• Co-design your Place

Case study: The Youth Island, Copenhagen

Written by: Marlene Schmidt Pedersen, Annika Nørgaard Karmann


Ungdomsøen (aka Youth Island) is located just a short ferry ride from Copenhagen and is a historic youth project in the middle of the Øresund!

The Youth Island from above (2020, December 24). Kyst. [Photograph]. https://kyst.dk/

The Youth Island is an initiative started by SPejderne - an association of Denmark’s scout organisations, to give the youth of Denmark a place to involve themselves in creativity, learning, and creating communities across social backgrounds. The Island offers attractive facilities, and young people can develop their initiatives and energy to experiment and learn.

Initially, Middelgrundsfortet was an old military fort located in Øresund 20-30 mins from Copenhagen by boat. It was eventually bought by the Foundation, Middelgrundsfonden, in 2015, which was responsible for creating the physical surroundings on the Island. In contrast, the established foundation, Ungdomsøen, was responsible for operating the Island.

Regeneration project

Looking back in history, the Island is artificially made and built back in 1890-1894 as a military fort to defend the Copenhagen harbour entrance. The fort was an active military installation until 1984. The Island is a unique place for Danish history and has undergone regeneration to become the youth island.

The regeneration process took three years to transform the youth island for a new function, and the opening was celebrated in August 2019. Inside the Island, there is more than 16,500 m2 underground with 2.5 km hallways and tunnels distributed on three levels. According to the infrastructure site, you can find more than 200 rooms, remained and now use as activity rooms and accommodation in three storeys. The fort can host 120 people and is equipped with a large dining hall and workshop, and teaching rooms for 250 people. The Island has an area of 50.000m2 and includes a building covered up with fields of grass and wildflowers, a harbour and a wave breaker around the Island. These surroundings give the opportunities to build up a campsite, and even shelters are open for booking.

The Youth Island (2020, December 24). Ungdomsoen. [Photograph]. https://ungdomsoen.dk/

Important actors

A lot of different people have been participating in the process of establishing the Island and took responsibility for other areas. The various stakeholders have been simplified in picture 1.

Picture 1: Edited from the original version from the report: Youth Island Launch Party; Marlene et. al 2019, DTU.

The danish scout organisation are the one that established the foundation Middelgrundsfonden which is founded from different sources. Nordea Foundation and A. P. Møller foundation was part of buying the Island. Since then, a lot of money has been donated from various foundations to renovate and fill the Island with life. The organisation Ungdomsøen is the one who provides the daily operating the Island and is responsible for partnership and collaboration with different youth organisations to create events and initiatives.

Good practices and what could be done better

Many different aspects have been located as good practices that could be used to inspire other regeneration processes.

First of all, the youth is seen as a precious resource with a voice and with engagement. This valuable feeling motivates them to participate in different aspects of the regeneration process, make activities and life, support daily duties, and generally take ownership of the Island and community.

Secondly, as soon as you visit the Island, you are no longer seen as a guest but as a part of Ungdomsøen and its community. It gives you responsibility for making Undgomdsøen a pleasant and attractive place. If you attend the fort, you can make a change, and you will be seen as a person interested in the community. This community surrounding Ungdomsøen is a part of structuring the physical aspects of the fort. This responsibility and opportunity enhance the sense of belonging for the members. This type of self-governance gives a sense of responsibility.

Thirdly, Ungdomsøen creates the possibility of getting new experience as a motivator for engagement. They use the space as a place for young people to self-develop or celebrating and learning through failing. The meetings are regular and self-organised, making the members strengthen their management and communication skills. In general, you give the people a space to build mindsets and values of “doers” to use these skills in their everyday live

But of course, there is always room for improvement.

First, when people arrive at the Island, they can get a large amount of responsibility. This will exclude some in fear of failing. Helping people getting started is, for now, the most substantial part of the Island. Furthermore, there is no safety net for projects meaning that the whole responsibility is located on the members’ shoulders. Some need help to believe in themselves (because of their lack of experience), to succeed and to be involved.

A second issue refers to the scope of “the youth of Denmark”. For now, there is a wish to make the volunteers of the Island more intergenerational. The organisation take into consideration that maybe it is too narrow that the Island is only for “young people” even though it at the same time is a broad and diverse group of people. E.g. young people could also create events or projects for adults or do it together in collaboration.

The last concern is that the youth island is very young, and there is a need to develop an identity of the Island, a community`s and the organisation`s structure. These lacks lead to a marketing strategy that is not on point. Furthermore, it makes it difficult for newcomers at the Island to understand the organisation and eventually to become a part of it. In general, the marketing strategy needs to be stronger than it is now and more frequent communicated.

The Youth Island (2020, December 24). Ungdomsoen. [Photograph]. https://ungdomsoen.dk/


Ungdomsøen website: https://ungdomsoen.dk/english/

About the authors:

Marlene Schmidt Pedersen

Hi, I’m Marlene Schmidt Pedersen, and I’m 27-year-old.I have lived in Denmark my whole life and have been a student at the Technical University of Denmark for almost four years. I’m currently studying my Master of Design and Innovation, focusing on project management and sustainable solutions. Here both the technical and the human-centred mindset is in focus. I love to work creatively with problem solutions, and hopefully, I will be able to make a change for the future by attacking some of today’s issues.

Annika Nørgaard Karmann

Hi! I’m Annika, 27-years-old and half-dane, half-german, but I have mainly lived in Denmark most of my life. I recently graduated as a Design Engineer from the Technical University of Denmark, focusing on sustainability and systemic solutions. With an engineering skillset mixed with design, I love to work visually and design-oriented on complex problems to create tangible and sustainable solutions that interconnect in big systems.

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