Copenhagen

A storm is brewing and Copenhagen is ready

In 2012, the City of Copenhagen came to present their freshly adopted Climate Change Adaptation Plan, during a workshop at the Resilient Cities Forum. Today, five years later, they come back to share their experience with implementing that plan with other cities.

Indeed, the Danish capital is not the only city to be threatened by flooding from cloudburst. Copenhagen has, for instance, organized a learning exchange with New York City to learn from their approach in planning for these heavy rainfalls.

Rainwater management systems, an invisible service that inhabitants of the city had enjoyed for centuries without even noticing, suddenly gained attention when the city suffered from massive flooding from a cloudburst in 2011. Water systems were no longer invisible and citizens were more aware and better positioned to co-create management solutions. It is this last option that the city decided to explore. In a few years, Copenhagen managed to make hydraulic planning the backbone of their entire planning. All planning projects in the city are now looked at through this lens.

Here are some key lessons from the Danish Capital, 6 years after the adoption of their Climate Change Adaptation Plan.

  1. Include all stakeholders. Wait, really?

Now, who has not heard already this that all stakeholders should be involved in a project in order to ensure its success? Copenhagen lives this. A planner of one of the many projects implemented in the city explained that in their numerous meetings with the different teams and the local community, they sought to apply a culture of generosity and openness to share knowledge. In other words, when Copenhagen speaks about stakeholder inclusion, they mean it. Thanks to this approach, the project she was leading was a great success despite a very challenging context.

  1. Make a clear business case. But most importantly, build trust.

In order to get buy-in from politicians, local communities and other stakeholders, the city applied a second well-known principle: Demonstrating the economic value of their project. However, according to the Program Director of the city, the very swift adoption of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan – the actual adoption by the council took under one minute – was actually the result of a two-year efforts to build trust. If making the business case certainly ensured trust from stakeholders in the plan, it was really the openness of the entire process which mattered most. The Program Director emphasizes the importance of allowing both politicians and residents to get answers to their questions all along the process. This openness and transparency is what allowed them to gain a strong political buy-in, even if it does take some time.

  1. Seek multi-purpose strategies and co-benefits – and think wild!

When water management became such a hot topic for the city, Copenhagen realized they could look at it as a threat or an opportunity. They chose the latter and made it a principle for all of the projects from their plan. Concretely, instead of simply building massive pipes going under the city to redirect the water to the harbor, they decided to build smaller pipes and to redirect the excess budget into projects which harvest the water on the surface, and can double as recreational areas, offer synergies with traffic planning, have educational purposes or even improve the microclimate. This principle paid off and participated to creating greater economic, social and economic opportunities for the city. On that path, Copenhagen realized that it was worth believing in crazy ideas, and today, this is something they recommend to other cities. Some of the projects they have implemented might have seemed crazy at first, but they not only worked out, they actually became new landmarks in the city.

After launching a first generation of projects, the city now sees a risk that the challenges on the road slowly makes the positive and energetic spirit that was driving these projects fade away. But they believe their story must be reminded and retold because many more opportunities lye ahead.