MUSK SEE: Three Reasons Why Congestion Decreases When Cities ‘Delete’ Road Lanes — 05/13/2022, Streetsblog USA
“A wildly inaccurate comment from Elon Musk about the traffic impacts of deleting lanes for drivers is prompting a conversation about the little-known phenomenon of ‘reduced demand’ — and how advocates can better debunk common congestion myths that powerful, but often ill-informed, people continue to promulgate.”
Security Features For Outdoor Living Trend In Latest Houzz Survey — 05/10/22, Forbes
“It’s no secret that outdoor living has become a huge trend. ‘It has exploded over the past five years with homeowners desiring to have resort-like backyards,’ declares Reno-based landscape architect and franchisor Ron DuHamel, president of FireSky.
Justice Department Unveils New Environmental Justice Moves (2) — 05/05/2022, Bloomberg Law
“The Department of Justice announced a trio of major environmental justice actions on Thursday, including the launch of a new office and the resurrection of a popular enforcement tool scrapped during the Trump administration.”
A Smarter Urban Design Concept for a Town Decimated by Wildfires— 05/03/2022, Fast Company
“SWA Group—a winner of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—is helping Paradise, California, imagine a safer and more sustainable future with a design that buffers the town with parks, athletic fields, and orchards—areas less likely to burn than forests.”
New Park Brings Residents of Los Angeles’ Chinatown Together— 05/01/2022, Parks and Recreation Business
“Designed by the landscape architecture and planning firm, AHBE/MIG, Ord and Yale Street Park represents the transformation of a once-vacant, one-acre hillside into a new pocket neighborhood park for the community.”
New Research Highlights the Role of Green Spaces in Conflict — 04/14/22, University of British Columbia
“Green spaces can promote well-being, but they may not always be benign. Sometimes, they can be a tool for control. That’s the finding of a new paper that analyzed declassified U.S. military documents to explore how U.S. forces used landscapes to fight insurgency during the war in Afghanistan.”
James Corner Field Operations’ Tunnel-topping San Francisco Park Is Set for July Debut — 04/13/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Visitors to Presidio Tunnel Tops will find winding cliffside trails, picnic areas, extensive gardens and meadows filled with native vegetation, a 2-acre natural play area for children dubbed the Outpost, and several elevated overlooks offering sweeping city and bridge views. The new swath of parkland will fuse back together the waterfront and Crissy Field, a former air field that now serves as a popular recreation hotspot, with the Presidio’s bustling historic Main Post.”
Why JW Marriott Is Planting Edible Gardens in Every One of Its Hotels — 04/13/22, Fast Company Design
“The terrarium was designed by Lily Kwong, whose eponymous landscape design studio has previously worked with H&M, St-Germain, and the French fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra (who is also her cousin). The terrarium is part of a broader initiative called the JW Garden, for which the hotel chain plants fruits, vegetables, and herbs to use in its kitchen and spas.”
Green Transportation Projects Face Costly, Time-consuming Environmental Reviews — 04/13/22, The San Francisco Examiner
“Transit agencies across California are ready to move forward with more than three dozen green transportation projects, ranging from bus rapid transit lines to bike lanes. But unless the Legislature takes action, these projects could be mired in years of costly, time-consuming analysis and lawsuits on the basis that they are bad for the environment.”
Special Report: U.S. Solar Expansion Stalled by Rural Land-use Protests — 04/07/22, Reuters
“Solar currently makes up 3% of U.S. electricity supply and could reach 45% by 2050 to meet the Biden administration’s goals to eliminate or offset emissions by 2050, according to the Department of Energy. To get there, the U.S. solar industry needs a land area twice the size of Massachusetts, according to DOE. And not any land will do, either. It needs to be flat, dry, sunny, and near transmission infrastructure that will transport its power to market.”
The Next Level in Sustainability: Nature Restoration — 03/15/22, The New York Times
“Landscape architects from Surfacedesign in San Francisco focused on extensive natural habitat restoration for the project, a former industrial site that at one point was two piers in Elliott Bay filled in with garbage. That meant meters-deep soil replacement to ease the seeding of native plants, grasses and a coastal meadow.”
