Copenhagen aims to be the first carbon-neutral world capital by 2025. Although we’ve all become used to Copenhagen’s ambitious leadership on sustainability, this goal could prove to change the way governments on both sides of the Atlantic address climate change.
It doesn’t take long to notice that Copenhagen has embraced the two-wheeled solution to sustainable urban mobility. Intersections during morning commutes often have more bicyclists than car drivers tapping their feet impatiently at red lights. And the infrastructure that has been put in place to encourage people to switch from cars to bikes signals that the city is investing in the continuation of this trend.
Copenhagen isn’t just reimagining the built environment to push its green agenda. The Danish capital is surrounded by water, and preservation of this natural resource is a top priority for any administration. At the beginning of the century, Copenhagen opened the first of four harbor baths in a downtown neighborhood, ensuring that the waterfront would not be lost to commercial developments. The relationship to water also gets quite personal in the capital city: average water consumption — of some of the purest water of any world capital — is 26 gallons per day, compared to the US average of 80-100 gallons.
But Copenhagen is more than contemporary swimming holes and bike lanes in the sky. It is, remember, a very culturally-minded capital.
In 2009, the city began an initiative called A Metropolis for People with three specific (and measurable) goals: get more urban, get people walking, and get people to spend more time in the city. In other words, it wasn’t enough to be the most liveable city. Copenhagen wants to also be a lively city.
The city began by eliminating fees that were standard for outdoor seating in cafés and staging public events. By 2013, 87% of residents were already noticing a change and expressed satisfaction with their ability to take part in urban life.
But in Copenhagen, the efforts to make the city more lively aren’t just top-down. As part of the “Sharing Copenhagen” campaign in 2014, an effort to involve children and youth in the green city transition was made by the Environmental School Service of the Municipality of Copenhagen. It set up two projects named Urban X and the Mobile School of Litter and Sustainability that generate opportunities for children to map the issues of their neighborhood and help them design their own neighborhoods. The involvement of young people – who are 20% of the population – was a definite factor in Copenhagen’s Green Capital Award in 2014.
And not to sound too morbid, but Copenhagen’s commitment to liveability doesn’t end at death. The city boasts more than a few cemeteries, but a walk through the Assistens Cemetery in Norrebro shows that Danes might just have a different relationship with the past. Instead of being exclusively used as a place of history and mourning, people of all ages can be seen relaxing (above ground), listening to music, and enjoying a picnic. On Easter, the cemetery is full of children hunting Easter Eggs. The Assistens Cemetery also hosts a section that is reserved for hosting homeless people.
Copenhagen’s efforts to make the city more accessible and inclusive by reimagining open spaces and improving mobility options will help the city achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. But perhaps most important, as we look for inspiration in building the post-carbon cities of tomorrow, Copenhagen shows us that sometimes the best way forward does not always require abandoning the past.