Cities for people

Half of the world’s inhabitants – 3.6 billion people – live in urban areas. Cities are the leading source of global economic growth, resource consumption and carbon gas emissions. Urban superpower in the 21st century is all about human capital. But how do cities attract the right people? Liveability is part of the answer.


Herbert Dreiseitl

Herbert Dreiseitl

Director, Liveable Cities Lab
T: +1 857 317 0644
Henrik R. Seiding

Henrik Seiding

Executive Director, Management Consulting
T: +45 5161 8255

February, 2014

Green parks, breathable air, a swim in the harbour and a safe and welcoming environment. Top that with clean drinking water and smooth connectivity and you are definitely on your way to a liveable city. Now all you need is some reliable governmental structures and, presto, you have the basis for creating liveability, for building cities whose dwellers are thriving and whose mayors have every reason to be proud.

According to McKinsey & Company, the global number of urbanites is the highest in history and growing fast. By 2030, 60% of the world population, almost five billion people, will be city dwellers.

This prognosis calls for urgent planning and design solutions to create cities that are liveable, today and for posterity. 

Change of perspective 

For decades renowned architect Jan Gehl has been a central figure in the drive to create vibrant, human scale public spaces in global cities like Copenhagen, New York and Melbourne. To him the answer is simple, though city leaders around the world may find it harder to grasp:

“Urban planning is all about the human dimension. Not cars, not industries or businesses. If people find a city worth living in, all else will follow,” he explains.

He has written several books on this topic, including the bestselling “Cities for People”, translated into no fewer than 21 languages – Kazakh being the latest. His book “How to Study Public Life” (2013) addresses the fact that people need public spaces to thrive in cities.

A quest for liveability

“At the heart of the best urban design is a deep understanding of how people live on that particular block, in that neighbourhood, in that city, in that specific region. Cities compete on liveability. Quality of life is a new differentiator. Years ago cities competed on car lanes. Now world city leaders are shifting their mind-set towards people,” Jan Gehl explains.

The Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen, is one of these leaders. As a member of the C40 network of large cities and leader of its Green Growth Network, Copenhagen is at the vanguard of sustainability, but Frank Jensen and his city are also questing for liveability:

“It makes me proud that Monocle, an international lifestyle magazine, has designated Copenhagen the most liveable city in the world, and that the European Union has named us European Green Capital 2014. This gives us an international platform from which to brand our green solutions, attract investments and increase prosperity and the quality of life in the capital,” Frank Jensen says.

He is well aware that holding onto this position takes an unclouded focus: “One of my top priorities is ensuring that Copenhagen stays a city for everybody. With this in mind we are working hard to create new jobs in the city, to increase liveability and to improve the everyday lives of Copenhagen families,” he explains.

A never-ending project

To achieve these goals, the City of Copenhagen is investing massively in improving schools, street safety and public transport, the latter by expanding the metro system and making better bicycle lanes. Green and clean are the catchwords, and the Lord Mayor wants Copenhageners and visitors to have the opportunity to swim in the harbour and enjoy a wealth of parks and recreational areas.

Copenhagen is not alone. Cities around the world are aspiring to enhance their liveability. To Herbert Dreiseitl, director of the Liveable Cities Lab at Ramboll, success in this endeavour requires a long, conscious effort. Since 1980 he has specialized in integrating art, urban hydrology, environmental engineering and landscape architecture in an urban context.

A platform for collaboration

The Liveable Cities Lab in Ramboll acts as a platform for research and cutting-edge knowledge building together with leading universities, research institutes, cities and private organisations, all of which are striving to find solutions within the liveable city agenda.

“After years of ideological discussions on sustainability, smart technology and resource management, we need a wider perspective to be more creative and holistic in urban planning. Topics like natural resources, connectivity, well-being or proactive policy development are essential conditions for ensuring liveability in cities and settlements, but they often require a change in mind-set,” he says, drawing on his own experience working with some of the world’s megacities – London, Berlin, Singapore and Beijing.

“Liveability varies depending on regional and cultural differences. We can’t formulate a uniform definition, but cities can nudge people to change their mind-sets and behaviour patterns. In Singapore, for instance, most men want a fast car if they can get it. This amounts to more pollution and most likely a lack of exercise. If people were culturally raised to think that success meant having time to bike to work every day a lot of urban challenges would be eliminated. City planners can be catalysts for such a mind-set shift through long-term visions and strategic planning,” he explains.

Integrated approach is key to success

A new Ramboll research study on sustainable society development shows that a holistic and integrated approach to economic, social, environmental and spatial developments is the key to ensuring the highest success.

An integrated approach Henrik Rosenberg Seiding, Group Director for Sustainable Society Development at Ramboll, explains:

“In our work with liveable cities development in areas as diverse as the Middle East, Europe and the Arctic, we have identified five driving forces of modern society development: social coherence, economic growth, environmental sustainability and good governance. Through our research study we have established an analytical framework that has shown its relevance throughout the world when we give strategic advice to city planners and executives. Whatever the size and geography of the city, the fundamental dynamics are universal. The difficult task is to integrate universal dilemmas and local solutions while respecting culture, tradition and endowments.”

The defining driving forces

Successful urban development occurs when the five driving forces reinforce each other and allow people and society to develop prosperously. Ultimately, however, the goal is singular:

“In all its complexity city development is about people. Human capital is, after all, a city’s main asset,” he says.

More on liveable cities

See the new international magazine Response

Why is Copenhagen nominated as European Green Capital 2014? See the answers in a short film from the conference "Sharing urban learnings" hosted by Ramboll

Sustainable Society e-book: 3 steps for resilient cities.

We deliver the full range of transformational city services, and in this e-book we bring you knowledge about stakeholder involvement and socio-economy in particular.

Click here to download the e-book: 3 steps for resilient cities


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