From small towns to sprawling cities, the threat of climate change is growing increasingly acute. Cities in low lying and coastal areas, such as Copenhagen, are on the front lines in this battle against threats waged by rising sea levels, while others contend with extreme weather events and sustained droughts. Whether it’s the polar vortex, floods, or mudslides, it’s not surprising that many feel at the mercy of the planet and powerless in the face of these new challenges.
One Copenhagen neighbourhood is determined to regain control and increase its resilience to climate change. In Saint Kjeld’s Quarter in Copenhagen’s Østerbro district, residents have been demanding action to alleviate one of its most pressing environmental threats – cloudbursts.
These huge storm systems dump massive amounts of rainwater, usually in a concentrated area over a short period of time, that in turn can overwhelm the city’s sewers and ultimately lead to substantial flooding of streets, underpasses, and basements.
In August 2011, Saint Kjeld’s fell prey to some of the worst flooding the city has ever seen. Pictures of Lyngbyvej, one of the major roadways leading into the neighbourhood, completely under water, made front page headlines and spurred political outcry for solutions.
Inaction in the face of these new realities was not an option. Which is why local residents started working in partnership with KlimaKvarter.dk and a number of other organisations committed to sustainability, including the architectural firm Tredje Natur (Third Nature), to find liveable solutions to this problem.
“It became clear that the area was in need of some physical renovations,” says René Sommer Lindsay, project manager for KlimaKvarter’s Saint Kjeld’s Quarter Project and also a part of the The Integrated Urban Renewal (Områdefornyelsen) project.
Saint Kjeld’s is a low-lying neighbourhood with close proximity to the harbour, which is one of the main reaons for its vulnerability to cloud bursts. Fortunately, The Integrated Urban Renewal project opened offices in the neighbourhood in May 2011, just months before the 2011 cloudburst, uniquely positioning them to tackle this growing problem.
This is how KlimaKvarter.dk was born: a new type of organisation focused on the physical renewal of Østerbro as a means of building defence mechanisms against cloudbursts while simultaneously strengthening social and cultural relationships in the area.
A worldwide example
Thanks to the collective efforts of locals, KlimaKvarter.dk and urban planners, Saint Kjeld’s is now host to a number of ground-breaking projects under the watchful eye of city officials. Copenhagen expects to invest 10 billion kroner in climate adaptation measures over the next 50 years. The city plans to use Saint Kjeld’s as a bellwether testing grounds for forward-thinking solutions that, if successful, will become the model for climate adaptation in Copenhagen and around the globe.
In many ways, the residents of Saint Kjeld’s are collaborating with officials and urban planners like never before, Lindsay explains.
“Usually the city will bring a concrete proposal to local residents and take their feedback into consideration. In Saint Kjeld’s, residents have been involved since the very beginning, outlining their expectations for these projects to the city, not the other way around.”
When the architectural firm Tredje Natur won a European design contest in 2012 with its proposal for climate adaptation in the neighbourhood, Lindsay knew he had found a crucial ally.
“They were also focused on this discussion about green cities and rainwater and everything just fit into place. We use them as our advisors. Their conceptual drawings ignited the political debate.”
In 2013 the project gained international notoriety when Sustainia, an organisation describing itself as “a global collaborative platform for communicating a sustainable future and for building a model and vision of that future”, listed Saint Kjeld’s as one of the top 100 inspiring green solutions in the world.
And the project has already inspired similar initiatives in cities including New York and Paris.
Tåsinge Square (above), one of the first concepts to spring to life from the organic collaboration between project leaders and area residents, was completed in December. The area has now hbeen converted into a green oasis in the heart of the city.
Tåsinge Square offers a useful public greenspace that will host a number of herbs, plants, and other wildlife. Plant species were chosen based on simple yet thoughtful factors; for example, plants that can tolerate near drought-like conditions have been planted in the square’s high-lying areas, while species that can absorb and handle massive amounts of rainwater have been planted in the square’s low-lying areas.
But perhaps the most crucial piece of this project has nothing to do with aesthetics. Huge containers have been installed under Tåsinge Square to collect excess rainwater and hopefully prevent future flooding in the area.
Although the finished product looks sleek and modern, according to the official brochure released by the city it was built using mostly recycled and refurbished materials, including 62 square metres of graffiti tiles reclaimed from Ørestad Blvd. Tåsinge Square also features iconic Copenhagen touches such as the overhead streetlights and classic green and black benches.
It’s hard to imagine the giant collection tanks just underfoot – a vital installation masked by the cover of a warm and inviting square, with a capacity of 4,300 cubic metres of rainwater, the collection tanks span half a football pitch.
Lindsay is energised and hopeful, already setting his sights on the neighborhood’s next big project, Saint Kjelds Square.
“It’s going to be explosive,” he says. “Whereas Tåsinge Square is more quiet and unassuming, Saint Kjeld’s will stand out as a place to be emulated around the city. The greenspace in the area is currently surrounded by a traffic circle, making it impossible for residents to enjoy. The new Saint Kjeld’s Square will bring nature into the limelight and make traffic patterns a secondary motivation.” M