Atlanta Takes Major Step Forward in Establishing Its First Park with Chattahoochee River Access — 03/15/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Per New York- and New Orleans-based landscape architecture and urban design studio SCAPE, which is leading a multidisciplinary design team for the effort, Chattahoochee RiverLands is a vision to ‘reunite the River with the Metro Atlanta Region and link suburban, urban, and rural communities into a continuous public realm that centers the River as a regional resource.'”
From One Parking Spot to 100 Public Parks: The History of San Francisco’s Street Transformation — 03/11/22, Fast Company Design
“In January 2020, San Francisco realized a long-envisioned goal of eliminating cars from 10 blocks of its central commercial corridor, Market Street. Improvements at intersections were installed to make the street safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Within the first two months, bike and scooter usage increased by 25%, and bus travel speeds went up an average of 6%.”
An Architect Who Mixes Water and Nature to Build Resilience — 03/07/22, The New York Times
Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA: “There are many benefits to being a woman; particularly the connection to nature. I think with motherhood, the cycles of the body, we’re more in touch with nature in our bodies and our hearts.”
Landscape Architecture Is All About Finding Balance with Nature — Outside Magazine
“As a landscape architect, Ryley Thiessen understands that finding balance is key. While his work requires him to design four-season resorts around the world—and make them accessible and enjoyable for all visitors—he never wants to take too much from nature.”
5 Takeaways from the Latest United Nations Climate Change Report— 02/28/22, The Washington Post
“The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a warning letter to a world on the brink. A sweeping survey of the most advanced climate science on the planet, it recounts the effects rising temperatures are already having and projects the catastrophes that loom if humans fail to make swift and significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.”
A Bike Plan Revived: Adding a Path to the Olmsted-designed 33rd Street Greenspace — 02/28/22, Baltimore Fishbowl
“The city’s broader goals are to create a safe, well-used trail that makes the best use of the historic, picturesque median designed by the Olmsted Brothers (named a local landmark, along with the Gwynns Falls Parkway median, in 2015) and improves traffic and pedestrian safety at intersections.”
Best Apps for Urban Planning in 2022 – 02/28/22, Planetizen
“Mobile apps continue to redefine the practices of planning—urban planning, regional planning, transportation planning, community planning, and rural planning included.”
How ‘Solar Canals’ Could Help California Survive a Megadrought — 02/25/22, Fast Company Design
“In that 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.
How a Philadelphia Road Redesign Went off the Rails — 02/23/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“It isn’t uncommon for complete streets projects to become lightning rods for arguments about gentrification, says Leah Shahum, the founder and executive director of the Vision Zero Network, which pushes communities to adopt a goal of eliminating traffic deaths.”
Biden: Infrastructure Plan Gives $1B for Great Lakes Cleanup — 02/17/22, U.S. News and World Report, Associated Press
“The $1 billion for the Great Lakes from the bipartisan measure enacted in November, combined with annual funding through an ongoing recovery program, will enable agencies by 2030 to finish work on 22 sites designated a quarter-century ago as among the region’s most degraded, officials said Thursday.”
This 16-acre Atlanta Park Was Built to Flood — 01/28/22, Fast Company Design
“[Atlanta] didn’t just want to replace low-lying flooded homes with a low-lying flooded park. They worked with HDR on a design that would turn the empty acreage into a thriving public space that could also serve as an engineered drain, safely taking in the water during heavy storms and gradually releasing it underground. The park is designed to flood—and protect the surrounding neighborhood.”
Transportation Dept. Outlines Plan to Address Rising Traffic Deaths — 01/27/22, The New York Times
“‘Fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists have been increasing faster than roadway fatalities overall in the past decade, which has a chilling effect on climate-friendly transportation options such as walking, biking or taking public transportation,” the report said. ‘To unlock the climate benefits of those modes, we need road and street systems that feel safe and are safe for all road users.'”
5 U.S. Cities Where Bike Commuting Is Booming — 01/26/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new report from the League of American Bicyclists traces how long-term planning and infrastructure investments allowed some cities to grow their share of bicycle commuters.”
