Currently, urban planning in Latin America and the Caribbean offers a perspective of fragmented cities in their expressions and tendencies. The conception of city in the region has evolved from a notion of unity to a perception of fragmentation, of contrasts and unequal realities, with divided spheres instead of integrated urban systems that in some cases have settlement networks and promote polarization and socioeconomic segregation. This reality, together with the impact of cities on the environment, invites an important reflection on the concepts of urban development and sustainability and reveals a new role for government as a regulator of society. In this sense, the rate of urbanization in the region has caused common challenges such as vulnerability to climate change, risk and disaster management, integral urban development, and fiscal management, governance and transparency that cities must face in the coming years.
Although the concept of integrated urban development is not new, in order to improve urban living conditions by balancing social, environmental and economic development, intersectoral solutions must be considered that involve relevant actors of the city and promote coordination between the different levels of government and the development of equitable territory. Therefore solutions to urban problems require an understanding of the medium and long-term development objectives, which must be developed jointly within an integrated negotiation and planning process.
The Nordhavn case: lessons learned from Copenhagen
Copenhagen is often recognized as one of the best cities in the world to live. It’s a city where growth and prosperity go hand in hand, but there are also challenges: growth results in the need to create space for more people, more jobs and more mobility. It is estimated that population will grow 18% by 2025, equivalent to 100,000 new residents. Efficient mobility is one of the main requirements for a city to be attractive and is a critical element to benefit both residents and businesses. But the growing rate of displacement in the region is putting pressure on the traffic system.
The new district of Nordhavn will provide some of the answers to these challenges. The development of Nordhavn will help to counteract the tendency to increase the levels of displacement in the region, through the creation of new homes and work centers. This will allow people to travel by bicycle or travel by train to centrally located workplaces. CPH City & Port Development is the owner of the land in question and has the task of detonating and implementing the development of the project in close cooperation with the city of Copenhagen. The task of the city of Copenhagen as a planning authority is to prepare the necessary planning bases to facilitate the development of the project. In this sense CPH City & Port Development is an urban development company established by national legislation and is jointly owned by the City of Copenhagen (95%) and the Danish state (5%).
The development of new districts is a complex process in planning and development. The new district will provide the framework for the life and future work of many people. All this will happen while the city is constantly changing. Therefore, the goal of CPH City & Port Development is to create urban areas that are at the forefront of social development trends and that are sustainable in the long term. This means establishing urban areas that are modern and in line with municipal planning, as well as with the commercial strategy of CPH City & Port Development.
Upon completion, Nordhavn will house 40,000 residents and an equal number of workers. The new district of the city will be built on the historic part of Copenhagen. The old industrial zone will be transformed into a dense and compact urban district with houses and offices, located on docks and piers and surrounded by canals, water basins and open sea. The first phase will take place in the neighborhood of Århusgade. The area contains 165,000 m² of residential space and 140,000 m² of commercial space. The first residents and employees began to inhabit the area in 2014.
The sales process has been very fast, but there are still opportunities available. New local plans in other areas of Nordhavn offer options for residential and commercial buildings. In order to create more space for the development of Copenhagen, CPH City & Port Development is expanding Nordhavn on 100 hectares over the next 10 to 20 years. This project is being developed to, among other things, create space for a 1,100-meter-long dock.
Nordhavn: Keys of an integrated urban development
The development plan is based on the current structure of the district which is divided into independent islets. As a distinctive feature of the development plan, several existing buildings and local environments that contribute to the distinctive identity for the Århusgade district will be preserved. It is also sought that existing buildings support some clear references to the history and cultural heritage of the port and highlight the uniqueness of the area.
– VARIETY OF URBAN SPACES: The development plan is designed with a special focus on public spaces. The plan includes a network of plazas, parks, walks and spaces on the street, each of which offers something unique. Urban spaces are connected through a process through which street-level activities help strengthen urban life. The intention is to establish public functions in the main corners and in certain streets. This is to ensure that the district has a lively business environment and areas for rest and recreation. By also preserving existing buildings and features, a fertile environment for complex urban life can be created.
