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6 Projects That Make a Sustainable Future Seem Possible

From an algae-powered building to a playground of recycled steel drums, these spots give designers, urban planners and others hope

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Helle Lis Søholt : Copenhagen Harbor, Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen was a medieval city that looked inward, but recently it created a new relationship with its harbor. What was once an industrial area, the backside of the city, has become a source of recreation, the frontside.

One thing that helped achieve this was a series of public harbor swimming pools, filled with seawater, created by the Cophenhagen city government. One pool was designed by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. They are all free of charge, and the city maintains them and provides lifeguards.

These pools are the result of a 30-to-40-year process led by the national and city governments. Both governments collaborated on an inner-city clean up program to move polluting industries elsewhere and to create green storm water management systems. The harbor is so clean today that you can jump in and have a swim!

There are new bicycle bridges that connect Copenhagen to the harbor. One bridge, which is up in the air, is called the Red Cycle Snake. These bridges connect Copenhageners to places that were previously difficult to reach.

Copenhagen also just turned one stretch of industrial waterfront into a mile-long public park, with its own beach. This part of the city has become one of the most popular to visit and inhabit. You see people kiteboarding, jogging, paddleboating, sunbathing, or swimming—which they do even in the winter. This park is really one of the most democratic spaces in Copenhagen, attracting so many different ethnic groups.

Together, these projects show a new way of moving around and living with the harbor.

So many cities were built along waterways—to move goods and people. For too long we’ve used those waterways as an industrial zone instead of a recreation zone. The story of Copenhagen is about creating a good quality of life for people. Our story can be aspirational for other cities with waterfronts.

Helle Lis Søholt is a founding partner and CEO of Gehl Architects.

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