Things I learned about urban planning in Copenhagen

During my exchange in Copenhagen I’ve noticed the different ways in which the city incorporates the sustainable aspects into their urban design, and here are some of my insights…

Soft City of Denmark by Gehl.

1. People have a high living quality.

The public spaces contain shops, exhibits, and entertainment, making the space between the buildings inviting and inhabited. Many of the streets are ‘complete streets’, meaning they are designed with equal access for pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and buses. Each mode of transit has its own distinct space that provides a safe area and sense of security. Residents make use of public spaces and seem to take pleasure in the design of their city.

The five finger system in Copenhagen.

2. The Municipality prioritise sustainability.

Sustainability is at the forefront of the city’s agenda thus many elements of sustainability are incorporated throughout the city. The majority of Copenhagen’s energy comes from renewable sources. The city also use waste incineration plants to convert the city’s trash into heat for district heating and electricity generation. The city also focuses on getting people out of their cars, and this effort has resulted in an extensive public transit system and cycling infrastructure. Since 1947 the city has been organised using a Five Finger System to condense development along transit lines. Currently, 35% of inhabitants get to work or school by bicycle because it is faster and easier than traveling by car or train sometimes. Another fun fact about Copenhagen is they refurbish many old industrial buildings to create architecturally interesting events, such as the defunct Absalon’s church being refurbished to a community house for multi-purpose and community events.

Folkehuset Absalon in the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen.

3. The city adapts between the present and the future.

The infrastructure and residents of Copenhagen cope with constant construction taking place throughout the city. However, unanticipated events have the potential to overwhelm the city. The city works hard to ensure construction does not impact the day-to-day routines of residents. Bike paths and pedestrian walkways are rerouted around construction using signs and temporary ramps. Buildings constructed in the city are designed with high quality materials and require little maintenance. One week before we arrived in Copenhagen, a cloud-burst dropped 6 inches of water in one hour on the city. The 100-year storm event inundated the city’s sewer system, flooding the city and cutting electricity and hot water delivery to tens of thousands of residents for days. This shows a lack of planning for infrequent disasters.

Climate Adaptation Project for Hans Tavsens Park and Korsgade by SLA.
Climate Adaptation Project for Hans Tavsens Park and Korsgade by SLA.

Copenhagen is a great example of designing a city to be liveable, sustainable, and resilient. The cities in the UK or Europe could realistically follow Copenhagen’s example by creating more complete streets, expanding renewable energy sources, and ensuring construction makes accommodations to maintain residents’ day-to-day routines.

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