– COMPACT DEVELOPMENT: The development plan has a dense urban structure and contains relatively small plots. Most buildings have three to six floors, with only a few large buildings. Plots of relatively small and fragmented buildings give the neighborhood a diverse character and will promote a city with a “human scale”.
– A VIBRANT NEIGHBORHOOD FACING THE SEA: The development plan includes public access promenades along all the docks and the possibility of building a swimming pool in the port, sports marina and facilities for rowing and kayaking, for example. By placing residential and commercial buildings next to the docks, one of the key assets of the city of Copenhagen is enhanced by taking the city to the water
– COMBINATION OF DIFFERENT SIZES AND TYPES OF BUILDINGS: The commercial buildings that are preserved should, together with the large silos and the new areas of buildings of different sizes, give the neighborhood a more varied composition than is typical in other neighborhoods of Copenhagen. The buildings are intended to appear as a complex, small-scale neighborhood.
– A HIGH-QUALITY PUBLIC TRANSPORT ROUTE THROUGH THE WESTERN PART: The main public transport service for Nordhavn will be finally provided by establishing a public transport link and bicycle lanes. The district is also served by a local train at the Nordhavn station and by buses. The bus service is planned to operate mainly along a bus corridor located in ‘the green circuit’.
– EFFICIENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL TRANSPORT SOLUTIONS: Vehicle traffic is planned prioritizing vulnerable road users. Nordhavn is planned as a district with a traffic distribution of at least 1/3 cyclist, 1/3 public transport and 1/3 vehicular. Nordhavn also looks like a “5-minute neighborhood”. This means that there should be no more than five minutes on foot from public transport. The traffic structure is designed so that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport can move as quickly and easily as possible, making their routes shorter than for cars.
– THE PLANNED ROAD NETWORK IN NORDHAVN IS LOCATED ALONG THE EXISTING ROUTES: The grid of tiered streets will develop further, which will result in a reduced speed for cars. Traffic on individual islands, except in the streets of the islets, will occur in terms that favor pedestrians and cyclists and in accordance with the principles for urban street recreation. The parking spaces will be placed in a central location, while a smaller portion will be located at street level. Pedestrian walks will be established along the edges of all the piers and will be accessible to all. These pedestrian routes will adjust to all types of traffic and may contain both “flexible zones” and recreational areas. Public spaces have a variety of different functions and, therefore, are planned according to different needs of use.
– CONNECTIONS TO MOBILIZE BY BICYCLE: The development of Nordhavn seeks to ensure that all are pedestrians during at least some part of their visit. Car traffic is designed to favor pedestrians and cyclists in order to guarantee the conditions for people with disabilities in terms of safety, protection and accessibility. In addition, the start of the green loop’ will serve as a common link for bicycles, pedestrians and public transport for the entire Nordhavn area.
The regeneration of Nordhavn: results through an efficient management
CPH City & Port Development prioritizes development projects to manage the supply and demand of land and maximize long-term revenue. This operational flexibility allowed them to cope with political pressure during the 2008-2009 recession when property prices fell. During that period, the Copenhagen municipal government demanded that they reduce land prices to increase sales and for that reason the only potential buyers were pension funds with enough capital to cope with the crisis. However, the managers of CPH City & Port Development relied on the eventual recovery of the market and did not reduce prices, and by 2014 sales had increase. CPH City & Port Development is expected to generate continuous revenue over the next decade from the development of new city-wide proposals as well as the redevelopment of publicly owned land. Under their current business model, the economic approach is to avoid paying their debts through the direct sale of land. Due to the massive infrastructure improvements that are being made, CPH City & Port Development has learned that project benefits are maximized when property sales are managed once the area is fully developed and while resources are optimized through financial mechanisms as lease agreements and joint ventures.
