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.

Green visions in oil-rich Abu Dhabi

URBAN PLANNING. While the world’s attention has been focused on Dubai and its record-setting skyscrapers and other megalomaniac real estate ventures, with a subsequent financial crisis, the really interesting story is going on in neighbouring Abu Dhabi.
In the largest and richest of the United Arab Emirates, rulers have decided to invest their oil-money in sustainable urban development for the future.
“They’re doing 50 years of city-building in 5 years. It’s on the scale of what Napoleon III did for Paris or Catherine for St. Petersburg”, says one of the many foreign urban planners now working in Abu Dhabi in an interesting story in New Urban News.
Abu Dhabi’s forward-looking focus is not on spectacular skyscrapers, but rather on bringing together world-wide knowledge on modern urban planning with a focus on sustainable development on a human scale.
Plans for new freeways have been cancelled, putting an end a highway-fixated planning that was brought to Abu Dhabi by foreigners in the 70’s. Now a totally new transportation system with focus on streetcars, subways and other rail-traffic is being planned.
A new Capital district with old-fashioned boulevards and walkable streets will be built, as the emirate prepares to grow from the present population of 1.6 million to perhaps 3 million in the future.
In its Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 the future is outlined by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
And there are more things going on in this oil-rich emirate, where wealth has brought a car-dominated, air-conditioned lifestyle that hardly can be called eco-friendly today. But with futuristic city-building, Abu Dhabi rulers want to change that image.
In the desert sands, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company is building Masdar, a research facility and city that will completely run on renewable energy with the aim to be the world’s first zero-carbon and zero-waste city.
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology plans to bring together top scientists from around the world in fields like energy security, climate change and sustainable human development to bring “solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues”.
When the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Danish capital Copenhagen last year ran the hailed exhibition “Green Architecture for the Future”, the master plan for Masdar by Foster + Partners (right) was one of the main attractions.
There are of course sceptics and only the future can tell if Masdar will reach its ambitious goals.
But the green visions of Abu Dhabi bear more promise than the flamboyant architectural exhibits of Dubai.

Shiekh Zayed Mosque, a landmark in Abu Dhabi.

Student dorm is "building ot the decade"

COPENHAGEN. When Karsten Ifversen, the architecture editor of influential Danish daily Politiken, recently summed up what had been an exciting decade for architecture in Copenhagen, he chose a student dormitory as the “building of the decade”.
The Tietgenkollegiet (Tietgen Student Hall) from 2006 in new development Ørestad North is an unusual, circular building inspired by the traditional tulou homes of the Hakka people in Southern China.
The seven-stories building houses 400 students of the Copenhagen University. The ground floor has common facilities. Five vertical lines divide the building into sections and also provide access to the central court yard.
The building has been hailed for its social functionality. It brought Lene Tranberg to fame as one Denmark’s young, new architectural stars. Tranberg also worked on the celebrated new Royal Danish Playhouse.

Tietgenkollegiet, an architectural highlight in Copenhagen.