Ole Christensen: It is so important to listen to locals and involve them in decision-making

Ole Christensen: It is so important to listen to locals and involve them in decision-making

An interview with the Mayor of Furesø, Denmark

Ole Bondo Christensen was born in 1957 and raised in a small village in Central Jutland. Throughout his life, he has worked in various industries, taking on numerous different roles all over Denmark; that is, Christensen has been a road worker, cleaner, carer, and teacher, among others.

Following these roles, he worked in the Ministry of Employment for over 25 years. During that time, Christensen also helped create the Green Council in Farum. Now, and since 2010, he has been the Mayor of the Danish Municipality of Furesø.

Mr Mayor, can you please briefly describe the Municipality of Furesø?

Furesø is located in the northern Sealand 20 km north of Copenhagen, surrounded by nature. We have three lakes and large areas of forest. Only about a third of the municipality is urban. The area has been inhabited for 6,000 years. We have traces of descendants from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Viking Age.

The municipality has a lot to offer whether you live or work here. Furesø is situated in the midst of picturesque scenery: green forests, blue lakes, a local beach, splendid architecture and good transportation connections.

The municipality is named after the largest lake Furesø, the deepest lake in Denmark. Furesøen is surrounded by forest and has Furesøbad, a beach and harbour open to the public throughout the year. There are sports clubs and a restaurant at the bank.

The view from Furesøbad is outstanding. It looks fantastic in all sorts of weather. Visitors bring their picnic baskets or use one of the barbeques.

Furesø’s 41,100 inhabitants live in a green municipality close to the capital city. Our municipality has a nearby motor highway, excellent public transport links and cycling highways to Copenhagen.

Furesø’s residents enjoy the best of both worlds: the beautiful quiet countryside and Copenhagen’s vibrant city life. Furesø Municipality is home to a wide variety of art galleries and museums, two culture centres, three libraries, and more than 300 voluntary associations.

It is also home to a range of the best sports clubs in the country and the training ground of upcoming talents. The local football team FC Nordsjælland has won the national league, and their former coach is now the head coach for the Danish National football team and responsible for the recent success at the European Championships.

The local sports clubs present champions in swimming, badminton, basketball, skiing, rowing, and cycling, to mention a few. Former world tennis star Caroline Wozniacki has trained in Farum Tennisklub in Furesø.

Our kindergartens, schools, after-school centres, clubs, and youth clubs provide an excellent setting for our children, and we focus every day on providing children and young adults with an excellent environment to play and learn in.

You have been the Mayor of Furesø since 2010. How has the municipality changed since you assumed office?

I have been Mayor of Furesø since 2010. The municipality was formed in 2007 from the former Farum and Værløse Municipality. Farum had a mayor who spent too much money and Furesø inherited a 3 billion Danish kroner debt from its birth. The most important task for me as a mayor has been to create a Furesø identity and to get control over the economy. So far, both goals have been achieved.

It has also been important for me to involve locals in the decision-making process. During the time I have been in office, we have developed a saying in Furesø that goes like this: “Join us and participate”. This means that the municipality is for everyone, and everyone should participate.

We have processes where people or groups are involved in advisory boards or involved in projects where we help locals get started with an idea and then local fiery souls take over and run it. We have developed a “Furesø model of involvement” and trained our local departments in involving civil society in the decision-making process.

What does your administration do to preserve and promote biodiversity in Furesø, a municipality that is surrounded by nature and greenery?

Nature is very important for the people of Furesø, and the city council is very aware of biodiversity. We have several rare species and protected nature. We have not used pesticides for 20 years, and we are mowing only once a year in order to provide space for wild nature. In other areas, cows are conserving nature by grazing large areas.

We work very closely with local nature groups because we reach better results by working together. During the spring of 2021, some fiery souls have created a wild nature ambassador corps in our municipality with help from us – to mention an example. Now, people can help each other and inspire each other to have more wild nature in their gardens.  

How has the outbreak of the pandemic impacted life in your city?

The pandemic has had a huge impact on Furesø. All schools have been closed for periods of time, teachers have taught from home, nursing homes have been closed for relatives, and our local business was struggling because of closed shops and restaurants.

Luckily, the people of Furesø have followed national guidelines very well regarding washing hands, keeping distances and seeing fewer people than usual. And now, almost every Furesø resident says yes to the vaccination invitation. This means that Furesø has not been hit by several lockdown periods like other municipalities.

What measures have been taken to ensure the post-COVID recovery of Furesø’s businesses and communities?

From the very beginning of the pandemic, we formed a special team that could help our local business with understanding national restrictions and helped them gain access to national funding. Together with the local trading organisations, we also created “Furesø helps Furesø”.

Here, local businesses helped each other for free. Together with the actions of the people, this has led to few serious lockdowns, which has helped the local business and community.

We have close cooperation with our local employment agency and businesses. Our local businesses now hire lots of residents again, and unemployed people have also been hired as health workers and cleaning workers in kindergartens, schools, nursing homes and other public buildings. All this means that businesses are doing okay again, and the unemployment rate is low again.

Local sports clubs and association life has also been struggling. We have helped them as much as we could. I really hope this pandemic will end soon so our life will go back to normal.

Finally, what achievements, projects, or advice would you like to share with other European leaders on our platform?

Our saying in Furesø is “Join us and participate!” We work together with our inhabitants. We have a “Furesø model of involvement”, meaning citizens have voices in many areas of local life. It is so important that you listen to the locals and involve them in the decision-making process.

We also have a close relationship with our local business. We help each other when we can. We helped businesses during the pandemic, and they work closely together with our employment agency giving jobs to citizens – including people who need extra help in order to succeed in the labour market.

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