Climate change is happening faster than projected and this means that cities need to react sooner than anticipated. We’ve seen efforts in New York that will create barriers against rising sea levels and other cities have done similar infrastructure improvements. Copenhagen has taken the next logical step: converting an existing neighbourhood into one ready for climate change.
The redesigned chunk of the city use vegetation and reigned streetscapes for a future-proof city.
They went for the green option. “Adding sewers is insanely costly, so a green-and-blue [vegetation and water] approach is more economical,” notes Esben Alslund-Lanthén, an analyst at the Copenhagen-based sustainability think tank Sustainia. There was just one challenge: No city has ever tried climate-change-adapting a whole neighborhood using just plants and water. “It’s a huge amount of water that we’ll have to redirect when the next cloudburst hits,” says Flemming Rafn Thomsen of Tredje Natur, the Danish architecture firm chosen for the project. “We looked at St. Kjeld and thought, ‘That’s a lot of asphalt with no function. We can use some of that space for water.’” On top of having little function, the asphalt gave St. Kjeld, a somewhat rundown working-class neighborhood, an even more depressing feel.
The answer, Rafn Thomsen and the city decided, was to tear up the neighborhood’s squares and replace their asphalt covering with what’s essentially a hilly, grassy carpet interspersed with walking paths. Should a storm, flood or rising sea levels hit the Danish capital again, the bucolic mini-parks will turn into water basins, the hills essentially functioning as the sides of a bowl. Thanks to a new pipe system, the squares will even be able to collect water from surrounding buildings’ roofs. Surrounding streets will, for their part, be turned into “cloudburst boulevards.” Under ordinary circumstances, they’ll just be ordinary streets with raised sidewalks, but during floods and megastorms, they’ll become canals, channeling rainwater away from the squares to the harbor. Millions of gallons of water will be dispatched back to the harbor on such aboveground waterways, St. Kjeld becoming a temporary Venice.