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The Lure of Sustainable Cities: Copenhagen

There are more bicycles than inhabitants in Copenhagen, where around 50 percent of urban trips are made using bikes. It’s a green city that’s full of parks and surrounded by water.

Text from the original article published in spanish

In Miami, where I live, cyclists are athletes for the most part. People ride bikes to stay in shape. But in Copenhagen, which I visited recently, business executives, middle-aged parents, students, seniors, employees use a bicycle to get around.

There are more bicycles than inhabitants in Copenhagen and the city has been conceived to accommodate the thousands of cyclists who are a permanent part of its urban landscape no matter the weather or time of day. Nothing has been overlooked: the city features exclusive bike lanes, bicycle parking zones adjacent to metro stations, facilities for taking bikes on trains if necessary (at no extra charge for the passenger), and synchronized green lights to keep bicycle traffic flowing. Roughly 50 percent of urban trips are made by bicycle, and since the city’s culture revolves around people’s wellbeing cyclists are always respected. Only 29 percent of the population owns a car.

Several studies cite the Danish capital as one of the world’s most sustainable cities, and indeed Copenhagen is a place that encourages people to develop greater awareness about every aspect of sustainability. Before landing by plane, a passenger looks down on thousands of windmills at sea, a spectacular sight and a key contributor to the use of renewable energy sources. Wind turbines account for a fifth of Denmark’s energy output. Copenhagen’s CO2 emission levels in particular are among the world’s lowest, and the city has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2025, according to its website.

Sustainability awareness is evident in all aspects of the city: its architecture, industrial design, gastronomy, and green spaces.

In response to government policy, environmental legislation, and the demands of sustainability-minded consumers, architects and designers have carried out a plan over several decades to provide sustainable solutions for the new generations. Building facades are noteworthy for the use of materials such as wood, stone, and brick and their minimalist but high-impact designs, with the Copenhagen Opera House and Copenhagen Airport’s Terminal 3 being two prominent examples.

The trend toward local organic food products is a global phenomenon. In Copenhagen, the level of awareness among shoppers is particularly high, and the government stimulates their consumption. Around 75 percent of the food served at public institutions is organic, and there is a broad range of organic options at supermarkets and restaurants. Markets such as Torvehallerne, a paradise for food lovers, boast an abundant supply of local organic products, from fruit and vegetables to wine and cheese.

Copenhagen also is a green city that is full of parks, surrounded by water, and designed with people’s wellbeing and quality of life in mind. It is a city whose inhabitants speak knowledgably about climate change and know they are prepared to face the consequences and minimize their risks.

Just as at large companies the impetus of the CEO is essential if sustainability is to be adopted as a business philosophy, in city government it is up to local politicians to ensure that sustainability is a clear policy objective. And in the same way that top executives bet on sustainability as a way to boost the value of their businesses, cities that pursue sustainable policies will achieve better economic, political, and social outcomes. Copenhagen is certainly a prime example.

Diana Pardo
Senior Director, Newlink.
Follow Diana Pardo on Twitter: @diana_pardo

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