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Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-003Rendering of The BIG U, “The Harbor Berm,” an elevated path through the park.  Image Courtesy of BIG/ Rebuild By Design

Water has shaped civilizations and landscapes throughout history, and a city’s access to water often defines its destiny. From London to Mumbai and New York to Copenhagen, most of the coastal cities have experienced devastation from torrential downpours and rising sea levels. The approach taken in Copenhagen however, has championed holistic, integrated solutions and extensive public-private collaboration, making the city a global leader in fighting climate change while improving recreational infrastructure for its citizens. 

Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar_007Aerial photo of Harbor Bath in Copenhagen. Image courtesy of BIG

To share this knowledge and experience in water management, The AIA New York Chapter in collaboration with the Consulate General of Denmark in New York, the Confederation of Danish Industry and State of Green, turned the spotlight on the water-related challenges in New York and Copenhagen.

The Panel discussion held at the Center for Architecture attracted nearly 400 people. Speakers included Tomas Rossant, AIANY president elect and Ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen, Consul General of Denmark in NY, Architect Bjarke Ingels, Founder of BIG and the City Architect of Copenhagen, Tina Saaby as well as key players from the public and private sectors in both Denmark and the US.

Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-002From L-R- Roland Lewis, Doug Friend, Henk Ovink, Tina Saaby, Jesper Kjelds, Alan Cohn. Image Courtesy of The Consulate General of Denmark in New York.

It’s no longer relevant to ask ‘if’ cities such as New York and Copenhagen are threatened by the effects of climate change. The question is not whether to act, but how to act. How do we increase the resiliency and sustainability of our coastal cities?

Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath left tens of thousands homeless, destroyed entire communities in coastal New York and New Jersey, crippled mass transit, cut power to more than 8 million homes and inflicted billions of dollars in infrastructure damage. Sandy was in many ways a defining moment in the history of New York City. For the first time, the resiliency of New York (and America) was seriously questioned.

Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-008Post Sandy New York City,  Image Courtesy of BIG/ Rebuild By Design/Iwaan Baan

The discussion moderated by Rick Bell, Executive Director, AIA NY, weaved in and out of various topics- from affordable housing to post industrial waterfronts. Tina Saaby and Bjarke Ingels discussed strategies on how the public and private sectors can join forces to make cities such as New York and Copenhagen more resilient while remaining vibrant and sustainable.

According to Saaby, the most important factor that affects the livability of any city is having ambitious leadership with a bold vision to lead the city a hundred years into the future while making strategic short term planning decisions. Bjarke Ingels, recipient of the WSJ innovator of the year award, quickly pointed out how differences in cultures also affect planning in a city.

The Bloomberg administration rigorously expanded New York’s bike lanes and rolled out America’s largest bike sharing program, yet the city is far from having a world class biking infrastructure. Copenhagen, on the other hand, has always been a model in using the bicycle as an invaluable tool to restore the balance between transportation and sustainability to its urban fabric. Over the past 30 years, the city of Copenhagen has gradually removed car-parking, effectively clearing the way for bike infrastructure. (Not to forget the famous 180% tax on cars!)

Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-001From L-R, Bjarke Ingels, Tina Saaby, Rick Bell. Image Courtesy of The Consulate General of Denmark in New York. 

The concept of community living is another factor that differentiates Copenhagen from New York. Citing the example of his famed 8 house, located in a newly developed part of Copenhagen, Ingels explained the need for social encounters among residents as a catalyst for transforming the neighborhood into a lively community. The social norms in New York on the other hand often conflict with the desire to facilitate social encounters. Invisible boundaries create unspoken but established public and private spaces.

Copenhagen Solutions_Rebuild By Design_NYC_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-0058 House, Image Courtesy of BIG

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