My Favourite Plan

Copenhagen ‘Finger Plan’

Peter Larkham
Copenhagen ‘Finger Plan’ (Fingerplanen) 1947 Regional Planning Office (1947, reprinted 1993) Skitseforslag til Egnsplan for Storkøbenhavn (Copenhagen: Regional Planning Office)



This ‘plan’ is both powerful image and visionary proposal. In recent decades, we have lost to a considerable extent the art of communicating the vision of planning and urban design to a broad public. This plan presents a very striking and simple image. That cover image alone is memorable (and fairly accurate): it is the equivalent of Frank Pick’s remarkably simple and effective London Underground schematic map. In the UK, during and immediately after the Second World War we produced dozens of ‘advisory’ or ‘outline’ plans, with numerous illustrations (maps, graphs, photographs, drawings, even paintings) but the specification for development plans following the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, soon pushed us to much more text-heavy plans. These may be full of evidence-based and relevant ideas, but they certainly don’t come across easily to the lay reader.

We might forget that not everyone has a well-developed spatial awareness (the rise in satnav use alone might tell us this!). Reading and interpreting maps and understanding scale, are learned skills not innate knowledge. Relating text to real places on the ground, and how they may change over time, is equally problematic. So a plan that manages to catch the public attention with simple graphics, and sticks in the collective memory for decades, is intrinsically likeable.

The outstretched fingers, interweaving settlement and open countryside, have formed an enduring and effective relationship between urban, peri-urban and rural. It has influenced many other places to think of features such as green wedges rather than green belts.


This plan has two lessons for us: first, of course, is to push us to communicate more clearly, and perhaps more simply, the complex messages that our professions produce from the mass of evidence that we collect and analyse. It suggests that effective graphics need not be data-rich and complex. In this light we might also reconsider our effective use of new technologies: we need to seize the opportunity afforded by high-tech graphics and communication media, but not to over-complicate our communication. After all, many of us are, if not technophobes, then at least not wholly comfortable with the latest gadgets.

A second lesson is the enduring power of a plan. The finger plan is still an essential part of the Copenhagen’s planning, being regularly reviewed and updated. We shouldn’t throw out one generation’s powerful ideas when the next generation changes the bathwater. A simple plan, effectively communicated, can be responsive to changing circumstances and needs. In this case we now have a sixth finger, with the development of Orestadt, and the Oresund bridge link to Sweden and Malmo in particular. The plan is accommodating new forms of growth, transit-oriented development, and other aspirations of sustainable development and urban form. Surely effective design and planning should aspire to this; nearly seven decades of influence must be cost-effective.

Information on the current draft revision is available at: fingerplanrevision-20162017

URBAN DESIGN 143 Summer 2017 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 143 Summer 2017

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Urban Design Group Article - Copenhagen ‘Finger Plan’  by Peter Larkham

Peter Larkham

Current position
Professor of Planning and Centre Lead, Resilient Environments Centre, Birmingham City University.

BA Geography, University of Manchester; PhD, University of Birmingham FRGS, FRHistS

History of planning, especially post- Second World War reconstruction; urban morphology; urban conservation

To make education relevant: so an ambition was realised when a former student visited after several years in practice and said ‘Now I realise why you made us do that!’ Now, can we make it even more interesting and memorable?