September 29, 2022

In good company: How New York City and Copenhagen deliver climate adaption — together

Few cities are capable of fighting climate change. NYC and Copenhagen offer unique examples that work in their own ways.

Not all cities have an equal capacity to adapt to climate change. Often, cities with the least capacity are hit hardest by climate impacts like flooding. This leaves governments and businesses across the globe asking, how do we best adapt our communities for changing climates?
In September, the International Water Association’s World Water Congress & Exhibition gathered industry experts together in Copenhagen, Denmark to answer this question.
As part of the weeklong event, the largest of its kind to date, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) and Ramboll Water took a knowledge exchange tour of the Danish capital, sharing experience related to climate adaption.
“We have a fairly robust interagency approach to climate adaptation in New York,” says managing director of integrated water management at NYC DEP, Alan Cohn.
“What inspired me most this visit was Copenhagen’s climate adaption efforts integrated with urban renewal work. This includes pooling different types of expertise and resources to revitalise open space in communities, while incorporating cloudburst management in the process.”
Partnering up to take on the climate challenge
Extreme rainfall events have caused both Copenhagen and New York City to flood and overwhelm their drainage systems, resulting in significant economic consequences for repair and clean-up. Hurricane Sandy’s devastating effects on New York City alone is enough evidence for NYC communities to realise they face more extremes of weather in the future.
Ramboll has helped the city create the NYC Cloudburst Resiliency Planning Study which formalises a planning approach to integrate green infrastructure for extreme stormwater management into the urban planning practices. The study analyses best-available data related to NYC rainfall and storm surges, recommends methodologies for resiliency planning initiatives, and identifies best practices for future climate change studies. The company also plays a major role in implementing nature-based solutions in both cities, while also enhancing quality of life and protecting ecosystems.
"Developing the capacity of individuals and organisations is invaluable in helping cities around the world adapt to climate change and improve community resilience and liveability,” said Lykke Leonardsen, head programme manager for the City of Copenhagen’s Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions. “As the world witnesses increased extreme weather event occurrences, providing relevant and timely information is essential for implementing measures to adapt to climate change.”
Some differences don’t matter when it comes to climate adaption
Cities have much to learn from one another, even if they are very different from one another. Copenhagen looks to New York City to see how they address storm surges and extreme heat. New York City looks to Copenhagen to see how they address extreme rainfall and learn from their decades of planning and design processes.
It is not always availability of cutting-edge infrastructure designs and alternative resources slowing down climate adaption efforts around the world. Cities and their various stakeholder groups also need to learn how to create and implement integrated, inter-agency planning processes and city-wide climate approaches.
“Knowledge exchange across city and national borders is imperative, even if we have different systems,” says Christian Nyerup Nielsen, global division director for Ramboll. For instance,
“Danes are used to relying on the government to provide and maintain community building initiatives, whereas in the United States, the community members do it themselves. ”
By learning the how and why of our systemic differences, we can empower each other to provide the best possible outcomes for our respective communities’ development and climate adaption approaches.
At heart, the New York City-Copenhagen partnership is an example of how cities have the potential to build resilient futures together.
“By sharing both successes and failures, we not only improve overall climate solutions, but we can all speed up our actions within climate change mitigation and adaption,” says Trine Stausgaard Munk, Global Urbanism Manager at Henning Larsen. “We hope to assist New York and other cities around the world to break down their urban planning silos and address climate change through inclusive and integrated planning and design processes, with city officials, other professional stakeholders, and with the communities themselves.”
Exploring examples of community climate adaption
One stop on the knowledge exchange tour was Remiseparken, a recently transformed area that integrates climate adaptation design elements, lush nature, and outdoor activities into the community.
The 35,000 square meter area was a rundown, overlooked urban space people didn’t know about or would avoid. Now, the award-winning park developed in collaboration between BOGL and Ramboll, is a recreational and climate-adapted social gathering oasis for the Copenhagen community. The NYC DEP visitors were delighted to see people of all ages getting to know each other, playing, skating, and enjoying nature-filled spaces.
"This a very special project to share with NYC DEP and other cities of the world because of its climate adaption capacities to handle cloud bursts, but also because it tactfully allows for different people to do different activities without disrupting each other. Some park visitors can experience peace and nature, while others can enjoy a new skatepark,” say Ulrik Lassen, an Urban Water Management and Planning Engineer at Ramboll, who managed the Remiseparken project.
Remiseparken climate adaption elements
  • A natural-appearing retention basin to support biodiversity and collect excess water during cloudbursts
  • A 2,000 cubic metre capacity trench running the length of the park with an elevated walking path for visitors
  • Part of the Copenhagen Cloudburst Masterplan
To contact the writer of this article, please email Mercedes Beaudoin, Senior Copywriter at Ramboll