The recent book New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies by Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transport Planning Institute, is a toolkit for landscape architects, planners, local governments, and communities seeking to evaluate how to best incorporate the latest transportation technologies. Litman includes twelve categories of what he calls “new mobilities” that span from the beginning of civilization, such as walking, to contemporary modes, such as ride-sharing, to possible future approaches, such as long-range pneumatic tubes like the proposed HyperLoop.
Although the book is entitled New Mobilities, it’s a call for a return to an earlier era of transportation diversity in which a variety of modes shared the road — from streetcars to bicycles and automobiles. Only in the past decades have our streets become increasingly car-centric.
A reversal of this trend by expanding other transportation modes and technologies can create a more equitable, inclusive, and accessible transportation environment. Communities can achieve this through a new transportation planning paradigm based in comprehensive and multimodal planning. Most importantly, this planning must put communities at the forefront.
According to Litman, the new paradigm defines transportation as accessibility, centered in people’s ability to obtain transportation services and participate in activities. Transportation planning and design should reduce the cost of transportation while also improving opportunities for disadvantaged populations, our overall health and public fitness, pollution, and energy conservation.
Reducing traffic congestion, crash rates, and vehicle costs, which were the old planning goals, should not be the only considerations. We need multimodal systems that efficiently manage transportation demand and accessibility for all communities.
Rating New Mobilities
The toolkit at the heart of New Mobilities is Litman’s comprehensive evaluation framework.
For twelve new mobilities — active travel and micro-mobilities, vehicle sharing, ride-hailing and micro-transit, electric vehicles (EVs), public transport innovation, mobility as a service (MasS), telework, tunnel roads and pneumatic tube transport, aviation innovation, mobility prioritization, and logistics management – he evaluates a range of factors including: the user experience, travel speeds, affordability, infrastructure and congestion costs, crash risks, equity opportunities, health impacts, and disease contagion risk.
He rates new mobilities through a multi-criteria framework that incorporates quantitative and qualitative data and is more comprehensive than the traditional cost-benefit analysis often used by transportation agencies and planners, which often only considers monetized impacts.
New Mobilities argues many communities have strategic planning goals to reduce automobile dependence and total vehicle travel, create more compact neighborhoods, and reduce impervious surfaces. Some of the new mobilities — active and micro-mobilities, public transit, EVs, MasS, mobility prioritization, and logistics management — will support these goals.
But ride-hailing, telework, pneumatic tube transport, air taxis, supersonic jets, and tunnel roads will likely increase vehicle travel. They will not meet strategic planning goals without transportation demand management (TDM) incentives and Smart Growth policies.
Active and micro-mobilities, such as walking, bicycling, and small, lower-speed motorized vehicles (e-scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes) scored the highest in Litman’s evaluation. Active and micro-mobilities increase savings, provide social equity, promote health and safety, and decrease disease contagion risk. The only area where these modes scored low was in speed and time.
Public transit also scored high, only scoring low for infrastructure and congestion costs and contagion risk.
Ride-hailing and micro-transit mobility services like Uber, Lyft, and Via that transport individuals and small groups received a medium score due to infrastructure and congestion costs and issues with health and safety, affordability, and social equity.
The newest mobilities, including aviation innovation — air-taxis, drones, and supersonic jets — and pneumatic tube transport — high-speed tube transport network – along with autonomous vehicles received the lowest scores.
Litman argues these new technologies offer limited benefits, are expensive to own or use, and increase total vehicle travel and costs. He reminds us new technology is not always better.
Designing Future Transportation Systems
This is where the excitement comes in, especially for landscape architects and urban designers who are concerned with the design of the built environment and creating places in which people can move about safely, efficiently, and humanely — and be inspired while doing so.
The effectiveness of new mobilities is derived from the ability of communities to leverage them to achieve compact Smart Growth. Litman highlights a quote from author Daniel Sperling’s book Three Revolutions: “Automation without a comprehensive overhaul of how our streets are designed, allocated, and shared will not result in substantive safety, sustainability, or equity gains.”
This supports the notion that what we do as landscape architects is essential to providing efficient and equitable transportation to communities. Efficient travel is intrinsically linked to form, density, and where and how people live.
