural getaway was once a sea bed and is founded on trash.

Even the illusion of an area in a somewhat wild and authentic state is just that - an illusion.

The beautiful yellow flowers I photographed early on turned out the be goldenrod, an invasive species (most likely brought here with the rubble used to expand the land). It is now being cleared by crews of yellow-clad city-workers. They are not only clearing the invasive vegation. They are also re-shaping the area.

All of this is done according to the 20+ pages, city-dictated development plan which is up for review every four years. So much for untouched wilderness.

Is this something to decry? That probably depends on who you ask. Opinions on how to use our common land are as many as the ways they’ve been used. Recreational, commercial, and political interest all collide. Not everbody appreciated the wildness and it’s inaccessibility.

Areas like these are not to be taken for granted. The Common is supposed to be ‘preserved’, but that’s only the case until it’s no longer so. Through the years, the area has continually been shrunken by prestitious development projects. Currently, plans for a large campground (to provide cheap, and nature-friendly accomondation to visitors to Copenhagen) and potential plans for a huge tunnel project are threatning to eat away at the area even more.