Boston Climate Bridge travels to Copenhagen

A delegation of 20 professional women from Boston traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark last week. The trip participants, specialists in development, policy, planning, architecture, engineering, construction, energy, housing, transportation, education, finance and law set for an inspirational journey to learn from the City of Copenhagen about their efforts in becoming more resilient, sustainable and in reducing their carbon footprint. Our goal is to increase the knowledge exchange between the two Cities.

Why Copenhagen?
Copenhagen has a quite a few similarities to Boston: Both cities are located on the seashore, are known for their superb architecture and great seafood among many other things and are experiencing tremendous growth rates: Boston with a population of about 667,000 is in the process of designing 53,000 new units by 2030; Copenhagen with a population of about 600,000 is expected to grow by 100,000 until the year 2027.

While Copenhagen has undertaken measures to increase sustainability after the oil crisis in the 1970's it only recently started looking at (the risks from) water in a more holistic way. In July 2011, Copenhagen experienced a super intense rainstorm, a so-called cloudburst which flooded large areas of the City. The cloudburst produced heavy rainfalls in a short amount of time comparable to a 1,000 year storm event: 135 mm were recorded in 2 hours at the Botanical Garden’s meteorological station. The water flooded basements, shops and restaurants below street level; Copenhagen’s infrastructure was disrupted severely as major roads and subway stations were closed for up to three days, and several 10,000 homes lacked electricity and heat for several hours and up to one week. Another cloudburst followed in August 2014. More frequent and high intense cloudbursts are to be expected as a result of climate change.

Boston just recently received a wake-up call from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The City was missed by the storm surges following the hurricane by just 6 hours - at high tide the storm surge would have resulted in substantial flooding of Boston’s low-laying areas which make up most of the City.

Mission of our Tour
Copenhagen is planning to be carbon neutral by 2025. In order to achieve this goal, the City has developed a comprehensive climate action plan which shows how the push forward can be done. The use of renewable energies, district heating systems, and energy efficiency measures are some implementations. Moreover, the City has done a great job listening to its resident’s needs for transportation and has developed very attractive solutions for biking, walking and public transportation that attracts people to enjoy outside life in the parks and on the streets.

Our group Boston Climate Bridge wanted to find out more about Copenhagen’s successful recipes for achieving their goals. On June 19th we set off for a fun and fact-filled 5-day tour and met with Copenhagen’s City Officials, Think Tanks, developers and various engineering and architectural companies to discuss successful strategies for integrating climate change adaptation and sustainability measures into architectural design, urban and transportation planning.

What we learned
We learned many things about Copenhagen, the Danish culture and particular measures. However, what was most striking is the Dane’s commitment to dialogue and community engagement in the projects. The Danes strongly believe that Cities are built for the people and as such comprehensive solutions that result in overall improvements for the residents and the environment are brought forward.

The example of Sankt Kjelds demonstrates comprehensive resilient thinking
“The common” or the main public space plays a key role in each neighborhood. Tasinge Plads is located in the densely settled Sankt Kjelds neighborhood of Osterbro and has just become the first climate resilient neighborhood of Copenhagen. 220 apartments, among them many single family units are located across sixteen five-story buildings facing the Tasinge place. Until recently, Tasinge Place did not feature many gathering places or outside recreation areas or parks. The 2011 cloudburst flooded the sealed surface area extensively. What followed was the development of a master plan to implement climate adaptation strategies in the Sankt Kjelds neighborhood. Three design strategies have been important: more climate adaptation, better community and optimized energy consumption. From the very beginning, the community has been integrated into the design process. Today, Tasinge Plads features a community park with underground water storage that functions as retention basin and a roof-top garden which offers farm shares. Plumbing in the units has been redesigned for use of rain water in toilets and washing machines. Green facades with better insulation are currently being designed.

Sankt Kjelds was one of many great success stories we experienced. Copenhagen has a lot of construction underway to meet its climate action and growth goals. The City also builds a new ring public transportation system. Other projects we saw included energy retrofitted houses, Passivhauses and renewable energy projects such as offshore wind, solar, district heating and combined heating systems. Some members of our group also ventured out on a bike tour and experienced great bike routes and fresh air first hand. Their love for the outdoors, care for the community and active lifestyle may explain why the Danes are among the happiest people in the world. The success of their projects however can be partly attributed to the good civic engagement and the idea of putting people first in planning.

Isabel Kaubisch of Clarendon Hill Consulting helped co-organize and plan the trip to Copenhagen. Clarendon Hill Consulting works with several towns in New England on resourceful solutions that increase sustainability, connectivity, resiliency, and livability.

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