Innovative thinking and collaboration key to building livable cities

Reading time: 4 minutes
7 October 2015

NEW YORK: This year’s Climate Week NYC saw 120 high-level events convene business, government and civil society leaders to discuss the opportunities of tackling climate change. Among these events, last week Denmark and New York showed how to team up to share innovative solutions to realize these goals.

At “Urban Innovation for Livable Cities”, hosted by the Danish CleanTech Hub, clean energy leaders from Denmark and New York came together to discuss why such collaboration is so crucial for a sustainable future, and to share their progress.

Cities on the coast are facing urgent climate-related dangers due to rising sea levels driven by climate change. But this danger can be a great opportunity to collaborate and innovate, according to speakers. In fact, the event aimed to disprove the myth that urban sustainability is expensive, demonstrating how projects already in place and underway are the smarter economic alternative.


Long-term planning was the key focus of speeches from Dan Zarrilli, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency of New York City, and Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner for Sustainability for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP), who shared the city’s strategic vision for climate resiliency.

Private development comprises 48% of land-use distribution in NYC's combined sewer areas, showing how public and private partnerships are a necessary step to building greener cities. Through precisely such partnerships, the NYC DEP has been able to implement bioswales, which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, on the sidewalks of the city. These drainage courses are part of their long-term stormwater management planning.

The premise is similar across the Atlantic too. Representatives from the Danish cities of Aarhus and Copenhagen as well as technology and engineering firms, also demonstrated the importance of public-private partnerships. In Copenhagen, building resiliency has involved building upon existing infrastructure and following the natural flow of water.

Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Climate for the City of Copenhagen, talked about the necessity for imitating models and systems of nature to solve human’s complex problems, since “water flow does not understand administrative boundaries.”

With over 300 projects, Copenhagen has invested US$1.5 billion in green infrastructure and resilient city solutions.


While both New York and Denmark have seen advances and achievements in their efforts, the event also showed how a sustainable future must be brought about by new thinking, practices and relationships. For example, Christian Nyurep, from global engineering consultancy Ramboll-Environ, urged businesses, policymakers and citizens to “allow the crazy visions.” Jens-Peter Saul, CEO of Ramboll, pointed to the power of youth: “Engage young people. Not top down, you have to include young people. We do this for them.”

Even if these collaborations are a fundamental step to tackle climate change, Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action, stressed the need to “compare notes on a more systematic level.”

In his closing statement, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called out cities and energy as the buzzwords of the future, “but only if we follow through by demanding action behind the words”.

by Lucy Mui

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