Integrating Resilience and Happiness – Part II

By: John Hicks

[In Part I of this two-part series, published on November 5th, John Hicks discussed Copenhagen’s holistic approach to climate change adaptation that not only protects the city from impacts of climate change but simultaneously enhances the quality of life for its citizens. In this final installment, John introduces some of Copenhagen’s world-renowned climate resilience projects, including innovative greenspace and a commitment to cycling as sustainable urban transportation.]

One of Copenhagen’s world-renowned climate-resilient projects is TåsingePlads, a small urban greenspace in the Østerbro neighborhood. For Danes, urban resilience is the ability of an urban ecosystem, including its social and ecological components, to adapt to change in the event of a disturbance (Meerow, 2016). The park was transformed from a paved parking lot into a vibrant space that can manage large volumes of stormwater while being a focal point for residents to interact with each other. Cobblestone pedestrian and bicycle paths are surrounded by a “Danish rainforest” that can delay and percolate stormwater from a surrounding area of 4,300 square meters (Klimakvartar, n.d.).

The landscape changes how people interact with water and the surrounding environment. Large black structures resembling upside-down umbrellas collect rainwater during storms and pump water up through the top of the structure (Cathcart-Keays, 2016). Furthermore, the city actively engaged residents throughout the process to ensure a sense of ownership and community in the park. More than 10,000 artists, planners, architects, and residents participated in visioning workshops in the early stages of the project in 2012 (Granskog, 2014). Community members can bring their kids, enjoy a coffee on one of the many benches, or play on a wooden “wave” structure (Klimakvartar, n.d.). TasingePlads exemplifies Copenhagen’s holistic approach to climate change adaptation. The space has been transformed, so the daily rhythm of city life and ecological systems are working in sync to create more resilient and livable communities.

People-Centered Greenspace

Copenhagen’s holistic approach to greenspaces puts people at the center of the projects. The projects spur local involvement and ownership and improve quality of life for Copenhageners who can interact with a park that is also serving a vital ecological role. This interplay between humans and the ecological environment in a city is much more valuable than simply expanding underground stormwater pipes. When it’s not raining, the spaces continue to have an important role in community identity. Rene Sommer Lindsay summed up the city’s approach, saying “instead of just having a big concrete hole, we made it into something that has real recreational value. Water isn’t something we need to shield ourselves from”(Cathcart-Keays, 2016).

Enghaveparken is another example of an urban park serving dual purposes. The park has been the foundation of the Vesterbo neighborhood since the early 20th century but is currently closed for the summer for renovations. Renovations include basic visitor experience enhancements like lighting and recreational facilities. Large spaces for soccer or street hockey will be excavated and lowered into the park and be surrounded by several tiers of community gardens and seating for visitors (TredjeNatue, n.d.).

When it is not raining, the park will remain fully functional and when it rains the sports fields are designed to act as retention ponds. By storing water during heavy rainfall events, the retention ponds can relieve pressure on the city’s underground sewer system and avoid system back-ups. Copenhagen’s simultaneous green infrastructure projects and park renovations illustrate a holistic approach to urban sustainability in the 21st century. The city’s urban parks provide important environmental benefits like temporarily storing rainwater, providing shade for reducing the urban heat island effect, reducing air and noise pollution, and improving local biodiversity.

The innovations provide social benefits as places where people can recreate and socialize to maintain that quintessential happy Danish lifestyle. Projects like Enghaveparken and TåsingePlads are low-cost alternatives to massive overhauls of underground sewer systems and will reduce the cost of damage caused by future flooding (C40, n.d.). Copenhagen’s approach demonstrates fundamental principles of urban ecology where the built environment, nature, and humans interact in cities. Cities can learn from Copenhagen where climate change adaptation is economical, environmentally responsible, and creates a sense of community all while protecting the city from the unknowns of climate change impacts.

Sustainable Cycling

Copenhagen’s approach to climate change adaptation demonstrates that sustainability expands well beyond the obvious environmental benefits – it is more economical, healthier, and boosts the quality of life. Copenhagen is most well-known for its bicycle infrastructure on which over 40 percent of Copenhageners commute by bike each day. Cycling is engrained in Danish culture and lifestyles. Copenhagen does have a public bikeshare system (Bicyklen), but over 90 percent of Danes own a private bicycle (City of Copenhagen, 2016).

The environmental benefits of shifting commuters away from single-occupancy vehicle trips to transit, bicycling and shared modes are well-documented, but Copenhagen takes it a step further. The city takes a holistic view of promoting cycling for its economic and social benefits. For example, the city saves about seven cents for every kilometer traveled by bike due to less congestion and wear and tear on road infrastructure, adding up to about $34 million per year (Green Growth Leaders, 2011).

Furthermore, Copenhagen has shown that frequent cyclists have higher life expectancies and fewer health complications and sick days, translating into $380 million saved per year on medical expenses (Green Growth Leaders, 2011). Bicycles are a hallmark of the Danish culture and represent the very best of the Danish lifestyle of sustainability. Almost everyone in Denmark can afford a car, but they often choose to ride their bikes as efficient, economical, non-polluting modes of transport that show no conspicuous consumption, but help keep the rider and his or her city healthy (Weir, 2007).

An Integrated Approach

For Copenhagen, it is not just about urban greenspaces and bicycles; it is part of an integrated, holistic, systems-thinking perspective on the social and ecological interactions in a city. Denmark has applied this social-ecological perspective to implement climate change adaptation efforts that reduce vulnerability to climate change-induced torrential rainfall events.

When the spaces are not protecting the city from catastrophic flooding, they blend in seamlessly with the existing urban fabric. The multi-purpose areas play vital roles in building community ownership and a sense of place. Furthermore, Copenhagen’s famous bicycling infrastructure is just one piece of a larger sustainability vision. Bicycles are simply a means to an end to building a people-focused city that works for everyone.

It is clear that promoting cycling will decrease emissions and traffic congestion, but Copenhagen has embraced the social, economic, and health benefits of cycling. Copenhagen promotes cycling and development of public greenspaces for healthier, more active, and happier citizens. Cities can learn from Copenhagen’s approach to climate change adaptation or sustainable transportation initiative by taking an integrated approach that addresses all aspects of sustainability. Maybe then cities can start challenging Copenhagen for the top spot in the happiest country in the world surveys._____________________________

John Hicks is a graduate student in Master of Urban & Regional Planning program. His report on Copenhagen’s response to climate change was an assignment for a course taught by Dr. David Robertson for the Online Master of Natural Resources program (Online MNR).

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the following photographers for sharing their work through the Creative Commons License: Stig Nygaard, Thomas Angermann, , Kristoffer Trolle, and Sigfrid Lundberg.

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