CPH City & Port Development has developed and rented properties in collaboration with private developers such as the case of the City of the United Nations where the risks are considered minimal given that the tenant of the building is the Danish State, which in turn rents it to the United Nations. With such a high credit rating, the loans have very favorable rates and, by operating as a private company, these loans are guaranteed to rent in the private market. CPH City & Port Development obtained almost $ 37.5 million from the development of the property, which it then sold to two large Danish pension funds. CPH City & Port Development maintained an 8.5% stake in the property at the insistence of pension funds, which consider CPH City & Port Development as a reliable partner that can ensure the financial future of joint operations.
Buildings in Nordhavn must comply with national and local laws that dictate sustainability measures. All of Nordhavn’s development fits the great vision of Copenhagen to become the first capital city to be carbon neutral by 2025. The building of the City of the United Nations is the most sustainable building in Scandinavia and received the green building award from the European Commission in 2012. The green certification not only specifies standards for energy consumption, but also guarantees that the materials are obtained locally, the insulation of the building is adequate, the construction process is carried out correctly in terms of reduction of accidents and adequate working conditions (lighting, temperature, etc.), and employee satisfaction is high.
The local government also requires that at least 25% of the homes in the new districts of the city be guaranteed affordable housing for low-income residents. To achieve this, CPH City & Port Development granted a property developer a substantial discount on the price of land and put them in contact with a social housing company so that, once the buildings are built, the social housing company take over the management of the apartments and receive a subsidy for their administration from the national and local governments.
CPH City & Port Development created an intelligent benefit sharing mechanism where it receives part of the increase in property value generated by the introduction of a metro station. This includes that in all sale agreements there is a clause that requires the buyer to pay an additional fee to the purchase price provided that a subway station is established near the property. The agreements specifically require buyers to pay this additional fee per square meter for a period of 60 years after the establishment of the metro station within a 50-meter radius of the property. This special clause is executed at the time of selling the land and the property since the corporation does not necessarily know exactly when a metro station will be established.
CPH City & Port Development has a relatively flat organizational structure that facilitates agility and efficiency in the rendering of accounts and decision-making. All employees are no more than two levels of senior management, and most departments operate independently, answering directly to the Executive Director. Many projects are developed through private and public partners, which allows CPH City & Port Development to operate with only 113 employees. By operating as a private entity, CPH City & Port Development is not subject to public sector regulations, such as bids, the prohibition of subsidiaries and salary frames for employees. In fact, a crucial part of the reason why CPH City & Port Development is able to maintain a small and narrow organization despite the supervision of massive urban development projects is because it routinely participates in joint ventures with partners. Every time CPH City & Port Development creates a joint venture, decision making, and the power of operations are delegated even further away from the corporation’s board of directors.
Urban workshop: learning from the Nordic experience
Taking into account these lessons learned from Copenhagen in integrated urban development, the IDB Cities Network organized a knowledge exchange meeting, in which mayors and technical officials from sixteen cities in Latin America and the Caribbean learned from the Nordic urban experience. The urban workshop took place from 27 to 29 May 2019 in the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and it was developed in joint with the Nordic Development Fund, the Confederation of Industry Danish, an the Cities of Copenhagen and Malmö. Based on the Nordic urban experience, we intend to facilitate learning in terms of sustainability, competitiveness and inclusion for a better quality of life in Latin American and Caribbean cities.
The IDB Cities Network is an institutional platform for knowledge, relationships and solutions at the municipal level that aims to socialize knowledge, lessons learned and good practices in environmental, economic and social sustainability of more than 160 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. We provide support through meetings that promote institutional support, innovation, good practices and the exchange of knowledge between the public sector, the private sector and civil society to boost the demand and capacities for urban loans and investments able to solve the main challenges of cities in the region.
Agenda and technical documents – “Urban Workshop: Learning from the Nordic Experience”, May 2019.
Edition: Tomás González Ginestet