What does it take to plan and build a livable city? “Partnerships for liveable cities: The Copenhagen case” tells 12 lessons learned from Copenhagen and was the Danish contribution at the 2017 architecture biennale in Buenos Aires.

Lectures, a film and an exhibition on livable cities were the Danish contribution to the Bienal International de Arquitectura de Buenos Aires 2017. “Partnerships for liveable cities: The Copenhagen case” is created in a partnership between the Royal Danish Embassy of Buenos Aires, the Municipality of Copenhagen, BIG and Smith.

Today, Copenhagen is known as one the world’s most liveable cities. However, throughout centuries, Copenhagen has gone through the urban transformations experienced by cities worldwide: periods of growth and of stagnation, of industrial changes and of unhealthy living conditions, of destruction through war and other disasters, of reconstruction and of redesign for new technology such as the car, electricity and more recently digital technology and climate adaptation.

To create a liveable city takes resources, and most essentially, it takes shared commitment to sustainable urban development. Owing to partnerships between public and private actors, Copenhagen is a highly liveable city, home to a diverse population, and a secure place to live, work and relax.

The Copenhagen case illustrates ambitious governance, graced by generous architecture, and - not least - a holistic approach that considers physical, social, political and financial limitations and opportunities.

This approach has helped the Copenhagen Municipality to make decisions that are sustainable and long-lasting, and most importantly: owned and supported by many. Our city is a shared good, and a broadly shared commitment to co-authorship that underpins the success of Copenhagen today. The more we collectively care for our urban environment, the better it becomes for everybody.

The Copenhagen case is a story of social liveability and urban democracy.


12 lessons learned on livable cities

1.       Breaking boundaries

The liveable city is a product of many subsystems. To create it, we need to break organizational boundaries and allow for close interaction between public and private, between public departments, between companies and not the least between citizens and professionals.

2.       Building coalitions

The days of untouchable master plans and top-down decisions are declining. Power is distributed in a network of many actors and interest and negations never stop. Involvement of many actors from the very beginning is important not only to identify the right solution, but also to build commitment and loyalty to it. 

3.       The power of small decisions

Big changes are not a result of a single big idea or big heroes. Rather it is the outcome of many small decisions and actions.

4.       Don’t tell it – show it / prototype your city

It takes time to grow a great city. There are no quick fixes. At the same time, constant attention and awareness is needed. In order to create momentum, it is essential with mock-ups, prototypes and examples that makes the visions of tomorrow visible today.

5.       Changing formats

The way we talk determines what we can talk about. If we would like to create a city for the many, we need to ‘talk’ in many ways: film, text and drawings, facts and narratives, visions and daily live, theory and practice.

6.       Create playgrounds

Cities are complex and always on the move – no one can really foresee what the end solution can and should be. We learn about the problems as we define the solutions, and the only way to get wiser is to create a playground where solutions can be tried out on a small scale and in a playful atmosphere.

7.       Go for multi-benefit solutions

The city is a crowded place. Money and space is sparse and we cannot afford to solve one problem at the time. The intelligent city allows for multi-benefit solutions. Climate change and water shortage calls for multidisciplinary solutions. If we wish to handle the complex challenges of tomorrow, collaborative water innovation is essential.

8.       Start with a “why”

Long term change with multiple actors involved needs to be purpose driven. Of course, there is a lot of craftsmanship in creating a city but without an overall idea and narrative, we will never get started.

9.       Light a burning platform

Life is busy and not all problems are dealt with even though they are important. An acute problem and solution is needed to trigger action.

10.   Create ownership

The problems of all are often the problems of none – why is it me and not “my neighbor” that should create a better city? Identifying the stakeholders and grow their ownership is essential. Someone needs to “own” the problem and drive the process on a daily basis.

11.   Let’s talk money

City development is costly. But so is the potential value creation. In order to fuel the city’s development, it is important to identify models that makes it profitable to create a vibrant city.

12.   Build a decision-making infrastructure

Complex solutions require complex decision-making. As we grow our cities, we should grow the organizations, competencies and interactions that allow for multi-benefit solutions for the many. 


Building Livability – reflections from the tower

The film presents the Copenhagen case through the perspective of The City architect of Copenhagen Tina Saaby, CEO of Smith Innovation Mikkel Thomassen and partner in BIG David Zahle. It gives a 360-degree insight of the Copenhagen approach to urban development, and the way we’re planning, involving and building partnerships for future livable cities.

The film gives an atmospheric insight to Copenhagen from the tower of Knippels Bridge, a vital arterial road located in the center of Copenhagen Harbor, connecting the old city centre with new urban areas on the island of Amager. The bridge sets the scene for a cross disciplinary debate on how we create livable cities for the future. 

Watch trailer here