Building Liveability

Copenhagen’s sustainable urban development

Thanks to an innovative and ambitious revitalization scheme, the city has managed to reverse the dangerous trend where declining fiscal resources and high social and infrastructure maintenance expenditure can lead cities to bankruptcy.

The liveable city as conceived in Copenhagen is aligned with what is generally meant by resilience.

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Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Copenhagen’s transformation since the 1980s:

Unemployment having reached 17.5% back in the 1980s, the city was stuck within a vicious circle of deindustrialization, unemployment, high welfare costs, suburbanization, an outdated housing market, and strong segregation.

If we talk about today, Copenhagen has become one of the “best cities” to live in according to international rankings.

The key to transformation (2025):

These resilient changes that have been brought upon in the city can be categorized into the following subheadings that are outlined below as a comprehensive urban strategy that mixes economic dynamic, social inclusion, and environmental concerns coming together:

  • Scale (Human scale as proposed by Jan Gehl)
  • Architecture
  • Green public spaces
  • Efficient transportation system
  • Bicycles

Liveability: Heart of city’s urban planning

The aim of Copenhagen was to make the city liveable, so all aspects of citizens’ lives are taken into consideration in an inclusive strategy of urban planning. That includes jobs and affordable houses but also a green environment and citizens’ health and lifestyles.

Green infrastructure and climate strategy

Climate adaptation is an important pillar of the climate strategy of Copenhagen. The city pilots the redevelopment projects occurring in the city, and therefore has the capacity to impose green, forward-looking infrastructure.

One of the most striking examples of this is the integration in neighborhoods of green spaces that can retain water when rainfalls cause risks of flooding.

Taking the example of the neighborhood of Osterbro, a park was opened in 2015 that fights soil waterproofing and heat islands. When rainfalls are too heavy, the water is retained in parts of the park and then slowly redirected to the city’s water system and is also used in the summer to water the plants of the garden.

Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions:

The reduction of greenhouse emission gases is that of paramount importance in the cities’ planning strategies for which the city plans to be the first carbon-neutral city by 2025 and has dedicated $472 million through to 2025.

The city has already made significant progress, reducing CO2 emissions by 21% from 2005 to 2011, via an elaborate cycle track that has been established along with the lanes dedicated for automobiles.

Energy Reduction:

The video outlines that energy is one of the main areas of work to make the city carbon-neutral and in particular electricity generation and heating systems.

Three-quarters of the efforts planned to reach carbon neutrality by 2025 will target these two domains. Regarding energy generation, the objective is to move away from coal to wind turbines and biomass. Wind turbines supply one-third of the country’s electricity and the city plans to add above 100 turbines.

For the transportation sector, fostering cycling is a major element of the climate neutrality plan but public transportation is also involved. By 2025, 75% of all trips should be made by bike, foot, or public transit and all buses will be replaced by electric buses.

Lastly, private cars are targeted and already 85% of the city’s cars run on electricity and hydrogen.

Fostering social bonds and healthy behaviors:

In Copenhagen, the meaning of liveable cities goes beyond affordable housing, clean air, jobs, and transportation infrastructure. It also means creating physical spaces in the city where people can meet, gather, play, and engage as active citizens.

And even more so in cities, where social bonds tend to fade away.

Examples of certain parks are mentioned which see the division of spaces into three zones dedicated to sports, games, or outdoor activities and is a symbol of the “living together” approach.

Importance Of Mental Health:

Health is also a key determinant in any happiness index and a strong emphasis on the city of Copenhagen.

In this regard, the city made headlines in 2014 by spending over €800,000 in an investment in clinics to treat stress, anxiety, and depression.

On encouraging healthy behaviors, one of the most visible means of commuting is cycling. In Copenhagen, above 40% of all commutes are made by bike. This is unheard of in most other European capitals. People do it not because it is a healthy choice but because it is the easiest and most convenient choice.

This is the result of an urban transportation policy that systematically prioritizes bikes over cars. DKK 2.7 billion (€362 million) were invested on cycling and 375 km of cycle paths were built.

Challenges ahead

Even if Copenhagen has managed to turn around a declining situation into a thriving city, there are challenges that are faced by this ‘liveable’ city, as it grows.

The two main challenges that are identified are the housing market and the growing social needs of its population, which is a result of inhabitants that flock in the city. The housing market is under pressure and property prices are rising, which is being looked into by future government policies.

Cities all over the world can take a leaf out of the ‘resilient’ and dynamic economy that Copenhagen has built itself to be, purely based on the cooperation by the public and sensitive urban design policies. The inhabitants have been kept in mind, factors like ‘liveability’ and an ‘inclusive social fabric’ of the city being the pillars of their design philosophies.

In addition to these, with a view of the future, the city has conjured strategies that are both ‘future-proof’ and sustainable. An example of the same would be the newly built neighborhoods that intend to meet economic, social, and environmental objectives. This means that urban areas mix shops, working spaces, housing, and green areas, which reduces the exposure of each neighborhood and its inhabitants to localized shocks.


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