Resource-efficient, inclusive, and affordable transportation modes can provide a catalyst for more compact development. And form and density can also catalyze inclusive, multimodal transportation.
Litman encourages new policies to support EV use, including incentives for individual and shared EVs and their charging infrastructure. In addition, local jurisdictions could offer income-based EV supplements and encourage the use of EVs in city operations.
Other recommendations include focusing autonomous vehicle development towards shared and commercial vehicle applications, including micro-transit, buses, and trucks.
Local and state governments and transit agencies can create regulations to prevent private services, like Uber and Lyft, from displacing public transit on profitable routes, which can cause transit agencies to lose ridership and revenue, ultimately leading to reduced service.
Communities should adopt Complete Street policies to ensure all roads accommodate diverse users and uses. Community planning can provide more compact, mixed-use development in order to create fifteen-minute neighborhoods with more connected roadways and pedestrian and bicycle shortcuts, so most local destinations are easy to access through active modes.
New Mobilities also suggests funding reforms that allow new transportation technologies and service investments. One reform — least-cost transportation planning — enables investment in more cost-effective projects. This tool would allow transportation agencies to shift funds usually dedicated to roadway and parking facility expansions to improve resource-efficient modes or support TDM programs that encourage users to choose resource-efficient options.
Creating a New Narrative About Transportation
Local, state, and federal governments have made enormous investments in highways and forced property owners to subsidize parking. In these unhealthy and unsafe automobile-dependent communities, active modes (walking, bicycling, and their variants) and public transit receive scarce support.
I interject that we, as designers of the built environment, have done little to counteract car-centric transportation systems and must embrace our power to change the narrative.
Many of the communities we plan and design for want more affordable, inclusive, and efficient transportation systems. They are beginning to apply a new planning paradigm rooted in multimodal planning, TDM, and Smart Growth.
New Mobilities is hopeful regarding the future of transportation. But Litman also warns us that many new mobilities are no panacea. Some will actually increase congestion, exclusion, and costs. Therefore, we must be discerning, and communities must be willing to say no.
The book provides strategies for correcting the ills of the past and creating a future that is more multimodal and therefore healthier, and more equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and efficient.
As Litman states at the end of the book, “Our job is to frighten, reassure, and plan. We need to scare decision-makers and the general public about the potential problems that are likely to result in from unregulated new mobilities. We also need to reassure them that excellent solutions are available. We must help create a positive vision of a better future and identify the specific policies and programs that can achieve it.”
Central Park Climate Lab Launches with a Mission to Save Urban Parks — 01/13/22, Planetizen
“Central Park offers a unique setting to begin studying climate change adaptation in urban parks as it has been impacted by some of the more severe effects of climate change within the past decade. Research will then expand to other New York City greenspaces and select city parks around the country. With the data acquired, the Lab will build on the work of leading researchers in the field to create new, scalable strategies for implementing climate mitigation and adaption protocols.”
Why Are San Jose’s Trees Disappearing? City Loses Hundreds of Acres Each Year — 01/11/22, The Mercury News
“Despite boasting ambitious climate goals, the nation’s 10th largest city is in the midst of an environmental crisis as the tree canopy that shades it has dwindled by 1.82% between 2012 and 2018. That percentage may seem small, but consider that it represents 1,728 acres of public and backyard trees, or the equivalent of 2.7 square miles, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Forest Service.”
How U.S. Infrastructure Plans Shrank in Ambition — 01/11/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“We need a national, reliable network of electric vehicle charging stations, environmental infrastructure to adapt to climate change, and electric grids that can transmit large amounts of renewable energy from areas of surplus generation, like the Great Plains, to areas of high demand like the Northeast and Midwest.”
U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Bounced Back Sharply in 2021 — 01/10/22, The New York Times
“But after last year’s rebound, U.S. emissions are now just 17.4 percent below 2005 levels, the Rhodium Group estimated. Several recent studies have found that the United States is likely to fall far short of achieving Mr. Biden’s climate goals without major new policies to speed up the transition to wind, solar and other clean energy.”
At the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlined a vision for designing a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Leveraging the historic levels of funding available through the recently passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, Secretary Buttigieg said funds must be distributed in order to simultaneously create jobs, address the climate crisis and racial inequities, and reduce road traffic deaths.
