Why is this interesting? - The Copenhagen Edition

On cities, commuting, and the carbon impact of Copenhagen

Colin here. Last week, Anita wrote about failed utopias, which prompted me to think about what cities in the world approximate utopian status. Prices for taxis, booze, and consumer goods (and nasty winter weather aside), I’d say Copenhagen tops the list when it comes to urban mobility and livability. I’ve logged a lot of time there over the years, and the sheer pleasure of getting everywhere you need via dedicated, normally-separated bike lanes makes everyone piling into their own separate car seem absurd. 

As we talk about climate change, another element of the city’s allure should be noted:

Six years ago, the city of Copenhagen set the goal to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world, shrinking energy use as it shifts to renewable energy and produces enough extra green power to offset other remaining emissions. It plans to reach the goal by 2025, while some other cities, including Washington, D.C., are aiming for as late as 2050. So far, it has cut emissions 42%, and city leaders believe it is on track to hit the target. The city is working to become “one of the world’s greenest and most bike-friendly cities,” says Frank Jensen, the city’s lord mayor. “This is the best way forward, because it creates better space, cleaner air, less noise, and a healthier city.”

The oil crisis in the 1970s catalyzed Danish urban planners to think about alternatives to cars. The efforts over time have paid off: “In 1970, roughly 10% of residents commuted by bike; that number is now 62%. The infrastructure continues to improve, with 12 new bike and pedestrian bridges built over the past decade and an expanding network of cycle highways with tools like repair stations and traffic lights designed to make trips faster.” 

Why is this interesting?

We all know about the bike-centricity and what a joy it can be to ride safely around a cosmopolitan city. But this is only part of their strategy. Renewable energy from wind turbines is accelerating, the city is running pilot programs in geothermal energy, and older buildings are being retrofitted to become more energy efficient. 

There’s also the idea of the “five minute city” that I find compelling, whereby clean and efficient public transports fills in the gaps elegantly

In Nordhavn, an industrial neighborhood that is transforming into a sustainable district filled with homes and offices, that means making everything easily accessible. “We created a new vision for transportation: the ‘five-minute city,’ we called it, which means that the city is planned in a way that it only takes you five minutes to walk from your apartment to a kindergarten, to shops, to public amenities,” says Søren Hansen, a project director at Ramboll, an engineering and design company that worked on the strategy for the district.

It’s not all just mobility and infrastructure. The Danes are drilling down into other areas of consumption, even serving less meat in city center kindergartens. 

When all of these elements add up, it would seem that hugely ambitious goals such as carbon neutrality are indeed doable. And what’s refreshing about all of this is that it can happen within a short amount of time, rather then the 2050 goals outlined by cities like Washington, DC. I’m not foolish enough to think that a goal like this is easily accomplished by places plagued with political infighting and climate change deniers, but rather it serves as an example of how, when you align interests and systematically attack a big issue, progress can be made. (CJN

Chart of the Day:

SensorTower’s top social media app downloads worldwide. “TikTok was the most downloaded social media app worldwide for August 2019 with close to 63 million installs, which represented a 6 percent increase from August 2018. The countries with the most installs of the app during this period were India at 44 percent of its total downloads and China at 8 percent.” (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • Really good LitHub piece by reporter Katya Cengal, who spent time near Chernobyl when the other reactors were finally closed in 2000. “What people tend to forget about Chernobyl is that after it became the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 it kept operating for 14 more years. The explosion occurred in one of four reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It was buried under a 300,000-ton metal and concrete sarcophagus. The other three reactors kept working.” (NRB)

  • A follow-up on WITI 9/6 - The Helmet sedition. Looks like Consumer Reports has rated the Morpher helmet I mentioned a “Don’t Buy: Safety Risk”. According the the reviewer, the helmet “failed our side-impact absorption test in our routine testing. An impact failure like this means that you may not be adequately protected if you fall and hit the side of your head.” That’s a bummer. I will keep wearing mine for now as it’s ability to pack down into my backpack means it’s better than no helmet, but I guess I’m in the market for something equally portable but more protective. (NRB)

  • Another WITI follow-up, this one for 9/5 - The Divestment Edition. Last week Bill Gates came out against the approach, explaining, “Divestment, to date, probably has reduced about zero tonnes of emissions. It’s not like you’ve capital-starved [the] people making steel and gasoline … I don’t know the mechanism of action where divestment [keeps] emissions [from] going up every year. I’m just too damn numeric.” With that said, as the FT piece (and our previous WITI) points out, the argument for divestment is not purely numeric, “The idea is not to starve companies of capital but to remove their ‘social licence to operate’ and make it easier for governments to act on climate issues by breaking the fossil fuel companies’ hold on politicians.” (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)


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