Niko Grünfeld aims to be the Mayor of Copenhagen for Alternativet. Here’s how.

Niko Grünfeld Illustration by Sidsel Carlsen 

Niko Grünfeld

Illustration by Sidsel Carlsen 

The municipal elections in Denmark are coming up next month. The first of its kind for our friends in Alternativet, since they entered government with 9 seats in June 2015. A poll from June (of this year) suggested that Alternativet would secure 10% of the votes in Copenhagen municipality. Of course we're hoping for more than that, given the great prospect of Alternativet bringing a more ambitious and future-oriented green agenda into local governments all across Denmark. It’s also a political spectacle which those who want a UK “alternative” might usefully learn from. 

In Copenhagen Alternativet has a strong mayoral candidate in Niko Grünfeld. Niko could become the first representative to win a position of executive power. In the Danish Parliament, Alternativet is in opposition, but in Copenhagen City Hall, they are within reach of securing enough support to earn control of one of the city's seven administrations. Each has its own mayor, with the leader of the Economy Administration carrying the title of Lord Mayor. As the leading candidate, Niko could become one of these mayors.

It has been a real pleasure to follow Niko in his campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Especially on his journey through Copenhagen meeting citizens and asking them about their hopes and worries for the future of their city. See pictures below. 

The last issue of The Murmur, a monthly Danish newspaper in English, featured Niko on the front page and an in-depth interview about his campaign and vision for Copenhagen. As he says "Yes, there's a lot of places where the city is going in the right direction. But to be honest, we could be more progressive and ambitious, and turn up the heat to make the transition faster." Areas that needs a more progressive approach to keep up with the needs of the citizens are housing and transportation. Niko shares Alternativet's view on these two areas:

The task of getting developers to focus on creating housing that improves the social and environmental fabric of the city is hampered by local and national building regulations. For example, new housing must be accompanied by a minimum amount of parking for cars. This needlessly occupies space that could be set aside for nature or recreation in a future city where residents increasingly share cars and use bicycles and public transport to get around. Other regulations that could be revisited are those that dictate the minimum size of new homes. Currently, the average size of an apartment in a new building must be 95 square metres. But this regulation results in apartments that are often far too large for new buyers and young people, who would be happy with a 20-square-metre room if they could also share facilities such as a kitchen, for example. We should experiment and prototype new types of housing that have smaller private spaces and larger common spaces. And we shouldn't leave it up to developers to decide what type of housing is available on the market. We could perhaps create a publicly owned housing developer that builds according to the needs of the city.

The right wing are living in the past in their view on how to develop the city. They think private transportation will remain important in the future, and they want to build tunnels and more roads, and I don't believe that. I believe the future has more public transport and cycling, more metro and busses. It's easier and faster. Last year was the first year that more people cycled to work than drove. Their priorities are individualistic, that we should have cars and parking. We believe in collective values and in making the city environmentally sustainable, with clean air and mobility. These aren't values that should be limited to green parties. They should be universal, because climate change is universal.

If the city really wants to go carbon neutral by 2025, we need to make some dramatic changes in transport, food and energy. For example, Copenhagen's busses will be running on electricity in 2031. But that's not ambitious from my point of view. People are dying from air pollution, and there are traffic jams everyday in the city, but Frank Jensen (current Lord Mayor of Copenhagen) refuses to consider road pricing.

Like us here at The Alternative UK, Alternativet is largely in favor of Universal Basic Income (check out our previous blogs on the subject of UBI here). If they gain strong support in the local elections it could mean another live experiment with UBI (UBI pilots are running in Finland and Canada right now) and a 14-year transition to a 30-hour work week will be taking place in Denmark. As Niko says:

We want to create a better balance between life and work, and improve our standard of living, so people are less stressed and can spend more time with their families and share the jobs that are available in the future. There are many studies showing that jobs are going to disappear with the growth of technology.

From the UK, it can be a bit dispiriting to think about the prospects for agendas like Niko’s ever getting through our terrible national election systems (the devolved regions excepted). But at the more local level - whether councils, or city-mayoral contests - there may be a chance that candidates could represent the community energy that we see in the 98% (those beyond existing political-party membership). We will watch and learn.

And in the meantime: Niko, the very best of luck!