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act provides an enormous opportunity to improve both large cities and small communities. “The law contains some of the most significant investments in our transportation infrastructure in generations. These investments are going to have a very real impact on daily lives. They are going to put people to work, reconnect communities, and save lives.”
But the “promise” of the infrastructure bill also “depends on whether we succeed in making the most of these investments.”
For example, transportation policy needs to be intentionally framed to increase jobs and economic development. “Income inequality had been rising long before the pandemic. Good transportation policy directly and indirectly creates jobs that help families build generational wealth for the future. The key is creating opportunities that reach people in places where they are most needed. Last year, I visited the tunnels underneath Atlanta’s international airport, which helped create a thriving Black middle class during its construction, simply by ensuring communities of color had a seat at the table when it came time to award the contracts to build that airfield in the first place.”
A focus on ensuring equitable access to both transportation and the economic opportunities that come with the new federal investment was woven throughout his speech. “Every transportation decision is inherently a decision about equity. That’s why we’re building equity into our grant criteria.”
He added that “transportation and racial equality are two stories that go together. We want to proactively work with communities seeking to do the right thing, over and above the legal minimum.” Another part of this approach is increasing partnerships with diverse small and medium-sized businesses, so there are “partners ready to run with opportunities.”
New transportation policy must also address past climate and environmental injustices: “We have a commitment, as an administration, to ensure 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean energy investments go to underserved and overburdened communities.”
Shifting to climate, TRB noted that transportation now accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary Buttigieg said given transportation is the single largest sector contributing to the climate crisis, “we have an obligation to strive to be the biggest part of the solution.”
When asked what are the best ways to decarbonize transportation, he highlighted the kinds of planning and design solutions landscape architects provide: “We really need to think about every dimension of a trip, and what can be done to make it greener. Can we use design to reduce the necessity of some of thetrips people take? When people take trips, can we create alternatives so they can take those trips in other modes?”
Secretary Buttigieg also explained how electric vehicles, and the charging infrastructure to support them, along with co-siting large-scale renewable power plants with new transportation systems will be key to a more sustainable future.
As part of the combined strategy to advance goals on jobs, equity, and climate, safety also remains the “fundamental mission of this department,” Buttigieg said. “We lose 3,000 people every month to traffic crashes. We must confront the fact that these tragic deaths are not inevitable, but preventable. We need to take new steps, like a safe systems approach nationwide.” Soon the department will be releasing its first national roadway safety strategy.
“If we do this right, we’ll look back on the 2020s as a period when transportation equity reached new levels. That makes not only historically excluded groups better off, but the whole country better off, because we’ll have a stronger, more stable, richer, fairer economy for all.”
A Million-Pound Artwork, Once Threatened, Finds a New Home — 12/28/21, The New York Times
“‘It’s a piece that’s part of the history of landscape architecture,’ said Jack Rasmussen, the director of the American University Museum, who will now be charged with safeguarding ‘Marabar.’ ‘A woman sculptor in the 1970s and 1980s who was doing this? It’s ground breaking.'”
Why Cycle Lanes Aren’t Responsible for Urban Congestion — 12/28/21, Streetsblog
“It’s important to note that creating cycles lanes reduces the space available for cars but does not necessarily get people out of cars. Copenhagen is a city famous for cycling, with 28 percent of journeys made by bike. Yet car traffic is only slightly less than in London.”
10 Ways Cities Came Back in 2021 — 12/27/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Even as Covid-19 continues to disrupt urban life around the world, some cities this year still made transformative — and in some cases unprecedented — changes toward improving residents’ health, safety and overall livability.”
The West’s Race to Secure Water — 12/21/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.”
How Equity Isn’t Built into the Infrastructure Bill — and Ways to Fix It — 12/17/21, Brookings Institution
“Ultimately, $1.2 trillion is nothing to sneeze at, and new public investment is welcome after years of disinvestment and neglect. But if we want to ensure prosperity for all in the future, the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] is only a down payment on the debt that is owed to communities who have been denied resources.”
