Monday, February 01, 2010

Welcome to the "five-minute city"

COPENHAGEN/BRANDING A CITY. Sometime in the not too distant future, Copenhagen hopes to show the world what intelligent urban life should look like.
The place is called Nordhavnen (“Northern Harbour”), a gigantic up-coming development that not only aims to be climate-smart but also an example of modern city-building with “social sustainability”.
In other words, a diverse neighbourhood that welcomes not only the well-to-do.
“This is something we have struggled for. We want this to be a place that is socially diverse. We have said that there must be many different developers who build different kinds of residences”, says young architect Søren Leth (left), whose firm SLETH was one of the co-winners behind the masterplan for Nordhavnen.
This will in many ways be an ambitious project where the City of Copenhagen will try to correct the mistakes that were made in building Ørestad, the Danish capital’s showcase development of the past decade. In Ørestad, focus was on the architecture of individual buildings (with several exceptional results), but the overall urban environment is seen as a failure by many.
In Nordhavnen, a long term development that might go on until 2040-2050 depending on the growth of Copenhagen, the priorities will be the reverse.
“We have plenty of time to make sure that we don’t make the same mistake here. Because of the slump in the economy the developers aren’t exactly standing in line to start building”, says Claus Billehøj, who represents CPH City & Port Development, a joint operation by the City of Copenhagen and the Danish government.
In fact, there are residents in Copenhagen who questions the city’s ambitions with Nordhavnen. The new development is planned to have up to 40,000 residents when completed, and be the workplace for another 40,000.
With the intense construction in the Danish capital during the past ten years, and with a real estate market that has more or less collapsed during the recession, there are now reported to be 18,000 empty apartments in Copenhagen.
But planners and local authorities are convinced that the fast growth of Copenhagen will continue. The present population of 527,000 is projected to reach 578,000 by 2024, and the need for new homes will follow the same pattern.
“These residences will surely be needed”, says Claus Billehøj (right) of Nordhavnen, four kilometres from the city center.
The plans for urban development in Copenhagen follow a trend seen in many cities around the world. Derelict harbour and industrial sites no longer needed for their original use are turned into dense new urban areas, often near the old city centers and public transportation. With climate change an ever-present concern, this makes much more sense then to build car-dependent suburbs far from city-centers.
In the planning of Nordhavnen, Copenhagen has kept an eye on German neighbour Hamburg to the south where the biggest urban development in Europe is in full progress. Hamburg is greatly expanding its city center with the new HafenCity (“Harbour City”) on the banks of river Elbe.
We will have reports from HafenCity in the weeks to come.
With Nordhavnen, Copenhagen continues its ambition to be both green (climate-friendly sustainability) and blue (reconnect with the water). With a combination of renewable energy and a low consumption of energy and resources, there are even hopes that Nordhavnen could become a CO2-negative district.
“With Nordhavnen we want to set a whole new standard for sustainability in a city district”, says Claus Billehøj.
I met him and architect Søren Leth on a boat excursion to Nordhavnen, part of the ambitions to involve residents in the discussion and planning of the development. There were lots of questions from the 50 or so Copenhageners on the boat, as we toured the waterways of the harbour and later viewed it all from the top of an old silo (left).
Søren Leth explained how this will be the “five-minute city”, where public transportation will never be further away than a short walk.
Emphasis will be put on easy access to public transportation and biking, already a Copenhagen speciality. Leth talks of future “super bike-roads” or “bicycle highways”.
“Cars have the lowest priority in our plan”, says Leth.
At 34, he will have the opportunity to see Nordhavnen develop during the rest of his professional life. But he doesn’t expect to be involved all the way.
Local planning continues during 2010 for a possible start of construction about a year from now.

This is the fourth and final report in this series on Copenhagen’s ambitions to be an international role model when it comes to modern urban development. But there will be more from Copenhagen later on in this blog.

Copyright: CPH City & Port Development/COBE
City on the water; what Nordhavnen may look like.

Copyright: CPH City & Port Development/COBE
Riding your bike on a "bicycle highway".

Copyright: CPH City & Port Development/COBE
Life near the water in the future Nordhavnen.

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