Ur­ban trans­for­ma­tion: shop­ping by kayak in Den­mark’s green­est neigh­bour­hoods

The Witness - - FEATURES -

KAYAK­ING along canals to pick up your gro­ceries, walk­ing a few min­utes to the metro sta­tion, or cy­cling down pedes­tri­anised streets to meet the neigh­bours: if you want to live in Copen­hagen’s North Har­bour, a car would be ob­so­lete.

That, at least, is the aim of ar­chi­tect Rita Juste­sen. Since 2007, she has been tasked with trans­form­ing the for­mer in­dus­trial har­bour in Den­mark’s cap­i­tal into a new neigh­bour­hood, and en­sur­ing its 3,5 mil­lion square me­tres of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial floor space is fi­nan­cially vi­able and cli­mate-smart. This means cars tucked away, in­con­ve­niently, in cen­tralised car parks to dis­cour­age driv­ing; more cy­cle paths; canals and har­bour pools clean enough to swim in; and the con­struc­tion of a well-con­nected metro sta­tion for its pro­jected 40 000 res­i­dents and 40 000 work­ers by 2060.

As na­tions race to reach am­bi­tious cli­mate goals to lower car­bon emis­sions, many cities have been look­ing to sus­tain­able ur­ban de­signs to help res­i­dents cut en­ergy use, boost so­cial well­be­ing and co­he­sion, and cope with ris­ing heat and flood­ing.

De­sign­ing spa­ces that ac­knowl­edge the im­pact of cli­mate change can help to change be­hav­iour and make it eas­ier for peo­ple to live greener lives, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the British Psy­cho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety.

“We said we would make a sus­tain­able city ‘the Copen­hagen way’. That means that to live sus­tain­ably, it has to be easy. So that means short dis­tances to the metro, shops and recre­ational func­tions,” Juste­sen, lead ar­chi­tect at city coun­cil-owned firm By & Havn, said.

“We also re­ally want to make an at­trac­tive dis­trict where peo­ple want to live and stay, which for us is also sus­tain­able in the long term,” said Juste­sen.

Around the world, cities use more than twothirds of the world’s en­ergy and ac­count for about three-quar­ters of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

With rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion, more than twothirds of peo­ple will live in cities by 2050, the UN projects. That is why cities are seen as key to meet­ing the com­mit­ment un­der the 2015 Paris Agree­ment of re­duc­ing emis­sions to keep the rise in global tem­per­a­tures to well below two de­grees Cel­sius above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els.

A 1,5-de­gree Cel­sius rise would give vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions a chance of sur­viv­ing cli­mate shocks like flood­ing, cy­clones, droughts and higher sea lev­els, ex­perts say.

World­wide, sea lev­els have risen 26 cen­time­tres since the late 19th cen­tury, driven up by melt­ing ice and a nat­u­ral ex­pan­sion of wa­ter in the oceans as they warm, United Na­tions data shows. A UN panel of cli­mate sci­en­tists said in 2014 that sea lev­els could rise by up to a me­tre by 2100.

Sur­rounded by open wa­ters and prone to heavy rain­fall, Copen­hagen faces the same risks as low-ly­ing, poorer cities. The sea level around the har­bour city is ex­pected to rise by up to one me­tre over the next cen­tury, ac­cord­ing to the Dan­ish Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute.

The Copen­hagen coun­cil has es­ti­mated that if there is no form of pro­tec­tion from flood­ing due to storm surges, the dam­age over the next cen­tury would cost up to 20 bil­lion Dan­ish krone ($3,14 bil­lion). By com­par­i­son, it would cost up to four bil­lion Dan­ish krone ($627 mil­lion) to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing.

Apart from fu­ture-proof­ing it­self from the sea-level rise and flood­ing — from green roofs and parks that ab­sorb rain­wa­ter, to large bar­ri­ers that can curb flood­ing — the city is also on a mis­sion to be­come the first cap­i­tal to cut cli­mate-chang­ing emis­sions by 2025.

“If we look at global de­vel­op­ment, we see an in­crease in pop­u­la­tions in cities, and it’s a re­ally huge num­ber. And if in­vest­ments are not cli­mate-friendly, then [cli­mate change] will be im­pos­si­ble to solve,” said Jor­gen Abildgaard, di­rec­tor of the city’s cli­mate pro­gramme.

Like Juste­sen, ar­chi­tect Peter Raaschou-Nielsen said cre­at­ing spa­ces that help peo­ple cope with cli­mate shocks has been at the core of all his de­signs at Dan­ish firm Gehl.

But fos­ter­ing so­cial co­he­sion and in­ter­ac­tions are also cru­cial for sus­tain­able cities of the fu­ture, he said. “The projects I’ve been work­ing on have had this fo­cus on the en­vi­ron­ment — so­cially, fi­nan­cially, well­be­ing, na­ture — to cre­ate bet­ter cities for the peo­ple liv­ing there and also to do some­thing pos­i­tive for the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Raaschou-Nielsen cited the pos­i­tive ef­fects of a 2012 re­de­vel­op­ment project he worked on in the flood-prone town of Kokkedal, 30 kilo­me­tres north of Copen­hagen. Al­though the run­down area had a rep­u­ta­tion for crime and gangs, it was re­vi­talised through fea­tures like bet­ter light­ing for im­proved safety, green spa­ces and com­mu­nity gar­dens. “It’s no longer a ghetto but it’s trans­formed into lively neigh­bour­hoods with a new iden­tity,” said Raaschou-Nielsen.

It’s great that you can have a so­lu­tion like that ... and at the same time you solve these cli­mate chal­lenges,” he said.

— Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.


A gen­eral view of the water­front in North Har­bour, Copen­hagen, Den­mark, a for­mer in­dus­trial har­bour that is be­ing re­de­vel­oped into a new neigh­bour­hood.

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