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.