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Sustainability the Copenhagen way: The ambitious overhaul of a former industrial harbor

, Cities
Author Lynsey Free

An incredible transformation is taking place at a former industrial harbor in the Danish capital which prioritizes public transport, pedestrians, and cyclists over motorists. It dreams of a vibrant community full of canals for kayakers and canoers. It’s sustainability, the Copenhagen way.

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Park’n’Play by JAJA Architects – a children’s playground and sports facilities on top of a parking complex. Photo: Mark Seryy

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The Silo by COBE – a former silo turned into an award-winning housing project. Photo: Mark Seryy

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Photo: Mark Seryy

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Bicycle parking located beneath a green hill in the courtyard. Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Social housing developments in Nordhavn. Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Public spaces of Nordhavn. Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Photo: Mark Seryy

The “Copenhagen way” is a term often used by Rita Justesen, the lead architect at city-council owned firm By & Havn. It essentially means creating a community where residents can live sustainably without having to try too hard. “We want to make an urban district where people want to go, want to live, and don’t want to leave...and we want to do it in a very holistic way,” she told Strelka Mag.

That idea is being realized at Nordhavn, at Copenhagen’s North Harbor, where the vision is to have an excellent transport system and public spaces that are so friendly for cyclists and pedestrians that using a car won’t be the easiest or most desirable option. “We call it the five minute city because each of these city quarters will have a metro station so you have only a short distance to the metro station from your home and workplace.”

That’s not to say you can’t use your car – but doing so probably won’t seem worth it. “You can go into a city quarter and then you can go out the same way. You can’t go from one city quarter to the next. It will only be for pedestrians and bicycles.”

Justesen spoke to Strelka Mag ahead of her lecture to 100 Russian architects and urban planners who are participants of the ARCHITECTS.RF professional development program, organized by Strelka Institute and DOM.RF (Russia Housing and Urban Development Corporation). The participants visited Copenhagen as part of their European field trip to explore the best urban design practices.

Rita Justesen gives a lecture to the participants of the ARCHITECTS.RF program. Photo: Mark Seryy

Although calling Nordhavn home can come at a significant expense, social housing does exist inside the community. In fact, the City of Copenhagen requires that at least 25 percent the homes are designated as such.

Some old buildings will stay, and new ones will be environmentally friendly; a mixture of residential, business, and cultural establishments. “To make a sustainable city for us, it is very important...that we have both privately owned and rented social housing; that we have apartments of different sizes for both families and single people.”

Nordhavn is surrounded by the open sea on three sides, and Justesen realizes the beauty in that. In addition to creating canals for both recreation and transportation, housing, cafes, shops, and promenades will line the water. Quay areas and coastlines will be accessible to the public.

“The urban spaces, nature and especially the water should invite experiences, enthusiasm and fulfilment for everyone,” Nordhavn states on its website.

The goal is for Nordhavn to be viewed not as a city district within Copenhagen, but as a city on its own, with all of the necessary amenities. But when it comes to shopping and dining, storefronts will be carefully considered and curated.

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Russian architects and urban planners tour Nordhavn. Photo: Mark Seryy

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Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Photo: Mark Seryy

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Photo: Timur Zolotoev

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Photo: Mark Seryy

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Photo: Mark Seryy

“We can decide which shops and cafes [are present], so we have the right mixture that we want in the area,” Justesen said. The businesses that do make the cut will benefit from lower rent, helping them get started and helping to make the area liveable from the start.

Viewing Nordhavn as its own city isn’t difficult to imagine, as Justesen expects 40,000 people to eventually call it home by 2060 – a huge uptick from the current 2,000 residents. And the goal is to get those people to stay.

“Sustainability is how to compose your city, how attractive it is – not only in the short term, but also 10, 20, 40 years from now; that people, when they move into an apartment, they end up living there and they say ‘this is my neighborhood and home, and I want to stay.’”

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