København (Copenhagen), the capital of Denmark, is at the forefront of many landscape architects and planners’ minds for both its groundbreaking moves towards sustainability and cutting-edge public spaces, bicycle culture, architecture, and food scenes.
Having spent a significant amount of time in the city over the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity to begin to get to know the city and its people. One of the striking things about the city, perceptible in even my time there, is its continued trajectory of improvement. A chorus of people working diligently for decades to optimize the city for the everyday lives of its inhabitants have been laying the groundwork for what is possible today. I’ve been in Copenhagen in every season — in the depths of winter when the term Hygge takes on a deeper meaning and the scant hours of sunlight and the chilly winds inspire the strong desire to gather together by the soft light of a fire or candlelight to pass the dark hours. And during the summer months when the long hours of sunlight inspire a collective feeling of exultation and the city’s public spaces: the streets, parks, plazas, waterfront, and the harbor itself are teeming with life and energy. This was not so 20 or 30 years ago. The character of the city has radically changed and the new book København: Urban Architecture and Public Spaces, edited by Sandra Hofmeister, beautifully captures the new spirit of the city.
The book features many places in the Danish capital that have made a significant impact in public space and public life over the past several decades and groups them into four chapters: public spaces, sports and leisure, culture and education, and housing. Well-illustrated project descriptions are complemented by a series of interviews and essays with some of the most prominent and thoughtful designers part of the city’s design scene today.
One of the many featured projects in the public spaces section of the book offers a useful inspiration for what could be possible in U.S. cities if we recognize the value of urban spaces now occupied by parking and remake them in ways that draw public life, commerce, and play.
The Flying Carpet: Israel’s Plads (Israel Square) is a great example of the transformation of public spaces taking place in Copenhagen over several decades. A former vegetable market site near one of the busiest transit stations had degenerated into a parking lot and eyesore. The municipality led the transformation of the site by erecting two covered market halls (the wonderful Torvehallerne) and a public plaza that hosts a weekend farmers market.
Across the street, the city issued a design brief outlining that the former parking lot should be converted into a new public space. The winning competition by Cobe, a Copenhagen-based multidisciplinary planning and design firm composed of landscape architects, planners, and architects, envisaged a “flying carpet” across the entire square. The cars would be “swept under the rug” with underground parking. In the completed design, organically shaped areas punched out of a neatly paved surface provide a variety of public recreational functions. As one the city’s largest new public spaces, Israel Plads is an “informal uncoded space that enables the public to enjoy urban life.”
What you don’t get from the beautiful images and plans featured in the project description — and what is so useful for those of us in the planning and design professions — is covered in an essay that follows. The lead designer for the plaza, Dan Stubbergard from Cobe, illuminates some the underlying processes and struggles that were fought and won and resulted in a new plaza that functions as a diverse and active public space.
Stubbergard notes that “infrastructure had a very important role in defining our cities from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Public spaces and zones in between buildings became carspaces, and this affected everyday life. But today we know that we have to combine infrastructure with the public quality of urban space. Be it a bicycle parking lot, a metro station, or a streetscape, you need to insist that all infrastructure is also a social and public space.”
Cobe has been leading some of the most impactful urban design efforts in Copenhagen. Their approach to Israel’s Plads reflects the deeply collaborative and creative approach of the practice that co-designs with communities. Dan continues: “Israels Plads is the biggest public space in Copenhagen, but it’s also a schoolyard shared by two schools – we argued it should be an open space nevertheless…We created a discrete boundary and that’s how we persuaded the school to have a safe zone in the middle of the city and an open environment at the same time. The challenge for [landscape] architects is to offer new ways of living together and to foster a lively everyday life.”
Swimming in the Harbor
You can’t comprehend Copenhagen today without understanding its changing relationship to the water. The book’s sports and leisure section describes one of the city’s newest ways to interact with the water: the Kalvebog Bolge (Kalvebod Waves). “An undulating sculptural promenade…the complex stretches out over the water like a park landscape, leading back to land with walkways that rise to different levels. Benches, play areas, and lookout points invite visitors to linger. What may seem coincidental follows a precise plan. Rough winds in the exposed location were considered in the positioning, as well as the course of the sun and the shadows created by surrounding buildings.”
