The Coolest Urban Design for Sustainability

I have learned about urban ecology and planning in several of my graduate courses, and one of the designs I came across specifically caught my attention.

It is an urban design concept entered into the Nordic Built Cities Challenge called “The Soul of Nørrebro”. The design is for Hans Tavsens Park and Korsgade in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A digital rendering of what the completed urban design will look like. (https://www.nordicinnovation.org/sites/default/files/inline-images/Soul%20of%20Norrebro_booklet.pdf)

Copenhagen is an urban neighborhood that experiences frequent flooding, so The Soul of Nørrebro project focuses on mitigating those impacts by establishing new ecosystems. At the same time, the project will provide new social spaces and enhance public interconnection.

The project will cost $19 million…which is definitely a lot of money. But, in comparison to other urban design projects like The BIG U in NYC, $19 million is NOTHING. (The BIG U project received $335 million.)

(http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/big-u)

With this $19 million, The Soul of Nørrebro aims to improve the local climate by providing a natural solution to the neighborhood’s frequent rains that lead to flooding. With climate change worsening, rainfall is only bound to increase in this area leading to even more flooding events.

Flooding will also affect many other urban areas in the future, so this design could set an example for hundreds of cities to combat climate change!

After the Soul of Nørrebro project is complete, the Hans Tavsens Park will act as a rainwater catchment basin that can contain up to 18,000 cubic meters of water with excess water being fed through channels into Peblinge Lake after it has been filtered through greenery along the way.

This project will also provide crossing stones along the water channels for pedestrians and community gardens along bicycle paths.

A digital rendering of The Soul of Nørrebro urban design. (https://www.nordicinnovation.org/sites/default/files/inline-images/Soul%20of%20Norrebro_booklet.pdf)

The Soul of Nørrebro is an excellent example of how the natural environment can be utilized to protect urban areas. It will provide beauty, it will provide protection, and it will provide physical and psychological benefits. And that is really the dream for any planner who creates an urban design like this!

As perfect as The Soul of Nørrebro design is, it simply cannot be adopted everywhere. For one, sometimes flooding is not the primary issue that needs to be addressed in urban designs. Sometimes it is equity concerns, access to green spaces, or natural disaster protection (i.e. hurricanes).

Other cities may not be able adopt this kind of design due to limitation of financial and temporal resources. Also, not all urban areas have access to the same amount of greenery.

I mean…look at Hans Tavsens Park today.

(https://www.nordicinnovation.org/sites/default/files/inline-images/Soul%20of%20Norrebro_booklet.pdf)

It is already so beautiful. It is already so green and lush with vegetation.

Most of the urban areas that need a makeover do not start off looking like Hans Tavsens Park — not even close. This is an advantage for the planners of The Soul of Nørrebro, and I am sure that it also contributed to the “low” price tag on the total design cost.

The Soul of Nørrebro is really the coolest urban plan I’ve seen so far.

It will provide a park that is absolutely beautiful, provide ecosystem services for the surrounding city (carbon sequestration, flooding prevention), provide habitat for more biodiversity, and provide a place to encourage even healthier lifestyles!

I am a research scientist and Sustainability Management graduate student at Columbia University. I love to share the sustainable practices that I learn about!

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