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Nordic countries urge holistic planning for sustainable and liveable cities

The world is becoming increasingly urbanised by the day, and at the same time, cities around the globe need to react to climate change by working towards carbon-neutrality. The situation calls for holistic, human-scale planning solutions that make cities more sustainable and liveable for their citizens. This was the key message from the Nordic Council of Ministers’ theme day on sustainable building and planning at COP22 on 10 November.

Benjamin Suomela /

Nordic cities have introduced a wide variety of sustainable urban solutions ranging from efficient waste management systems, advanced district heating networks and renewable energy over to green transport solutions that give priority to pedestrians, bicycles and public transport. The urban population has taken these solutions to heart – as an example, more than 50 per cent of the population of Copenhagen uses bicycles on a daily basis to get to and from work or school.

“If the urbanisation trend continues, by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities,” said Bernard Plancade, Senior Vice President of Rockwool International. “Statistics show that we will need 70 per cent more drinkable water than available today, and the energy demand for the growing population will be up by 50 per cent.”

Challenging cities to involve citizens

To react to the many challenges of urbanisation, the Nordic Council of Ministers has launched several initiatives to increase co-operation between the countries to decarbonise the region’s urban energy systems and build more sustainable cities. One prominent initiative is the Nordic Built Cities Challenge, an international challenge competition seeking innovative solutions to urban challenges in specific sites in the Nordic region.

“We set up the Nordic Built Cities Challenge to see if we could help Nordic cities solve some of their problems, many of which are common to cities and urban areas all around the world,” says Hans Fridberg, Senior Innovation Advisor at Nordic Innovation. Teams entering the competition were asked to build their solutions on the Nordic Built Cities Charter, which lists ten principles for liveable, smart and sustainable Nordic cities and buildings. “A key point of the Charter is its first principle, which states that people should be at the centre of everything we do.”

The winner of the Danish competition and the overall Nordic Built Cities Challenge Awards is The Soul of Nørrebro, a climate adaptation solution for Hans Tavsens Park in Nørrebro in Copenhagen. The project converts the existing park into a cloudburst management park, capable of capturing and delaying up to 20,000 m3 of stormwater.

“Nordic city planning is a general approach that we practice every day,” says Mette Skjold of SLA Architects, which led the cross-disciplinary team behind the proposal. “Our approach is multi-functional. It addresses not only the climate adaptation aspect, but also enhances the park’s nature qualities and contributes to the development of the neighbourhood and the Nørrebro community.”

“The DNA of what we do is nature-based design – to enhance everyday life in our cities that are becoming increasingly densified and urbanised,” Skjold continues.

From tech thinking to organizing

Also the runner-up of the competition, Kera Co-op City, applied a holistic planning approach to the challenge at hand. The project, which was developed by a team led by B&M Architects, presented a plan for transforming a 22-hectare logistics centre in Espoo in Finland into a modern and attractive city neighbourhood.

“We’ve developed a framework for sustainable design, which labels issues concerning urban structure, buildings, culture, mobility and infrastructure, ecosystem services, and of course the technology and economy of creating sustainable cities,” says Inari Virkkala of B&M Architects.

While the challenge competition recently came to an end, the Nordic Built Cities projects will continue as a flagship project in a new initiative launched by the Nordic Prime Ministers, Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges. In this next phase, focus will be on marketing and exporting sustainable Nordic urban solutions to international markets.

“What’s exceptional about the Nordics is that we’ve been able to take our visions and ideas about sustainable cities through the planning processes and actually implement the solutions,” says Neel Strøbæk, Group Market Director of Planning & Urban Design at engineering company Rambøll. “In fact, we already have all the technologies that we need. It’s more a question about the ways in which we choose to organise ourselves and our cities, and also about ambitious political visions. This is the message the Nordic countries should convey to the rest of the world.”

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Winners of Nordic Built Cities Challenge 2016:


Heidi Orava
Phone +45 21 71 71 48

Hans Fridberg
Senior Innovation Advisor
Nordic Innovation
+47 469 20 340