As is typical of the projects described in the book, the space combines various programs in interesting ways. The “wave” stacks many functions: a kayak and canoe club, a swimming basin, a floating mini-hotel for canoeists, and a platform for cultural events all come together in this prominent harborside location. Furthermore, “the site’s cradle to cradle approach ensures that all materials can be separated by type at the end of their service life so they can be recycled or reused.”
The Kalvebod Wave harbor bath and others like it in different parts of the city are emblematic of the radical transformation that has occurred regarding the city’s relationship to the water. As in many former industrial waterfronts, the harbor water, as recently as the 1980’s, was polluted and dangerous, and one would not conceive of diving into it headlong as you see so many young and old people doing today.
In an essay, Hofmeister unpacks the process of transforming both the physical quality of the water and the harborfront as well as its mental image in the mind of Copenhageners. “With the shift from an industrial city to an eco-conscious city not only has the quality of life improved, but also the water quality…thanks to targeted measures in wastewater management and modernization of the sewage system. Today living on the waterfront is integral to the city’s image.”
These critical water quality improvements laid the foundation for a fundamental restructuring of the city’s relationship and orientation to the waterfront and a re-conception of the harbor from the “back of the city” to a blue-green central park. So many of the projects featured in the book show how to take advantage of this new orientation. The areas along the harbor offer high quality waterfront living and opportunities to swim or gather to watch the sunset. This is where the city opens up to offer wide views. The city’s master plans stipulate that all harborfront areas must not only be accessible to the public but also enlivened by the public.
This orientation of the city around the harbor as its central park is enabled by a steadily growing set of landscape, open space, pedestrian, and bike circulation connections around and across the harbor that provide continuous access around the water’s edge and have opened up new areas for the city’s famous pedestrian and bicycle culture. There are important lessons here for landscape architects and planners working in the U.S.
The first is that protecting, enhancing, and restoring the ecological health of extant water bodies and open spaces is crucial for laying the groundwork for future public access and enjoyment. The second is that a powerful vision in the form of a masterplan framework must be established that can live beyond short-term political cycles to guide the actions of many actors over time. The third is that landscape architects must conceive of each intervention, even if it is a small piece of a larger puzzle, as contributing to the realization of the larger vision that will, eventually, result in a radical transformation of place.
The first carbon-neutral capital
Copenhagen, as in many cities with ambitious leaders across the globe, is leading the way towards a more equitable and sustainable future for its inhabitants. By 2025, Copenhagen is to be the first-ever carbon-neutral capital city. Switching from cars to bicycles plays a decisive role.
As described in an essay on cycling culture and quality of life, the city’s bicycle culture is well known to urbanists throughout the world, and it’s a powerful experience to be immersed in it. But what is less well known are the other factors that contribute to making Copenhagen a city where you can actually live without a car, such as the provision of dense, human-scale, compact, and transit-connected urban infill for areas of new development and providing citizens with mobility choice in the form of a world-class transit system. As the city gradually implemented and expanded its famous bicycle infrastructure, there has been commensurate major investment in expanding mass transit, including the brand new Cityringen line completed in 2019.
The wonderful essay by Jacob Shoof unpacks the critical role of innovative public-private partnerships, a role played by redevelopment agencies in the U.S. These partnerships have been charged with re-imagining some of the city’s most valuable port lands and new development areas, financing the construction of major public transport projects such as the Cityringen, as well as leading the re-imagining of the city’s largest new development area, Nordhavn, under its masterplan by Cobe.
One essay goes into the details of one private-public partnership focused on the port: “The City of Copenhagen and the Danish state the laid foundations for this in 2007 with the founding of the project development company By & Havn (City and Harbour)…the new company has two main tasks: to manage and regulate the use of Copenhagen’s port waters and shore facilities and to promote the conversion of disused port areas…the company operates like a private company largely free from political influence, and can therefore pursue long-term strategies…the business model of By & Havn is to use sales proceeds [of port lands] to build public infrastructure in the newly developed areas. The new Cityringen (City Circle line) of the Copenhagen Metro has been running under the city since 2019 and was also planned by By & Havn. In order to pre-refinance the development of the infrastructure without having to rush property sales the company has taken out long-term loans, using land in its possession as security.”
