On Wednesday 5th December, after the URBACT Annual Conference 2012 two-day meetings (3-4 December 2012), field Study Visits were organised for those who wished to get more insight into Copenhagen surroundings’ urban management.
I hopped on board the study visit linked to the Against Divided Cities in Europe workshop, which would take me to Albertslund, west of Copenhagen – a famously proactive local authority, that has shown the way forward in key areas such as town planning and the environment.
We first took the S-train, part of the Copenhagen Metropolitan area development strategy known as the “Finger Plan”. On the train it was funny to see as many, if not more, bikes than people, bikes all carefully parked and steady in the train wagons. It is definitely not the snow that is going to stop Copenhageners from biking around the city!
At Albertslund, our destination, we got of the train and walked around the municipality. Surprisingly, very rarely did we have to cross roads. The city was built in order to enable people to avoid doing so; this tantamount to adequate planning pre- thinking, paths, tunnels and bridges. We went by small communal houses, heritage of communism, where small patches of gardens are shared by the community.
Streets, where habitants can find all the shops and goods they need, converge towards the city’s centre point. Street meetings are organised from here every week, where municipality representatives come and discuss with the inhabitants. This is a fully-fledged part of the democratic life of the city, welcomed by the residents of Albertslund.
A highlight of the morning’s visit was meeting with Bjorn Emil Hartel Jensen, planner at Albertslund, in the city council – which in 2008 became the first local authority in Denmark to be 100% environmentally certified, as per EU regulations. The heat and warm coffee kindly served was most soothing! Cosily sat in the city council’s meeting room, we listened and exchanged with Bjorn about Albertslund’s specificities and current ongoing urban plans.
Albertslund’s main challenge is that of densifying its city centre, increasing suburban life (as a growing amount of people working in Copenhagen are now choosing to live in the outskirts of the capital), while keeping its human and green aspect.
To name but a few projects underway, new buildings, with public green roof tops are being constructed. The Hersted Industripark, a former industrial area to the north of the municipality, is being transformed into an open green park, shortly easily accessible thanks to a new light rail system. The municipality is also engaging in the renovation of its entire housing stock. More than 5.850 homes will be energy renovated over the next 10-15 years, for a cost of about 1.5 billion euros. This is part and parcel of Albertslund large-scale innovation and planning project, to incorporate energy efficiency in all the high-density low-rise housing built in the 1960s and 70s. The city is in line with its set CO2 emission objectives for 2015; 25% less emissions, compared to the early 2000s, meaning that the atmosphere will be spared with 52000 tonnes of CO2! This is pretty good news for the lungs of the inhabitants!
We then moved on to the “The Albertslund Concept”, which develops, tests, and demonstrates methods for energy-efficient renovation (e.g. by using modular building techniques), building transposable solutions for use in similar residential areas in Europe. Most of all, the strength of this concept lies in its integrated approach, involving civil and business actors in the city (e.g. public-private partnerships), making it a holistic and forward-looking concept.
To finish my study visit encounter, I would like to mention a project which particularly caught my attention: that of the transformation of the State owned prison situated at the heart of the city (The State Prison in Vridsløselille). Closed down, the municipality is thinking about how to best reuse this important space, opening it to the citizens (park, cultural institution, art garden, museum, green space…). A promising transformation to look up to for sure!
URBACT Communications Intern