How Copenhagen was designed…

…as one of the most eco-friendly cities through urban design.

One of the most “liveable” cities in the world, the Copenhagen we know today could very easily have become another concrete tangle of skyscrapers and roadways. At a time when urban planning was taking on a “modern design,” which was mainly centered around bringing more vehicles into cities, Copenhagen city developers in the 1960’s were eagerly following suit. Plans at the time included the construction of a 12-lane highway that would pave over the city’s natural lakes and high-rise developments that would tear down entire neighborhoods.

So what changed? A number of factors played a role in shifting the direction of Copenhagen’s urban development, one of which is the fact that the city was quite poor in the decades following the Second World War. Large infrastructures require equally large budgets, and the city simply did not have the funding to support such grand-scale endeavors, so development was moving at a snail’s pace.

A second factor is the voice of the citizens. After the completion of the Bispeengbuen expressway, which runs directly through several northern neighborhoods, the people began to realize the impact these plans would have on their daily lives.

“That was a real eye-opener. People could see that this would change Copenhagen.”

Søren Elle, planner for the city’s transportation department

Thus, protests ensued. Demonstrators began putting out floats in the lakes and weather balloons in the sky to offer visual representations of how far the new structures would encroach on the land and skyscapes of the city.

“A discussion was beginning about the virtues of having a city for people.”

Jan Gehl, leader of the liveable cities movement

Resourceful and responsive, Copenhagen’s urban designers answered the financial and social outcries of the city. When traffic congestion became unmanageable in the city center, a ban on cars was implemented as both a social and sustainable solution.

Although famous for its “bikeability,” Copenhagen isn’t a city designed for bicycles. It’s a city designed for its people.

By improving the city’s walkability, the economy is boosted by making it more convenient for people to walk from store to store. The need for infrastructure in terms of parking and traffic is decreased, and people can enjoy both the health and aesthetic benefits of beautiful pedestrian streets.

Copenhagen has even revolutionized the urban green space by implementing small, intimate spaces, which promote social gatherings and are used more frequently than large parks.

Design Matters

Copenhagen is world-renowned for its sustainability and people-centered design. Every year, the city’s innovations in urban design earn its ranking as one of the best places in the world to live.

“The city plans to be carbon neutral by 2025 through the implementation of wind, power, biomass fuel, waste incineration, and other alternative energies.”

Courtney Stanley of Culture Trip

It is an example for urban designers around the world. New York City even hired Copenhagen urban designer Jan Gehl to help “Copenhagenize” the Big Apple, or make it more bike-friendly.
Today’s urban designers create a harmonious relationship amongst the people, infrastructure, and natural resources, while maintaining a movement toward a progressive future.

What is urban design?

Urban design is the process of designing cities and communities at a comprehensive level.

Beyond configuration and layout, urban design creates connections between a city’s people and the buildings, nature and movement of the space that they interact with in their daily lives.

The idea is to pull together all the elements that create an inhabitable area, including the environment, society and economy, with the goal of creating a beautiful, functional space with a unique identity.

In short, urban design is about creating an ideal place to live in.

Who are urban designers?

Interdisciplinary by nature, urban designers can come from a wide variety of professions. Urban design projects consist of many smaller components that make up a space, including buildings, streets, and public spaces, such as parks.


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Therefore, urban designers can have backgrounds in landscape architecture, urban planning, architecture, and civil and municipal engineering. In fact, today we are seeing new sub-strands of urban design emerge, such as landscape urbanism, water-sensitive urban design, and sustainable urbanism.