Innovative financial models and thoughtful long-term planning for public infrastructure investment from bicycle lanes to the new underground metro line are critical to making a thriving and successful public realm as well as incentivizing active mobility and transit use, and therefore enabling the city to meet their ambitious long-term sustainability goals
Dense, diverse, and green. Is it possible?
As with so many urban areas around the globe, Copenhagen is experiencing an urban renaissance as more people choose to reside in dense, amenity rich, and socially diverse urban neighborhoods. But how has the city managed to maintain affordability and access for people at the beginning of their careers or those who are just forming families? So many areas in the U.S. experiencing this same urban renaissance are characterized by significant social conflict due to rapid gentrification and displacement of long-term residents.
A final theme that emerges in the book is the role of an engaged citizenry in generating grassroots-level action to provide a strong political mandate for the municipality and the design community to work for things like mobility choice and affordable housing. For instance, part of the less well-known story of the city’s bicycle culture, which reemerged in the 1970’s after going into decline in the age of the automobile, are the massive protests and collective action in response to the 1970’s oil crisis that inspired city leaders to take seriously the role of the bicycle in urban mobility.
And this level of community engagement has also shaped the city’s approach to housing. Since the late 1960’s, the city’s different forms of communal living have drawn international attention. The final chapter of the book focused on housing describes several of the innovative and beautifully well-designed housing complexes on the re-energized harborfront as well as some excellent examples of co-housing, a trend which is growing in popularity globally and was featured prominently in this year’s Venice Biennale exhibition theme: “How will we live together?”
One of the defining characteristics of Copenhagen’s inner city housing stock is the traditional form of the perimeter block that surrounds a shared green space. These forms can accommodate a variety of functions — from a safe play area for children, food producing gardens, bicycle parking, and larger community gatherings. These collectively owned and managed semi-private green spaces are rare in the U.S., but they contribute significantly to the quality of life in Copenhagen and are a major factor in attracting and retaining young families within the urban core.
The Lange End Co-housing project by Dorte Mandrup is a wonderful, contemporary interpretation of this traditional perimeter block with a large, internal shared green space. Mandrup describes how this happened: “The central aim of the project was to establish a community accommodating a range of age and occupational groups, cultural backgrounds, and ways of living. To determine the different spatial requirements – common areas for meeting and communication, but also more private areas – an extensive participatory process was carried out, with various workshops held between the planners and future residents.”
Hofmeister’s interview with Mandrup reveals the deeper motivations behind the work. “We already have numerous co-housing situations for very specialized groups – elderly people, students, or young families. My dream is that we can mix the different groups much more and build co-housing spaces that reflect the whole society – singles and families, old and young people.” And in a commentary on the next challenges the city faces, Mandrup says: “I would also wish that the city of Copenhagen would move forward with densification without simply doing things on a larger scale. We have to find better solutions to densify our cities than simply higher buildings. Densification on a small [human?] scale – that’s a real challenge for the future!”
Landscape architects have a critical role to play in the design of new housing areas in our urban neighborhoods. We can ensure there is a clear hierarchy of spaces from public to semi-public to private open spaces. Establishing this hierarchy and definition of whom these spaces are designed to serve is often overlooked but is crucial for achieving quality and livability in dense urban environments.
A beacon of sustainable urbanism
The many innovative ideas and projects described in this book and the exploration of some of the values and motivations that drive the work are what make this book a valuable resource for landscape architects and planners in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.
We can now point to these works and say, look what is possible if we work together for the common good of our communities! The City of Copenhagen brings together innovations in public participation, long term planning, finance, and a socially engaged design community to create the sustainable city of the future for residents today. It’s no wonder city leaders and design professionals around the globe are taking notice!
John Bela, ASLA, is an urban strategist and designer based in San Francisco. Bela co-founded Rebar, the creators of Park(ing) Day. A founding partner and design director at Gehl San Francisco, he left Gehl in 2021 to form his own design advisory and consulting practice: Bela Urbanism + Design. He is a licensed landscape architect in California.